When God Delays by David Jeremiah
All the passages below are taken from David Jeremiah’s book “When Your World Falls Apart,” published in 2000.
To the chief musician. A Psalm of David.
How long, 0 LORD? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and hear me, 0 LORD my God;
Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest my enemy say,
“I have prevailed against him”,
Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll—
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Horatio G Spafford
“IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL”
You and I live in an aging society. Of course, that’s a statement that would be true of any time and place, wouldn’t it? I know of no “land that time forgot.” Everyone everywhere is a day older each morning they rise from bed.
But there’s a particular crisis of aging in our culture. People who belong to that huge segment of society born between the end of the Second World War and the mid-1960s are finding their hair turning gray. They are worrying about being replaced by younger workers. The Pepsi Generation is quickly becoming the Geritol Gang. Many among us are coping for the first time with chronic illness, relentless pain, daily medication, and an exhausting and demoralizing battle against the time limits of the human frame.
Some of the illnesses have newly coined titles; others are old and familiar. Perhaps none is more heartbreaking than mental illness. Like any illness, the struggle against mental illness is difficult and depressing. But in the case of fighting against the loss of the human mind itself, there are unique and particularly devastating sorrows. Sharon Paul, a family friend, gives us an accurate idea of living and coping with a challenge of that magnitude in the following passage:
You can’t judge a book by its cover—nor can you tell what’s inside someone by his or her outside appearance.
If you could see me, you’d agree that my appearance is fairly ordinary. I’ve been married for eighteen years, about one or two of which could be described by the word normal—at least as the world defines that concept. As the medical world defines things, I am mentally ill.
By the time such an official diagnosis could be made, it was actually something of a relief. Does that statement shock you? You see, I’d been told I had demons inside of me. A formal medical diagnosis was very helpful; it made it possible for me to he treated properly and to better understand the many facet of my condition.
I was hospitalized for many years. That period is over, but even now I must spend time in hospitals when I face a crisis. Sometimes people want to know how I can be a Christian and still have these conditions, particularly conditions that could lead people like me to harm themselves. But they don’t understand the reality of depression as I do. I feel better about all of it when I think about people of great faith who faced depression like mine—people such as Jeremiah, David, and Elijah.
There were times in our country when people like me would have been put away somewhere, out of sight and out of mind. But we’ve made progress since then, and I can find freedom in talking about my depression and even reaching out to others who are coping with what I’ve been through.
On my good days, you’re likely to find me chatty, loving, caring, and serving other. I can take responsibility for myself. I pray, read the Bible, and try to work through the darker memories from my past.
On my bad days, I can simply be thankful for those loving people who care enough to reach out to me. My world becomes black and unmanageable, and I become unwilling to look in the mirror or eat. I spend my time terrified, crying, hearing voices that I know aren’t there, and longing to lose myself in the darkness or to embrace the final release of death.
I have days when I get lost and can’t find my way home. This often makes me afraid to go out the front door or into the backyard. I have other days when I weep for hours for no apparent reason. Sometimes the stimulus of the world is so overwhelming that I can’t cope, and my only response is either to flee to the safety of a stronger individual or simply to the comfort of darkness.
Those are simply the everyday details of life when you cope with depression.
For me to function on a daily basis, I need the help of my husband, my Christian therapist, my psychiatrist, my close friends, my medication, and my Lord Jesus.
That’s the nature of the life I live.
And yet, I must tell you that even on my darkest days—even when life is a deep tunnel with no light visible to me—I can still say I’ve seen Jesus. I’ve seen Him with the eyes of my spirit, even if the eyes of my mind and heart are blinded. I can feel His presence, even if I can’t feel anything else but pain and panic. I’m so grateful that He is my Savior, for without Him, I’m very certain I would be dead.
In every life, at some time, a person finds himself in that dark tunnel where no light is visible. You weep and you cry out in frustration and you plead, “Lord, I can’t take any more! I have no more patience and no more strength to hold out; I must hear from You today. If YOU don’t resolve this issue, I don’t know what I am going to do. Can’t You see that I’m desperate? Why don’t You help me?”
Most of us have been there. How about you? It may have been because of a long, drawn-out sickness. It may have been a long-term financial problem. It may have been a struggle with grief. It may have been an alcoholic spouse or an unsaved loved one or a dysfunction in the family. Or perhaps you’ve suffered through a problem at work: a demanding, unreasonable boss or a jealous, spiteful fellow worker whom you have to cope with every day, with no resolution in sight. Or maybe, like Sharon Paul, you’ve spent a lifetime sparring with mental illness.
