“Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever” (Psalm 86:11–12, ESV).
I love this Psalm, particularly these verses in it. This is a cry of David for his gracious God to answer his plea. He is in distress, and that distress is because people are seeking his life. There is a flood of thoughts, "what if" scenarios—fears that cause worry. But David turns his attention to the God who answers the plea for grace (v.7-8). Although his thoughts are scattered everywhere, he must be of a single heart, for although many concerns grow so huge, they begin to obtain god-like status. David acknowledges in v.10 that, "…You alone are God." When our heart is pulled in several directions, what can we learn from this prayer of David, particularly in v.11-12?
1. We Must Pray for God to Teach Us
“Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth” (Psalm 86:11a, ESV). David is aware that he is in need of instruction. You see, often our problem is we listen to the monologue in our heads or the poor counsel of other people. However, what we need to hear is the counsel that comes from the Lord. “There is a way that seems right to a man…” (Proverbs 14:12), and because that way seems right, it is easy to go along with it. What we need more than anything is instruction from the Lord. We must be taught His way, so that we can walk in His truth.
I remember when we moved house nine years from a town called West Molesey to Leatherhead. I had been driving home from Kingston, and I found myself pulling up to the house we moved out of the previous week. What happened? I was on autopilot. I wasn't thinking about where I was going. I was merely following the well-worn path. I didn't question where I was going or why I was turning at a particular roundabout. How great would it have been to have a passenger with me that could say, "Matt, why are you turning here?" I needed a voice to break the monologue, the well-worn way that seemed right to me. We must pray for God to teach us His way, so that we might walk in His truth.
2. Our Fears Divide Our Hearts
“Unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11b, ESV). David acknowledges that he has competing fears. He is self-aware that the reason he wanders is that he is responding to the wrong fears. There is division in his heart, and thus, he asks God to unite it.
I can’t speak to your experience, but I can speak to both my experience, and what Scripture teaches us about the human heart. I can desire to fear God and serve Him. After all, “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever…” (Psalm 19:9). Still, I have other things that I fear, which are in conflict to the fear of the Lord, such as the fear of man. Have you noticed that it is hard to fear the Lord when you are preoccupied with what people think of you? What about that feeling of failure, which many of us avoid at all cost. Have you noticed that the drive to succeed is at war with the fear of God in our hearts? Since the heart is deceitful and since we are blinded to much of what happens in our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), God must search out our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10). My heart is not something I can unite. I know, I’ve tried. I have given myself stern pep-talks, “Stop being so concerned with how people might respond Matt!” But God is the one who has the power to dispel all unclean fears that my whole heart might unite in the fear of God.
3. God Answers This Prayer
“I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever” (Psalm 86:12, ESV). Notice how David prays in the very next verse. He prays for God to unite his heart, then he gives thanks to God with his whole heart. A whole heart is a united heart. In other words, David expects that such prayers honour God and are in agreement with God's purposes for him. He has been praying along the grain of the heart of God, causing his heart to come into alignment.
Such a prayer does not see overnight fulfilment. However, this is a prayer of faith as our great Redeemer finishes the work He began (Philippians 1:6). He will faithfully expose the areas of our heart that are rogue, so that we may address those areas with the Gospel by God's empowering Spirit. While it is not true that my heart is without fault or wickedness today, it is true that God has faithfully worked in it, so that it is more united today than it was last month or last year. And one day, on that final day, He will answer this prayer in its entirety!