How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man who was walking next to a cliff when suddenly the earth gave away. He fell over the edge, yet somehow managed to grab ahold of a plant growing out of the side of the cliff. Hanging hundreds of feet off the ground, he yelled, “God, please help me!” many times until there was a thunderous voice overhead that responded, “Do you believe in me?” “Yes, yes!” the man frantically replied. “So do you trust me?” the voice asked. “Yes, yes, just please help! I can’t hang here much longer!” “Then let go,” the voice commanded. The man looked up and sheepishly asked, “Is there anyone else up there I can talk to?”
Isn’t that how it always is?! We find ourselves in trouble and when we’re finally alone we cry out God for his help. Invariably God responds with two very simple questions: “Do you believe in me?” and “Do you trust in me?” They’re simple questions yet they cut right to the center of our worry and anxiety. Sure, we can find ourselves in trouble even if we believe and trust in God. Belief and trust by no means keep us out of trouble! But belief and trust help reframe the idea of “trouble” altogether. What we consider “trouble,” God considers “situations.” And all situations can either help us or hurt us depending on how we maneuver them. Now before you’re quick to believe that the outcome of any situation is a direct result of what YOU do, think again. Yes, you provide a contributing factor to its outcome but not the sole factor. God is very much a part of ALL situations and God contributes to their outcomes just as much as you or I do. In fact, I’d argue that God’s contribution is primarily meant to help us in any given situation. Remember God wants nothing but the best for each of us. Any given situation hurts us primarily because of how WE respond, or don’t respond, to it. WE are the ones that enable the situation to hurt us. God wants nothing but the best for us. God wants us to grow in our belief and trust in him. God wants us to love him above all. This world is nothing but one big test of our love and trust in him, plain and simply. All our situations, good or bad, serve to reveal our love and trust in him.
Our psalm for this week is decidedly different from the psalms we’ve reflected on in the last couple weeks. The psalms we’ve looked at so far have been a psalm of teaching (psalm 1) and a psalm of thanksgiving (psalm 100). We know that life is more than simply learning from and giving thanks to God. There are times in life when we find ourselves in trouble. There is a definite threat to the wellbeing of our lives. Naturally, we find ourselves crying out to God for his help. The cries for help make these psalms, “psalms of lament or affliction.” Perhaps we find ourselves asking along with David, “How long?”…“How long must I endure my suffering?” God doesn’t answer these types of questions but we just can’t help asking them! Sometimes I wonder if He does answer them with his own two questions: “Do you believe in me?” and “Do you trust me?” I wonder if there is a direct correlation between the duration of suffering and our trust and belief in God. I want to say yes but I can’t prove it. Suffering is a great mystery to me. I don’t know why it exists let alone how it exists and I don’t know why there is unfair suffering. We tell ourselves suffering exists because of the sin of the world but it operates so randomly, so chaotically. Sin doesn’t operate that way, why should suffering? Well, that’s a different discussion for another day. Today, we’re looking at troublesome situations and our need to cry out to God when we’re in them.
It’s true, we need these psalms of lament to let God know our frustrations and anger. I posed an interesting question in our Bible study this week: “Why should we bring our frustrations and anger to God? Is it for his sake or for ours?” God knows our frustrations and anger before we even bring them to him. And sometimes God can help us in our frustrations and anger, not always. So why bother? Just because knows our frustrations and anger, He needs to hear them to be able to help us. And He might not help us all the time but He does help us some of the time and we don’t when those times will be. Of course, I’d say he helps us ALL the time just in ways we can’t or won’t accept. Kind of like that man hanging on the cliff…”Is there anyone else up there I can talk to?”
As I mentioned earlier, God helps us best when He helps us reframe our situations. When we’re in trouble, we ought to consider our situations as opportunities for growth. More importantly, as opportunities to receive God’s grace and mercy. We ought to heed the wisdom of Hebrews that says, “let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:16) Friends, God is first and foremost a loving and gracious and merciful God. Say what you will about his justice but He is primarily focused on love and grace and mercy. And in Philippians, we hear Paul advise, “do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (4:6-7) Troublesome situations are opportunities to receive Christ’s peace. Without trouble, we couldn’t know his peace.
Remember God doesn’t give us troubles, only situations…situations to believe and trust in him. Be assured, He does help ALL who bring their troubles to him. Cling to the strength of Hebrews that says, “so we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” (13:6) No one and nothing can harm us when God is with us! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.