Before you know it, you find yourself in David’s shoes and can understand his heartfelt words and emotions. This man is a hero and a man of God—the favorite son and sweet singer of Israel. He is a man after God’s own heart, yet he is a man of anguish and suffering, one given to depths of depression who cries out to God, “How long?”
David’s boyhood had been that of a shepherd boy, just one of several sons in a large family. But what a fateful turn that life had taken. From the moment David killed the giant Goliath, he himself became a hunted man. One moment he was the toast of the nation; the next he was a young man hiding out in caves. The king, the insecure and temperamental Saul, was bitterly jealous. His stock had plummeted as that of the shepherd boy had skyrocketed. The women of Israel celebrated the victory of David over Goliath by singing a song which is recorded for us in 1 Samuel 18:7: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” If you were the king, would you like to hear such a melody echoing through your streets?
It was an intolerable situation for a jealous and egotistical monarch. In 1 Samuel 18:8-9 we read his predictable response: “Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ So Saul eyed David from that day forward.”
He eyed him. Have you got a good mental image of that? Have you ever gotten that kind of treatment from a coworker or a fellow student or even a member of your church? Saul gave David the evil eye. He saw him through the blurry green lens of jealousy, which had become an obsession. First Samuel 18:29 tells us that Saul made an enemy out of the young man because he feared him. Fear is often the root of our great mistakes in life.
That is a story you may already be quite familiar with. But we often forget that David was a fugitive for eight or nine years. We forget that he lived a life on the run in the very country where he was a national hero. Furthermore, his life and plight were complicated by all kinds of personal entanglements. For instance, Saul, David’s ultimate enemy, the same ruthless king whose life was dedicated to hunting him down and murdering him, was also the father of a son who was David’s dearest friend and a daughter who had stolen David’s heart. Can you imagine a more complicated personal scenario than that?
There are some favors that the Almighty does not grant either the first, or the second, or the third time you ask Him, because He wishes you to pray for a longtime and often He wills this delay to keep you in a state of humility—-and to make you realize the value of His grace.
During these eight or nine years, David had to remain constantly on the move. He lived in the fields and in the forests, in the caves and in the deserts. Finally he was chased out of the land of Israel and into the very midst of the Philistines, the enemies whose hero he had slain. David ended up in a city called Gath, but the locals identified him quickly. The only way he could think of to escape was to act as if he’d lost his mind. The Scripture says that in order to get away from Achish, the king of Gath, David dribbled in his beard, scratched his hands on the doors, and gave the most convincing impression he could of insanity.
Later, David had the protection of six hundred of his faithful men. He settled in a place called Ziklag, where he managed to live peaceably for sixteen months. But one day he left on a military mission. When he returned home, the city of Ziklag had been burned to the ground. All the wives and the children whom the soldiers had left behind had been carried away—including David’s own family.
David’s men were not merely grief-stricken, but filled with fury. They turned their anger on David and threatened to stone him to death. It was all David’s fault—that’s the way they saw it. As far as they were concerned, David, their leader, had cost them their wives and their children. First Samuel 30 tells of David’s deep distress. He had lost his own family and was blamed for the loss of hundreds of other women and children. And now he faced death by stoning.
He had killed a giant and become a hero—but he had to live a life of a fugitive. He was an anointed king—but he had to live like a beast of the fields. Now he faced a violent death at the hands of the men he trusted. David was desperate. Out of the pain in his heart, he cried out to the Lord. And out of that furnace of his desperation came the incredible words of Psalm 13:
How long, 0 LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide YOUR face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, 0 LORD my God; enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed against him’; lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me.
F. B. Meyer, one of the great writers of biblical commentaries, said, “Saul’s persecutions lasted for eight or nine years; and no hope of termination appeared. David was a man who spends five hundred days passing through a forest. The tangled over-growth hides the sun; and he begins to despair of ever emerging.”1
David wrote this psalm when he was physically exhausted and emotionally depressed. His troubles with King Saul had gone on year after year, and he was dispirited and discouraged. This psalm was wrung out of the extremity of his soul. He simply could not go on, not for another day, not for another hour, not even for another minute.2
As we relate to God, we’re so much like small children. You have a better perspective for appreciating this fact it you’ve ever been a parent. You’re driving your family to a vacation at the beach far away. Those little voices come from the backseat, saying over and over, “How much longer? How much farther?” And of course, “Are we there yet?” You’ve said it as a child yourself or heard it as a parent. And from the backseat of life, we call out the same questions to God: “How much longer, Lord? How much farther? Are we there yet?”
