1 Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
2 Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; 3 be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
4 Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
7 In the day of my trouble I call on you,
for you will answer me.
8 There is none like
you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
9 All the nations you have made shall come
and bow down before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name for ever.
13 For great is your steadfast love towards me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
14 O God, the insolent
rise up against me;
a band of ruffians seeks my life,
and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving-maid.
17 Show me a sign of your favour,
so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
This psalm follows a now familiar path. It is a confident and faithful call by a poor and needy person whose trust in God convinces them of two things above all:
1. God is able to do wondrous and impossible things
2. Anyone who knows they are needy and are open to God’s life-changing ways, can learn the way of life and an undistracted devotion to God.
Both these hopes are contained in the central verses – 10 and 11 – and form the heartbeat of the psalm. Bookending these crucial verses, scholars have identified a chiastic pattern. This is a form or shape of poetry which gives structure to the prayer.
A vv 1-4 ‘your servant’
B vv5-6 ‘abounding in steadfast love’
C v7 complaint
D vv8-10 ‘glorify your name’
E v11 central verse; ‘your name’
D’ vv12-13 ‘glorify your name’
C’ v14 complaint
B’ v15 ‘abounding in steadfast love’
A’ vv16-17 ‘your servant’
Shaped like this, it is possible to see the intent of the psalmist. It is to draw our attention to the most needful disposition of the poor and needy believer, to live an undivided life of reverence of God.
The shorter Westminster catechism of 1647 was written in a time of great national trauma during the Civil War which divided our nation. It was an attempt to lay out a set of statements around which Christians could unite. And it begins with the first question (please forgive the lack of inclusive language): What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever.
This psalmist has demonstrates, for me at least, an integrity and intimacy of relationship to God consistently throughout the prayer. I notice this particularly through the way the psalmist addresses God as Lord so many times – eleven in all:
Incline your ear, O Lord (vs1). Be gracious to me, O Lord
(vs3). To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul (vs4). For you, O Lord, are good and
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer (vs6). There is none like you, O Lord, among the gods (vs8). All the nations you have made shall come down and bow before you, O Lord (vs9). Teach me your way, O Lord (vs11). I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart (vs12). You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious (vs15). You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me (vs17).
What I find challenging and hopeful about this psalm is that the more I am aware of my poverty (of spirit and devotion and a disposition of grace) and the more I am open to God’s undivided love, then the more I might also live with an undistracted heart which can revere God’s name.
The chief end, or purpose, of all humanity is to join with creation in glorifying God and enjoying God for ever. Not striving. Just enjoying. May this be so.