I once heard it said, “A week within prison walls is longer than a month at liberty.” It is easy to feel that God is distant from us within our trials and sufferings. Feeling as if God has forgotten us, has turned away from us, and as if we have been rejected by Him is not uncommon. Our pain drags on and on and it’s all we can focus on. We cry out to God for help in what seems to be a lost cause. We don’t hear His voice. We don’t feel His presence. We don’t see His hand. All this to only experience silence, isolation, and despair.
“How long, Oh Lord?”
Have you cried out to God in your suffering, How long? How long must I endure this pain? How long must I walk this road? When will you hear my cries? When will you answer my prayer, oh Lord? When? Where are you God?
You are not alone. Sometimes I think we as Christians make a wrong assumption by thinking that believers of Jesus should never question God in their circumstances. But this is clearly not the case. Even David, a man after God’s own heart, cried out to God, “How long?”
David laments to God, asking four times, “How long?” First David asks, “Will you forget me forever?” We can all relate to times in our lives where it was difficult to even remember when better days existed. The trial experienced seemed like it would go on forever with no hope of an end in sight. But isn’t this the very nature of our sufferings? We cannot know when the end will come. We cannot foresee the outcome. This is the very emotion David is expressing in Psalm 13. We can see and relate to David’s agony as he cries out, “Will you forget me forever?”
Next, David asks, “How long will you hide your face from me?” We’ve asked this question as well, I know I have! We question the very blessings of God upon our lives. We feel as if God has removed himself from us, as if he has taken away his protection, his refuge, his very presence from us. Picture yourself entering a store. You recognize an old friend, someone you know. You make your way toward her. She catches a glimpse of you, and your eyes meet. You smile and begin to call out her name, but her eyes fall to the floor as she quickly turns her back and heads in the opposite direction. Desperately trying to avoid you, she rushes away. Sometimes in our trials, this is how we view God. It’s as if He sees us, He knows us, but His eyes fall to the floor and He turns his back and leaves. We feel as if God has abandoned us, rejected us, failed us.
Just like David, we too “wrestle with our thoughts and have sorrow in our hearts”. We struggle with our own flood of emotions within our trials and suffering. We wallow in the depths of despair, once again asking, “How long Lord?” David is simply telling God, “Hey! This pain is destroying me here! It’s eating me up inside God! I just don’t know how long I can handle this pain! My heart is breaking! How long will you allow me to endure such sorrow?” It is in this state that we give Satan an edge. Our thoughts are easily swayed to feelings of questioning God’s goodness and His very character. The enemy whispers, “If God really loved you, He would answer your cries for help.” Or, he subtly echoes, “God wouldn’t leave you here if He really cared about you. God has abandoned you.” We begin to believe the lies and in turn we want to give up, give in, throw in the towel. There is a battle being waged between what we know to be true and what we feel to be true. David knows in reality, God has not left him even though he feels as if he as been abandoned. But the tension between knowing and feeling causes him to wrestle with his thoughts and feel sorrow in his heart.
Lastly, David asks God how long his enemies will triumph over him. How many times has someone else benefited from our suffering. It’s easy to look at the world, who prospers even without the Lord, and compare them to those who serve Him and yet must endure hardship. There are always those who seem to enjoy kicking someone while they’re down. As mentioned above, the enemy (Satan), seeks to kill, steal and destroy. There are times in our lives when we feel overpowered by our enemies, just as David did. We can relate to David’s feelings. It’s as if our enemies always seem to get the upper-hand. It’s as if we finally pick ourselves up, only to have our hopes and dreams crushed once again.
So we have seen David’s lament and we can relate to his questioning, but we would be remiss if we stopped there. As we continue to read Psalm 13, we will learn an important lesson in how David handles his desperation of, “How long, oh Lord?”
“Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; 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 to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”
Look on me! - The first thing David does is pray! He asks God to look on him. David is literally asking God to turn His face toward him, to recognize what is happening, and to consider his situation. David honestly tells God how he feels and then he calls upon the Lord to look at him. When we are in the midst of suffering, it’s easy to throw our hands up in the air and say God doesn’t care, but instead David prays and asks God to pay attention to him.