We can see and feel that impatience and desperation in the words of David. I’m glad he put his deepest feelings into writing. It reassures me to know that someone we hold as a spiritual hero, someone whom God has honored, had the courage to say the kinds of things that we often feel ashamed of saying. In so many ways, David is one more child in the backseat of a long, hot journey. Aren’t we all?
Our Struggle When God Delays
On those occasions when you struggle with God’s timing, it’s good to know these feelings didn’t originate with you. Not only did David express the feelings you’ve had, but he did so repeatedly. Read through the psalms, and you’ll find a number of them like the one we’re exploring in this chapter. So many of them begin with a sigh and end with a song. But in life, you can’t take in the song without letting out the sigh.
Just as a song has a refrain, this psalm’s sigh has one—a recurring phrase that always comes back around. This time, the chorus or refrain is repeated four times: How long? That’s right, David is singing the blues. He’s overwhelmed with a sense of the permanence of trouble. Trouble springs up when we want it least, seems to have no solution, seems to mock our most diligent efforts to lead a happy and peaceful life, and finally consumes our last ounce of patience. And David, much like you, finally lifts his eyes to heaven in exasperation and says, “How much longer, 0 God? How much longer?” It’s David’s blues chorus.
Aren’t you grateful for the psalms that are such remarkable illustrations of honest prayer? I don’t always pray with total honesty, and allow me to venture a guess that you don’t, either. Your friend at work brushes by you at the copy machine “How’s it going?” he smiles. And you say, “I’m doing fine,” or you might even say, “Couldn’t be better.” But wait a minute! Didn’t you have an argument with your spouse this morning? Didn’t you just now catch a lecture from your boss? So you just told your friend a whopper, and you don’t even think about it. How many times have you and I both done that?
Well, doing that causes little damage to relationships with your friends, because they have no idea what is really going on in your life. But we have much less success posturing before God. He is with you during the argument with your spouse; He is saddened by the confrontation with your boss. And when you force a smile into your prayers and say, “I couldn’t be better, Lord!” He is again saddened. He knows what you’re going through, and He has been looking forward to talking it over with you. He’d be much happier with an exasperated “How long, Lord!” than with your forced smile.
When God Delays, We Feel Forgotten
You will come to the point of believing God has forgotten you. Don’t worry it’s a common experience. We all pass through a dark stage of feeling that God either isn’t there at all, or at the very least, He has forgotten us. Perhaps our problems aren’t important to Him, we imagine. The psalmist encounters just those very doubts. In Psalm 10:1 he cries out, “Why do You stand afar off, 0 LORD? Why do You hide yourself in times of trouble?”
It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials,
that we are most in danger of fainting.
Maybe these cynical words have slithered through your mind: “God is always around when I don’t need Him. But just wait until trouble comes around, when I go looking for Him. Just try to find Him then—He goes into hiding.” If we stop and think about it, we haven’t been too eager to find God when things were going well or when the smaller problems came up. Even the larger trials can be handled up to a point. We can take a certain amount with our faith intact. But the longer we go without God’s peace and perspective in the midst of bad times, the more our faith begins to weaken.
Consider Job, the wise and godly man of the Old Testament. He lost his children, his animals, and his servants—virtually everything he had—all in one mind-bending period of tragedy. These were great losses, not garden-variety trials. But Job handled them all with patience and deep inner strength. Times did not improve for him. The devil extended his lease on Job’s life, and the suffering servant of God began to realize that he was in for a long-term battle. That’s when he began to come apart at the seams.
Everyone has a point somewhere in the geography of their souls marking the limits of their faith. It is the point at which faith begins to unravel. For younger Christians, that point may be just around the corner; seasoned believers can travel much farther before reaching it. Only we ourselves know where the point lies, and we find out during a season of testing. A trial will build to a crescendo in your life. You attempt to handle it, and you pray about it. But life will not cooperate. As the days turn to weeks, then weeks to months, and even months to years, you reach that personal point, somewhere in the scheme of your suffering, when you begin to give up on God.
What you believe is that He has given up on you. You may even be feeling that way right now. If so, please allow me to remind you that what you’re contemplating is a simple impossibility. God never gives up on you; He never ceases to care about you, and He will not abandon His work on you—of which your trial is a part. I love the poignant words in Isaiah 49:15-16: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me.”
The word picture is a revealing one, isn’t it? Try to suggest a relationship more intimate than that between a mother and her nursing child. God wants us to realize that even if that woman could somehow forget the precious child at her breast, He would never forget you. He even says, “Your name is written on the palms of My hands.” That image instantly snaps into focus in your mind—your very name tattooed on the palms of His hands. That means it is engraved there; it cannot be removed.
