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  • Paul Reich

How Long, O Lord? (Part 1)

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

Experiencing God’s love and goodness in times of trial and despair - Response #1: "Pour your heart out to God."

 

Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash

 

Distinguished Old Testament Professor Bruce Waltke describes a Christian's response to pain this way:

We once rescued a wren from the claws of our cat. Though its wing was broken, the frightened bird struggled to escape my loving hands. Contrast this with my daughter's recent trip to the doctor. Her strep throat meant a shot was necessary. Frightened, she cried, "No, Daddy. No, Daddy, No, Daddy." But all the while she gripped me tightly around the neck. Pain ought to make us more like a sick child than a hurt bird.[1]

Most of us have experienced pain at some point in our lives. Of the two, emotional pain is often more distressing and debilitating than physical pain because it reaches to the very depths of our hearts. Often these moments of despair or despondency come when we face difficult circumstances beyond our control. In these times of heartfelt anguish, life can seem dark and hopeless, and in this state of mind it is easy to question God.


In these painful moments, sometimes like the crippled wren we fail to recognize that God has our wellbeing in mind, and we struggle to escape His loving hands. Instead, even amidst our frightened cries, objections, and questions, we need to cling to our loving heavenly Father knowing that He is faithful, and we can trust Him even though we do not fully understand what we are going through.


In times like this, I have found the Psalms to be of great encouragement to me. David and other psalmists frequently put into words the complex and muddled feelings of my own heart, and they formulate them into prayers that help me to unload my heart to God while I cling tightly to His neck. In this regard, one of the Psalms that has been a great blessing to me over the years is Psalm 13.


Psalm 13 (NASB)

For the choir director. A Psalm of David.

  1. How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?

  2. How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

  3. Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,

  4. And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.

  5. But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

  6. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

In this short Psalm, David lifts his anguished heart and adverse circumstances to God in earnest prayer. In so doing, he models three prayerful responses that we can follow in times of difficulty.


1. POUR YOUR HEART OUT TO GOD


David’s first response was to pour out his heart to God. His gut level honesty gushes forth with four “How longs.” The first two “How longs” are directed at the Lord.


1 How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? (1st) How long will You hide Your face from me? (2nd)


In his state of deep despair, David felt God had abandoned him. He felt God had forgotten him and was hiding from him.


Have you ever felt like David in your time of trial or difficulty? Have you ever felt God had forgotten about you and your pain? Have you ever prayed and prayed, but the heavens were silent? Have you ever felt like God had turned His back on you and that you were all alone?


Years ago, I read Jim Bakker’s book, I Was Wrong. In his book, he describes his feelings while in prison:

The closed door had become a symbol of my life. As I lay there that night, I felt as though all the life had been drained out of me. I didn’t know if God cared about me anymore; I could not feel His presence in my life. I wondered if He had written me off, if He had simply said good-bye to me. At my lowest times, I even doubted that God existed. Oh, sure, somewhere deep within the recesses of my heart and mind, I knew that God was still alive and well. But wherever He was, I could not find Him. Whatever He was saying, if anything at all, I could not hear His voice. I honestly did not know where God was.[2]

Though the circumstances have been much different and even though I know based on the promises of Scripture that God will not abandon me, there have been times in my life when I could not find God, when I could not hear His voice, and I did not know where God was. Perhaps you have felt the same.


Even Jesus faced a time in His life when He experienced the anguish of feeling abandoned by God, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). In that moment when Jesus was judged for our sin, He was abandoned by His Father and punished as our sin substitute so that you and I would have free access to God’s presence and never be abandoned. God has promised, “I will never leave [desert] you, I will never forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, quoting from Deuteronomy 31:6, 8 and Joshua 1:5).


When Isaiah prophesied the future 70-year captivity of God’s people by the Babylonians and their eventual return, he assured them of God’s faithful care even though they would feel abandoned by God.


Isaiah 49:14 (NASB)

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me.”


Because of their continued disobedience, the Lord would allow His people to be taken into captivity by the Babylonians. This captivity was a chastening act by a loving Father who had their wellbeing in mind (compare Jeremiah 29:11 – see chapters Jeremiah 28, and 29 for context; see also Hebrews 12:4-11). Isaiah foresees that in their captivity they will feel forsaken and forgotten by the Lord.


Yet, amidst their thoughts and feelings of abandonment, the Lord promised that the desolate city of Zion (Jerusalem) would be restored, and His people gathered from the far countries to which they have been scattered. Though all the circumstances will seem to indicate that God has deserted His people, He has not. Isaiah reminds them in advance that the Lord cares about them more than even a nursing mother.


Isaiah 49:15–16 (NASB)

15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.

16 “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.


Using the strongest metaphor imaginable of human bonding – a mother nursing her newborn infant – Isaiah describes God’s loving compassion for them as even more powerful and faithful than that of a mother. Even though this is the strongest image of human bonding and care, on rare occasions even a mother may abandon her child, but the Lord will never abandon His people.


