Saturday, September 5, 2015

Has the LORD Forgotten Me?: Learning to Pray Psalm 13

Psalm 13 serves as a model lament in terms of its directness and simplicity. It’s six verses divide neatly into three parts: vv. 1–2 complaint, vv. 3–4 petition, and vv. 5–6 statement of faith. Psalm 13 is the prayer of an individual who desperately needs God to act.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

In verses 1–2, the question “How long?” repeats four times. This heightens the desperation of the psalmist’s prayer and emphasizes his dire need for the LORD to act. It is clear that the psalmist is suffering deep anguish due to a perceived separation from God and an unspecified action by an enemy.     

Our psalm assumes a deep relationship between the psalmist and the LORD. The psalmist does not understand the absence of God when he needs him the most. How can the God whom he serves faithfully not show up? Sometimes the very faith that we profess can make a difficult trial worse because we can suffer a crisis of faith in addition to having to deal with the trauma of the moment. The psalmist aches internally in the silence of God’s inaction while also feeling humiliated at the hands of his enemy.

What do we do in such situations? The temptation may be to change course and seek help in another person or philosophy. But not the psalmist. Instead, the psalmist turns up the volume of his prayer.

Vv. 3–4 puts all of the psalmist’s future hope in the hands of the LORD. Hardships and trials challenge our faith. They cut through our shallow sayings and call us to a renewed and vigorous faith. The psalmist lays out his situation and calls the LORD to act. He addresses God as “O LORD my God.” He may feel as though God is not paying attention to him or that God has withdrawn favor, but the LORD remains his God. He prays in light of this relational certainty. Notice that verses 3–4 contain the same core issues of complaint from vv. 1–2: the perceived absence of God and the threat of an external enemy. The psalmist directly addresses both. He needs God to act in the present or he will die and his adversary will gloat in victory.

The tone of the psalm changes dramatically for vv. 5–6. The psalmist has shared his heart. His needs and frustrations are in the open. Now the psalmist is ready to live again. We don’t know the final outcome of the prayers, but the psalmist moves forward in renewed hope and purpose. Verse 5 affirms the psalmist’s faith. He prays emphatically: I trust in God’s steadfast/loyal love and rejoice in God’s ability to deliver. Come what may I will live in this truth. Verse six closes the prayer with a vow. The psalmist anticipates God’s answer and affirms his intention to sing to the LORD for the good outcome that the psalmist will enjoy.

How does this psalm teach us to pray when it seems as though God is not listening to us?

What can we learn about faith in the face of adversity from this psalm?

No comments:

Post a Comment