Such is God’s concern for you. He cannot forget you. No matter what storm you’re weathering now, you have never left God’s mind or heart.
When God Delays, We Feel Forsaken
“How long will You hide Your face from me?” (v.1). We can feel the frustration and despair in David’s words. It seems as if God has forgotten him, yes, but even worse: It feels as if God has purposely averted His eyes from David, so as not to be bothered by the troubles of His suffering child. Perhaps he knows better, but David feels as if God simply doesn’t care. David feels forsaken.
Forgotten is one thing, but forsaken is another matter entirely. We very innocently forget people—people we love and care about. That can happen in the hectic pace of things. But the act of forsaking is very intentional–—premeditated forgetfulness. David said to himself, “Here I am at this place in my lifelong relationship with God, a relationship I was given to believe was a very special one; I’ve spent my days fleeing for my life, hiding, fighting battles, and losing families, finding myself farther than ever from that throne I was promised so long ago; and I cannot get beyond the conviction that God has forgotten and even forsaken me. He has led me through all these trials to abandon me.”
That is how David feels; that is how you have felt: My God, why have You forsaken me?
You might recognize those words. Jesus said them in His anguish on the cross. Do you know where Jesus got those words? He pulled them from Psalm 22. If you study that psalm, you’ll find that the same man, David, has repeated Psalm 13 almost exactly: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? 0 My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent” (Ps. 22:1-2).
Here is the surprise that an in-depth study of the psalms will offer you. Psalm 22 has no historic place in the life of David as other ones do. This is what scholars call a Messianic psalm, looking ahead to Israel’s long-promised hero and deliverer. It foretells the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving details of the torture and excruciating, pain of crucifixion centuries before that method of execution was even invented. Old Testament people could read this psalm and look through a window to see the climactic event of the New Testament, as seen through the eyes of Christ.
And it all came full circle. In time, when the prophetic event came to pass, the Lord Jesus hung suffering on the cross and quoted the very words of Psalm 22 creating a window into the Old Testament. We read that “about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46).
It’s helpful to know that David suffered and felt forsaken. But it’s life-changing to realize that even Jesus Himself—the Lord of heaven and earth, enclosed in flesh—experienced the same emotions. Please take in the full import of these words: The Lord Jesus Christ not only felt forsaken, He was forsaken. The Father turned His back on Jesus because He was a holy and just God who could not look upon the sin that Jesus carried to the cross—your sin and mine. The next time you feel forsaken and lift up your voice to pray to Almighty God, do this—go to a private place and spend significant time reflecting on the incredible truth that the One who hears your prayers has been there too. He knows exactly how you feel. He knows what it means to be forsaken.
“My God, My God,” He cried out, “why have You forsaken Me?” He was forsaken indeed—but we are never forsaken. Here is the truth you must fully comprehend and stake your life upon if you remember no other words from this chapter: He turned His back upon His Son so that He would never have to turn His back on you. That was the excruciating price He paid because He loves you that much. He lived and died and suffered on this earth so you wouldn’t have to be forsaken.
When we cry out to Him in the midst of our trials, even when we can’t sense it, God hears us. He’ll never forsake us. That idea is pounded home in the clearest words possible in Hebrews 13:5: “For He himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.”‘
But that doesn’t mean we’ll never feel forsaken. Emotions will bring us to that point, and we can feel free to express our honest, naked feelings to God when that comes to pass.
When God Delays, We Feel Frustrated
Have you felt frustrated with God? If we’re honest, we’ve all had times when we’ve said, or at least felt like saying, “God, I’m really upset. I’ve been praying about this for years, for months. It doesn’t seem as if You’re there.” Listen to the words of the psalmist in the second verse of Psalm 13: “How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”
David is frustrated for two reasons.
1. He’s frustrated because of his own emotions. He says, “Every day I go through this. Every day I must deal with this.” Someone said that the problem with life is that it’s so daily. Each morning we must rise and face our challenges—and the same ones are there every day, rain or shine, summer, winter, spring, or fall. Whatever we have to deal with, when we get up and “reboot” our minds, all the same crises take up right where they left off.
James Montgomery Boice, who has written a wonderful commentary on the Book of Psalms, says, “The third time David asks, ‘How long?’ he refers to a combination of what we would call dark thoughts and uncontrollable emotions. When we no longer sense that God is blessing us, we tend to ruminate on our failures and get into an emotional funk. And when our emotions take over it is always hard to get back onto a level course. That is because the best means of doing this—calm reflection and a review of past blessings—are being swept away. We discover that we cannot settle ourselves long enough to complete this exercise.”3 The problem begins to take over in our lives.