Answer! - David not only asks God to look upon him, but he also calls upon Him to answer. Many times we feel God has not answered, but our misconception comes in when we place expectations upon God to answer in the way WE think our prayer should be answered. Prayer is not simply asking God for something, it’s asking Him according to His will and not our own. Are our hearts ready to accept whatever answer we receive, even if it’s not how we think it should turn out? To truly want God’s will is to be able to recognize that His answer may be no, or not yet. But in order to receive any answer, we must first ask!
Give light to my eyes - David no longer wants to endure the misery he is in. How many times have we endured a trial and felt so down and out that we may have wished for a do-over, another life, or in extreme cases, even wished for death. I have caught myself thinking, “Oh Jesus, just come back now. It would make life so much easier.” David is asking God to make him whole again; to restore to him the joy of life. When we look at our pains and hardships through our own eyes, we cannot see an end, we only see misery. We are limited in our thinking. But when we ask God to open our eyes to the way HE sees our pain, then we ask God to allow us to see life through HIS eyes! And His ways are so much higher than ours!
Don’t let my enemies overcome - It’s crucial that we understand once again that Satan’s plan is to overcome us. He is the accuser, therefore he wants to distort our view of God. Each time he can get a foothold in our lives, he drives a stake between us and God causing us to experience feelings of distance from the Lord. It’s important that we recognize his schemes and cover ourselves with the full armor of God. Our prayer, like David’s, needs to include a request to the Lord that He will protect us from our enemies and guard our thoughts and our hearts from the evil one and from those who wish us harm.
Trust in God’s unfailing love! - Despite all of David’s despair, he still has hope! David is drawn back to what he KNOWS to be true from what he FEELS to be true. God’s character is one of an unfailing love! How do we know this to be true? Romans 5:8 tells us, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If God would show his love for us even when we were sinners - completely helpless and hopeless, then why would we doubt His love in our trials as we are serving Him? There is no line by which we cross that would ever stop God from loving us. He loves us even in our sin. His unfailing love gives us hope for a better tomorrow if we place our full trust in Him.
Rejoice in Salvation! - Even in the depths of our despair, believers in Christ need not question their salvation. Those who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior can rejoice in the fact that salvation is secure. No affliction, anguish, persecution, or danger can separate us from the love of God. In the midst of our hardships and suffering, it’s difficult to see any reason to rejoice, but we can learn an important lesson from David. Even in enduring his pain, he rejoices in the very thing that no enemy can strip from him - his salvation!
Sing of God’s goodness! - Previously, David expressed feeling of God turning away, or taking away His blessings. It’s easy to focus on present circumstances and to forget about God’s past goodness. As we suffer, that’s all we see. God has done far more than we remember or give Him credit for. He has also done far more for us than we even deserve. If God has been good to us in the past, then why would He not continue His goodness to us today? We should not only sing of His goodness, but also thank Him for it! Once again, it is the very nature of God to give good gifts to His children!
Recently, my dad had surgery to remove the cancer from his larynx. A simple three hour procedure turned into a grueling 10 hour ordeal. I spent many days by his bedside in a hospital far away from our home. As I held his hand and watched him experience pain, I too cried out, “How long, oh Lord?” In the midst of hard moments when it was difficult for him to breathe, to cough, to swallow, when he was weak and crying out to the Lord for help, it was easy to feel as if God wasn’t there, as if He was withholding His mercy. Feelings of abandonment and rejection, questions of God’s goodness and presence flooded my entire being. I was at a moment in my life where like David, I needed to recognize the difference between who I KNOW God to be and who I FEEL God to be. It was during this time that I rediscovered what I believe about God and His character.
In the coming blog entries, I want to write about what I have learned through this experience about the nature of God. As Christians, we believe that there is nothing God can’t do - that everything is possible with God. I beg to differ. I believe there are some things that God CANNOT do. I hope you will check back in the coming weeks as I address each specifically. Until then, my prayer is that like David, you will be able to trust in God’s unfailing love, to rejoice in your salvation, and to sing of God’s goodness!