How long will you hide your face from me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God...
But 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."
(Psalm 13:1, 3, 5-6)
This is a typical albeit short Psalm of Lament. It is a cry to God for help in the midst of perceived separation, struggle and heartache. Yet while it is only six verses long, it teaches us so much about prayer and about who we are before God when we bring our hearts to him.
The Psalm begins with a protest, a protest that the Psalmist feels abandoned, feels that God has withdrawn from him, that God has forgotten him. The earnest cry of "How long?" is one that we all can relate to, whether personally or even simply looking at the evil in the world around us. There are those situations in our own lives, struggles with depression, habitual sin, a persistent illness or consistent pain caused by a loved one. There are those situations we watch in other's lives, unhappy relationships, addiction problems or loneliness and there are those situations in the world, the recent bout of horrific child murders in our country, the injustice of corruption, the horror of abuse…
And for all these things we cry out to God and ask "HOW LONG"?
The Psalmist doesn't stop there though. He moves from Protest to Petition. Lord, you know and only you can help. I know that you have the answer. He addresses his Lord personally saying "my God" showing a move to trusting the One who has called him. This Psalm contains the double ask of Hear me and Help me!
And finally he moves into Praise. Yesterday we spoke of the word 'Hesed' and again we see it here – The psalmist is saying that he trusts in God's active love and faithful helpfulness. This is the kind of faith that cannot separate God from any experience of life – including life's worst. It is the kind of faith that cannot imagine a future apart from God's salvation and his work. Luther referred to the stance of this prayer as the "state in which hope despairs and yet despair hopes."
This prayer is thus speaking to us in our congregation's theme this year, "Singing the Lord's song in a strange land". That agony and adoration, pain and praise hang together in this life that we journey alongside Jesus. We live in the situation where we are saved, renewed by his grace, and building his kingdom of light and love around us, yet we are surrounded on every side by troubles and pain and injustice.
Thus we can cry along with the Psalmist, "How long, O Lord?" and with the same breath sing to the Lord for he has been so abundantly good to us.
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