Have you ever experienced the frustration of something painful or negative or sad becoming your constant and daily companion? Of course, you know what to do—you’ve been taught to read your Bible, to pray, and to spend time with God’s people. But you’re no longer dealing with a problem; the problem is dealing with you. It has taken over. It has gotten you into such an emotional bind that no matter how hard you try, you know you can’t do the things you should do. It happened to David. He was frustrated by his emotions.
David was talking about that knot in the stomach, the lead weight in the breast that makes the thought of food nauseating… … We can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t settle to anything. Every time we try to get our mind on something else, back it comes—that gnawing ache inside.
2. He was frustrated because of his enemy. David cried, “How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” (v. 2).
Try to take in this scenario. Imagine being told, early in life, that you would be the president of the United States, or perhaps that you would become the most powerful and successful business leader in the nation. And you were actually given that position, sworn in as president or appointed as CEO. Then, every possible harrowing event came to pass in your life. Imagine your frustration: You had visions of sitting in the Oval Office, or in an executive suite at the top of a towering skyscraper, changing the course of world events. Instead, you’re running for your life and your friends have turned against you. The promises seem always to be deferred to some unspecified future time.
This was David’s plight. He was the king in waiting; David had already been anointed by Samuel as the king of Israel, back in his days as a shepherd. Do you know how much time passed between David’s anointing and the moment he actually became king? Fifteen years. Jesse, David’s father, had brought the boy to the prophet Samuel. Samuel had poured oil over David’s head and had given him the wonderful news that he was the heir to the throne of Israel. Then David had gone back to the fields. He had slain a giant, and that’s where all the plans seemed to go awry.
What was the meaning of all this? David shook his fist at the sky above him and cried out, “How long, Lord, is my enemy going to be exalted over me?” The king-in-perpetual-waiting evaluated his own resources (not too impressive as a desperate fugitive), and he evaluated the resources of Saul, a jealous, murderous, ungodly king. This bloodthirsty monarch had once sent thirty thousand men after the shepherd boy. Whose side was God on? If the answer was “David’s,” you could have fooled the young man. God seemed to give Saul everything and David nothing.
David, taking a stand with six hundred men against a kingdom, said, “Lord, what do You want from me? The monster in pursuit of me has a kingdom, and I have a cave. What on earth do You expect me to do?”
In his depression, it may well be that David decided God had taken on more than He could handle. Perhaps God had begun with all the best intentions for David. He had helped him kill the giant but wasn’t prepared for all the chaos that followed. In other words, God had just gotten in over His head. So why should David keep resisting? He couldn’t fight an evil empire. He had nothing but God, and God wasn’t talking.
I doubt you’ll ever face a hostile army or have a king put a price on your head. All the same, we have an enemy worse than any number of kings or assassins or regiments. The Bible tells us in I Peter 5:8 that we are to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
I don’t know if the enemy has ever pursued you, but he is relentless. You wonder, “Lord, how am I ever going to get victory over this sin, this problem, this addiction? I’m doing everything I know how to do, but it’s just too much for me.” David felt that way; he was frustrated and overwhelmed by his enemy to the point of giving in. Look carefully at the text, and you’ll see how honestly he describes his feelings about being a fugitive and fleeing from the most powerful man on earth.
This is all very understandable and human. It’s a comfort to know David had the kind of black days we do. But aren’t you glad the psalm doesn’t stop there? David may have thought he didn’t have a prayer, but in fact, he was just where God wanted him.
Our Supplication When God Delays
Despite the desolation of his emotional state, at least David prayed. And what kind of prayer did he offer?
There is no textbook for genuine prayer. There is no professor who can teach it, no pastor who can make it happen for you. True prayer is a spontaneous outpouring of honesty and need from the soul’s foundation. In calm times, we say a prayer. In desperate times, we truly pray.
“Lord,” you cry, “I’m lost and helpless. I have nowhere else to turn. So, having come to the end of your own limited resources, you are desperate enough to try your last resort: You go to the Creator of the universe who loves you and made you and holds all the answers in His hand. That’s when you pray.
The Foundation of Our Prayer
David repeats one little word three times in his prayer of desperation: the word lest. This is the kind of small, inconspicuous word on which the entire meaning of a Scripture passage can hinge. Lest is a conditional word. First, David says, “Lest I sleep the sleep of death.” David was so worn out physically and emotionally that he fully expected to die. He seemed to have come to the last page, and since the book of his life story was about to close, it seemed like an appropriate time to pray.
