Question: "What does it mean to "unite my heart to fear Your name" (Psalm 86:11)?"

Answer: David is known in Scripture for having a heart after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). In the prayer of Psalm 86, we hear the passionate desire of David’s heart to do what God wanted him to do, to live the truth he believed, and to be undivided in his devotion to God: “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11, ESV).

The words unite my heart may sound a bit peculiar to modern-day Bible readers. The plea to “unite my heart to fear Your name” can also be rendered “give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (NIV) or “grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you” (NLT).

Like all of us, David was flawed. His affections were often inclined to roam. But David recognized this tendency in himself and continually sought to reorient his heart and compel it toward the single-minded pursuit of God.

Throughout its history, the nation of Israel was prone to wanderings of the heart (Psalm 95:10; Hebrews 3:10). For this reason, God gave His people the command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5; see also Matthew 22:37). Along with wholehearted love, God required their absolute obedience: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12, NLT; see also Joshua 22:5; 24:14–15).

Time and time again, Israel fell short, and God called them back to repentance. He promised to circumcise the people’s hearts, purifying them and setting them apart so that they would love, serve, and follow Him with undivided devotion (Deuteronomy 30:6). “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord pledged, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart” (Jeremiah 24:7). And again, “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them” (Jeremiah 32:39).

David’s longing to “unite my heart to fear Your name” resonates in the apostle Paul’s New Testament appeal to “live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). It echoes in James’ plea to “come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world” (James 4:8, NLT).

Jesus taught that divided loyalties are of no use in God’s kingdom: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24, NLT). Instead, we are to fix all of our affection on the treasure we have in Him (Matthew 6:19–21). When we pray like David prayed, “Unite my heart to fear Your name,” we are asking the Lord to transform our wayward hearts that we might be singularly devoted in our reverence for God and obedience to Him.