Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. –Psalm 86:1
The Psalms are one of the greatest resources that Christians have when it comes to grief, discouragement, and despair. Whenever I’m feeling alone, or betrayed or hopeless, I turn to the Psalms, because there is always one that expresses the very agony I am feeling. Clearly they are the Word of God, because they truly express the groanings of my heart that I can never quite articulate.
However, it is not often that I turn to the Psalms of lament when I am doing well, and when life is good. This fact dawned on me one morning as I began to read Psalm 86. It starts out sounding much like man of the other Psalms of lament—alone and in desperate need of comfort. But this time, the words did not resound quite so clearly with my heart, so I was tempted to flip to another Psalm, one of rejoicing. I thought I should save Psalm 86 for another day when I did feel low. Not today, though.
But right before I flipped the page to find a different Psalm that reflected my blessed state in life, it struck me: the words of the first verse are no more or less true given my feelings. Whether I feel it or not, I am in a constant state of need. It just so happens that when I’m hurting due to the circumstances of my life, I feel that state of need more acutely, but the need never changes. We always need God, we are always helpless without Him. We must always cast ourselves upon His mercy if we at all desire to have true life.
But even more interesting to me is the danger in my initial attitude. The fact that I don’t turn to the Psalms of lament when I am doing well indicates how little I understand my state of need. I live under the illusion that there are times when I am fine on my own. God has become my back-up plan for when things get really bad. We tend to think that only nominal Christians do this sort of thing—turning to God on their death-bed or in times of crisis—but for all intents and purposes, many of us function in the same way. We need only look at our actions when life is good. When things are going our way, do we still come to God with the same desperation that we do in the hard times? I certainly don’t. I’ve bought into the lie that most nominal Christians have bought into—my life is my own, so I don’t need to worry about God except in extreme circumstances.
So before we judge the submarine Christians who only emerge for Easter and Christmas, we need to look at our own lives and seriously ask whether or not we are living the committing the same hypocrisy. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we’re not as bad as they are, but in comparison with the holy perfection of God, we suddenly look a lot more similar to the sinners than we do to Him. For this reason, I encourage you to commit Psalm 86:1 to memory. As these words of truth slowly begin to shape your mind and heart, perhaps we will then have a chance at living like we really mean it. Then, and only then, will we look more like disciples than instead of looking like the world.