Not only did he fear his own death, but he also feared his own defeat. He said, “Lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed against him.’” There is the word lest again. David is certain that Saul will come out the winner. David is preparing to surrender as a prisoner, and it seems like an appropriate time to pray.
Perhaps worst of all, David feared his own disgrace: “Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved” (v. 4). Everyone in Israel knew that David was being pursued by Saul. When the enemy caught him, David would be humiliated, a subject of mockery. And the terrible thought of that for one who had been promised a kingdom made it seem like an appropriate time to pray.
Three great fears moved David to his knees. Quite frankly, he was not motivated to pray because he was a godly man, although we know that he was a man after God’s own heart. David prayed in Psalm 13 because he was desperate. Through the years, I’ve often observed how God steers us into that emotional cul-de-sac. He likes to corral us into a corner where the only way out is up. We have nowhere else to turn, and that’s when we get serious about praying.
If you’re going through a time of trouble right now, as so many of us are, don’t rail against God for what He has done to bring you to this place. Instead, ask Him how you can learn to be His trusting child and how you can hang on to the desperation that brings about sincere, heartfelt prayer. “O Lord God, I can’t get through one day without You. I can’t make it through these next hours without You.”
When we become desperate, we cry out, “O Lord, help me!” And He always does.
The Form of Our Prayer
In his desperation, David prayed three prayers in verse 3. First He said, “Lord, consider me.” The words actually mean, “Look on me.” What he wanted to say was, “Lord, don’t turn Your back on me anymore. Turn around and look at me and see me!”
His second prayer is, “Lord, hear me.” David is pleading with God to answer his questions. “Lord, please hear what I’m saying.”
And then there’s a very interesting third request. He says, “Lord, enlighten my eyes.” My first interpretation of that phrase was, “Lord, show me what You’re doing.” But that’s not the meaning of the phrase. It really means, “Lord, put the light back in my eyes.” Isn’t that a fascinating thing to put in our prayers? Put the light back in my eyes.
You can easily spot a person suffering through depression. His face gives him away. Depression transforms one’s countenance into a mask, empty and rigid. Most of all, the light in the person’s eyes has been extinguished. David says, “O Lord, I have no hope. Please see me and hear me—and put the light back in my eyes.” What a moving prayer this is.
But we come to a surprising place in David’s prayer. If you read the chapter thoughtfully, you can’t help but think, Doesn’t this portion belong somewhere else? For we’ve heard the cries of a tortured man. We’ve heard his pleading and fears, and we’ve seen just how low a man can sink. And there in the depths of his despair come two verses in which despair is replaced by triumph. David is no longer the bitter, hopeless man who feels God can’t or won’t help him. He’s suddenly a man filled with praise and a sense of victory, a man who has regained the light in his eyes.
The Focus of Our Prayer
David worked honestly through his darkest, most hopeless feelings. Then he turned his eyes away from his troubles and fixed his gaze on God. The focus of his prayer became “0 Lord, my God.” David called upon God; he called upon the power of God. In the midst of his prayer, in bringing his desperate plea to God, he began to look away from his problems and to see the One whom he had been addressing. He is suddenly conscious of an exalted and holy God, the Lord of the universe sitting enthroned in heaven. He addresses his Lord as Jehovah Elohim.
Jehovah reflects God’s promises; Elohim reflects God’s power. David says, “0 God of power and promise, I appeal to You.” In this moment of transformation, I believe David’s mind must have gone back to the promise that was given him, the promise that he should ascend to the throne. I believe he had a resurgence of faith that he would sit on Israel’s throne. God had promised him something, despite all that had transpired, and that meant something. It had to, he suddenly realized. David’s heart suddenly returned to the conviction that the God who promises is the God who is powerful, who can stand behind His promises. David’s faith rebounds and reasserts itself.
I always turn with joy to Jeremiah 20:11 when I’m facing difficulty: “The LORD is with me as a mighty, awesome one. Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail. They will be greatly ashamed, for they will not prosper. Their everlasting confusion will never be forgotten.”
A similar promise is found in Psalm 138:7-8: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me. The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, 0 LORD, endures forever; do not forsake the works of Your hands.”
