Ep043: Psalm 13: How Long, O Lord, How Long?

Hi. I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Psalm 13 asks “How long, O Lord?” Here are the first two verses:
    How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
      How long will you hide your face from me?
    How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
      How long will my enemy triumph over me?

The poet feels that God has forgotten him, that God is hiding. He feels alone with his troubles and sorrow. He has a relationship with God based on the God’s law and God’s promises. But God has forgotten the relationship. God has stopped watching and caring.

The poet’s experience suggests some lessons for our prayers.

First, it is good if prayer expresses feelings instead of theology. Many good Christians would tell the poet that this prayer is wrong-headed. They would say, “Don’t ask God foolish questions like ‘How long will you forget me?’ and ‘How long will you hide from me?’ Don’t you know that God sees everything? He’s not hiding. Get over your immaturity. Ignore your feelings. Show some faith and optimism.”

Helpful advice? Not really. Because the psalms teach us to pray our feelings to God. The poet’s prayer does not start in his head with clear thinking. Nor does it start in his doctrinal statement with carefully defined beliefs. This prayer starts in the emotions. If you feel like God has abandoned you, don’t hide from him until you get those feelings fixed. If you are sinking into despair and sorrow, don’t quit praying until things improve. If you doubt God even exists, don’t avoid him until you figure out the meaning of the universe. Pray your doubts and unbelief to God, tell him you heard that the meaning of life is 42 (Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), ask him what he thinks of that.

The poet has a second lesson on prayer. He says, “Look on me and answer, O Lord my God” (v. 3). After accusing God of hiding and forgetting, the poet remembers a past relationship with God. He calls the Lord “MY God”. Surely God wants to keep up his part of the relationship, doesn’t he? The poet reminds God that they are in this together. Even in the darkness,  God is “MY God.”

As the psalm concludes, the poet’s experience changes. He says to God:
    I trust in your unfailing love
     My heart rejoices in your salvation
    I will sing to the Lord
     For he has been good to me.
Somehow, the process of praying and waiting turned the poet’s heart from despair to trust, from unhappiness to rejoicing, from doubt to praise. God has come out of hiding. God is present again in the poet’s experience and feelings.

Let’s pray.
How long, O Lord, how long?
 How long will our rulers manipulate and kill?
 How long will nations and ethnic groups hate and disparage and dominate?
 How long will cancer and depression and bipolar disorder afflict our friends?
 How long will our leaders create division and hatred through politics, economics, race and gender?
 How long will the rich lobby for tax breaks while the poor cry for help?
 How long will we pollute our rivers and oceans?
 How long will millennials be stuck in the gig economy and the debt we pile up for them?
 How long until our churches love the sinners and prostitutes and outcasts?
 How long until we love you more than we love ourselves?
 How long until the earth is filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea? (Isaiah 11:9)

Our father in heaven, the pain and dysfunction overwhelms us. It crushes our optimism, infects our relationships. All creation groans with us (Rom 8). Everywhere your enemies experience victory.

We bring it all to you — our hurt, our sadness and defeat. But you are still our God, we trust you to do your job. And when you do, we will rejoice in your salvation, we will sing to you because you are good.

Amen.

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

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