We can find tremendous hope of victory in the midst of the deepest pits life can drop us into. But it’s no simple process. There isn’t a handy, guaranteed formula for hope in the midst of suffering. It takes absolute, fall-on-your-face humility and genuine, gut-wrenchingly honest prayer. We must come to the point where we hear ourselves saying, “Lord God, my life is devastated. I’ve been victimized by my emotions and overwhelmed by my problems. Life has thrown all it can at me, and I’ve caved in. I’ve experienced none of the victory; I haven’t honored You. I am at the point of surrender. But 0 Lord God, in the midst of all of this, help me to see and know my Mighty Awesome One, Jehovah Elohim.”
Only in the abject humility of such a prayer can we begin to catch the briefest glimmer of Him, and only then will our plummeting fortunes begin to reverse themselves.
There is a threefold progression in this psalm moving from tears to triumph. Right in the center lies the ultimate truth that makes the difference. That truth is that Jehovah Elohim—Almighty God—is in charge. No wonder David breaks into joyful song.
Our Song When God Delays
Our Song Is a Song of Triumph
‘But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me” (vv. 5-6).
David’s song is a song of triumph. And how did he reach that point? He began to see God.
Our troubles can cause us to avoid the places where we’re most likely to see Him. I’m always puzzled when troubled people fall away from the church. They may be strong pillars of the local fellowship, but when trouble comes along, they disappear. Have you ever noticed that?
“We’ve missed you in church.”
“Well, the truth is that we’re having trouble in our marriage.”
If that’s true, get up early and go to both services! You need all the church you can get in such a time. Our faith isn’t a luxury intended for periods of smooth sailing—neither is our fellowship. When trouble comes along, that’s when it’s wonderful to be part of a faithful, Bible-believing body of people who will rally around you. They’ll pray for you, support you with their resources, encourage you, and counsel you in the tough decisions. The devil is the only one whose opinion is that you should take a sabbatical from church in the hard times.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
-Lamentations 3:22 (NRSV)
David says, “I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.” What does that word salvation mean to you? I hope you realize that it means more than being saved from judgment; it can also be about salvation from predicaments that occur in the here and now. God saves us in the big picture, but the Bible assures us that He saves us in the small ones too—when we ask Him.
You might question that conclusion, because you think about poor, beleaguered David. How exactly has God saved him in this situation? Saul is still coming after him. The armies are still on the march. Things look as hopeless as ever, on the face of things. What has really changed?
Nothing—except David’s memory. He has recalled, as the spirit of prayer took hold of him and God counseled his hurting soul, that nothing has changed about God. Our Lord is changeless. He has been mighty in the past, and that has not changed. He has been loving and full of blessing, and that has not changed. He has had a plan for David, and that has not changed either. David has remembered these things, and he sings with joy, in words that simultaneously reflect past promises and future fulfillment: “God, You have delivered me!”
Has David been delivered from his plight? No, but in his heart and mind he has seen blessed deliverance, and he has claimed the promise of God. He proclaims—in advance, with the conviction of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen—that “Cod has delivered me.” David, the future king, has such faith in the future that he speaks of it in the past tense.
Our Song Is a Song of Thanksgiving
David writes, “I will sing to the L0RD, because He has dealt bountifully with me” (v. 6). If you want to stay healthy as a Christian, you need to go back and remember what God has done for you in the past. You need to polish the monuments to the great victories in your life. That’s among the wonderful reasons for keeping a journal. David consults the journal in his mind of his dealings with his Lord, and he realizes, “God has dealt bountifully with me.”
How often David must have, in his quieter moments, thought back to that tumultuous day in the field, that day when he tried on the king’s armor and couldn’t fit into it. He must have recalled the intimidating size and fearsome demeanor of that giant whom he faced with only a sling and five smooth stones. God had dealt bountifully with him then, and that was an understatement. David must have reviewed it often.
David took out that nine-foot-six-inch giant with a single shot and, in doing so, preserved Israel. There was no way to experience such a thing and not realize it was God’s work. David must have thought back even farther, to a time when God gave him incredible, superhuman strength and adrenaline to challenge wild animals that were threatening his flock of sheep. Why, a boy of his age couldn’t have prevailed against a bear and a lion without God’s presence. God clearly had a special purpose for him.
And it was undeniable that there had been times when Saul had been closing in for the kill. The game had seemed to be up. He was right in the very grasp of Saul and his sword, yet a miracle had always arrived.
We know from the psalms that David called upon his memory often to nurture and refresh his faith. When anxiety for the future built up—and it did time and again—David faced it with the testimony of the past. His life may not have been what he might have chosen, but it was a life that could never have lasted this long without God’s intervention.
What a terrible danger it is for us to become trapped in the claustrophobia of the present during a crisis. That’s our first impulse. The clear and present danger is so huge, so imposing, that it blocks our view behind us and ahead Of us. We desperately need perspective. We can’t change the future until it arrives, but we can gain wisdom from the past. It should hold for us an absolute conviction on the question of who God is and what He’s done for us previously.
Make your list, and check it twice. Just what has God done for you? You lost your job, and you thought the world would end. What did God do? Your marriage was in terrible trouble, or perhaps you even faced the devastation of a divorce. What did God do? How about when one of your children broke your heart? Do you remember God’s love for you then? Make a detailed inventory of His faithfulness in your life, and you’ll be surprised at the length of it.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the LORD” (Ps. 40:1-3).
Psalm 28:7 says it this way: “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him.”
Does it seem strange to you that Psalm 13, so filled with misery, builds to a final note of triumph, trust, and praise to the Almighty One? There’s nothing strange about it. That’s the way faith should work. We come to God honestly, pour our hearts out to Him, and experience renewed faith as He prods our memories and reaffirms His love.
In the Old Testament, there is a story of a prophet by the name of Habakkuk who lived at a time when the people of God lived in rebellion against His holy principles. Habakkuk was the prophet called to confront them in their wickedness, so he stood in their midst and cried out, “God, what are You going to do about this?”
The second verse of that prophet’s book reminds us of Psalm 13. Habakkuk says, “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ and You will not save.”
God finally responded to Habakkuk’s question in a veiled way. And once the prophet had worked over that answer and begun to grasp what it implied, he was shocked. It was the last answer he’d ever have imagined. For instance, in that same chapter, the Lord says to Habakkuk, “Look among the nations and watch—be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you”‘ (Hab. 1:5).
What kind of an answer is that? What are You up to, Lord? God is saying, “Take a good look around you and figure it out. If I tried to tell you, you wouldn’t believe Me anyway.”
God was absolutely right, I need not tell you. Habakkuk couldn’t believe it. God had a plan to use the Chaldeans, a nation that was many times more evil and wicked than the people of Israel, to judge the people of Israel. I can just see this prophet of God putting his hands over his head and wailing, “0, Lord! The problem was terrible, and the answer is even worse!”
Habakkuk can’t make any sense out of it at all. Why Would God use those more evil than Israel as a means of punishing them? Where is justice or logic in such a thing? It made no sense. And the only sort of conclusion the prophet could ever come to in his perplexity was that God is God, and His ways are not our ways.
And yet Habakkuk finally does come to another conclusion: “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills” (Hab. 3:17-19).
Habakkuk, you see, made a choice. His country was in turmoil; his God had no answers that made sense. When there was no explanation for things that he could wrap his mind around, the prophet said, “I do have one option: I can praise God. The world around me may be in turmoil, yet though all of it falls apart, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”
That same choice faces you. You can demand all the answers, neatly gift-wrapped. You can insist that God quickly resolve every trial and injustice in your life. You can hold out for the World, and your life within it, to become suddenly fair and rational, though they’ve never been so in the first place.
Or you can choose to lift up your eyes to the heavens, pour out your tears and grief and anger, and say in the very midst of them, “God, I have no clue what this turmoil is all about or where it is leading, but this is my resolution: I will put my trust in You, and I will praise You with all of my heart, unconditionally!”
The same God who has been there for you in the past is the God who is going to be there for you in the future. He will bring resolution in His own time, according to His own purposes. We become preoccupied with our circumstances; God is preoccupied with our character. He will allow the tough times for the higher good of our character until He is finished with the great work that is invisible to our earthly eyes.
And yet, you can he encouraged. God never waits too long. He is never late, nor does He lose control. He makes no misjudgments or mistakes. Next time you’re in that ceaseless tunnel, and there seems to be no light to lead you on, think of Sharon Paul’s words: “Even on my darkest days, I can still say I’ve seen Jesus. I’ve seen Him with the eyes of my spirit, even if the eyes of my mind and heart are blinded. I’m so grateful that He is my Savior.”
The writer of Psalm 13 concluded, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me” (NIV). I hope you’ve learned the joy of singing when God delays. [77-102]
1. F. B. Meyer, Choice Notes on the Psalms (Grand Rapid: Kregel, 1984), 23.
2. Adapted from John Phillips, Exploring the Psalms, vol. 1, Psalms 1-88 (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1988), 99.
3. James Montgomery Boice, Psalms: An Expositional Commentary, vol. 1, Psalms 1-41 ((Grand Rapid,;: Baker, I994), 109.