To assure them of this fact, Isaiah uses another metaphor to describe His permanent and constant care for His people. The city of Zion, the capital of Judea, the location of the temple, the seat of God’s presence, and the center of worship for God’s people is tattooed on the palms of His hands.


There is no part of our bodies that we see more often than our hands. We look at our hands when we work, pick up a coffee mug, tap a credit card, write a note, play an instrument, and wash them countless times each day. Our hands are ever before us. Much like wearing a wedding ring is a constant reminder of one’s covenant vows of faithfulness made to a spouse, how much more would a permanent, nonremovable tattoo be a constant reminder. Isaiah assures God’s people that they are permanently inscribed on God’s palms, and this is a symbol of His faithful and constant care for them.


Scripture text placed on image by Image by Treharris from Pixabay


If these images were true of God’s people in the Old Testament, how much more are they true for those who are reconciled to God through faith in Christ’s redemptive death on the cross. Though there may be times you feel abandoned by the Lord, He has inscribed you on His nail pierced hands. You are ever before Him. There may be times when you feel like the Lord has forsaken you, but He has not. He will never desert you, He will never forsake you!


This brings us to the next two “How longs.”


2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? (3rd) How long will my enemy be exalted over me? (4th)

In the third how long, David describes the anguish of his soul. He is experiencing inner turmoil. Feeling he has no one to talk to, David takes counsel in his soul. He is wrestling with his own thoughts. His mind is tossing and turning as he reflects on his difficult situation. His mind is constantly occupied as he analyzes his circumstances from every angle. His problem looms like a giant before him as he turns the situation over and over in his thoughts, trying to think of human solutions and crying out to God for help.


More than mental wrestling, his heart is filled with constant sorrow. He is in anguish all day long, day after day. He is hurting, he is grieving. His emotions are raw. His stomach is churning. He sees no end in sight to his sadness and in desperation he cries out, “How long O Lord?”


Have you ever felt this way? God, I don’t know if I can take it anymore. My mind just won’t quit. God, how long do I live with this continual sense of anguish and despair? Perhaps you are feeling this way right now.


Finally, in the fourth “How long?”, David describes his circumstances, “How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” At last, on the fourth “How long” we get an idea of David’s difficult circumstances that are causing him such intense stress. David is facing an enemy that has the upper hand.


We are not told who his enemy is, but David was no stranger to enemies trying to take him out.


Perhaps it was King Saul? During the 13 years between David being anointed king as a youth and being installed as king, Saul plotted against David’s life no less than 16 times, either making personal attempts to kill David or ordering others to kill him. Here is a summary of these threats on David’s life:

  • Saul hurled a spear at David (1 Samuel 18:11

  • Saul plotted so the Philistines will be against David (1 Samuel 18:17-19

  • Saul plotted again so the Philistines will kill David (1 Samuel 18:20-25)

  • Saul ordered his servants to kill David (1 Samuel 19:1-2, 4-6

  • Saul threw another spear at David (1 Samuel 19:8-10

  • Saul plotted to capture David in bed (1 Samuel 19:11-17

  • Saul made four distinct efforts to capture David (1 Samuel 19:20-23)

  • Saul wanted Jonathan to bring David so he could kill him (1 Samuel 20:31-33)

  • David expressed to Abiathar, the priest, that Saul is seeking his life (1 Samuel 22:23)

  • Saul plotted to capture David and his men at Keilah (1 Samuel 23:7-13)

  • Saul sought David every day in the wilderness of Ziph (1 Samuel 23:14)

  • Saul attempted to capture David in the wilderness of Maon, but his efforts were thwarted by an invasion of the Philistines (1 Samuel 23:19-28

  • Saul took 3,000 men to capture David in Engedi, David spared Saul’s life when he went to relieve himself in a cave (1 Samuel 24:1-22)

  • Saul pursued David and David spared Saul’s life a second time while he was sleeping (1 Samuel 26:1-25)

Perhaps it was Absalom? Maybe David is referring to Absalom, his own son, who undermined his authority and attempted to overthrow his kingdom (2 Samuel 15-18).


Perhaps it was a Foreign Enemy? David fought many battles against foreign enemies including the Philistines, the Amalekites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Arameans, and the Edomites.


Perhaps it was a Personal Enemy? In addition to Saul and Absalom, David had a variety of other personal enemies that hated him. Containing a similar message to Psalm 13, David describes his anguish over these personal enemies in Psalm 69


Psalm 69:3–4 (NASB)

3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched; My eyes fail while I wait for my God.

4 Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; Those who would destroy me are powerful, being wrongfully my enemies; What I did not steal, I then have to restore.


Those who hate David without cause are uncountable. Some of these enemies are powerful, seeking to destroy him. Though David doesn’t identify these enemies by name, later in this Psalm David gives several hints about those from among his own people who are antagonistic toward him. He is estranged from his own brothers (69:8), city rulers and merchants gossip about him (69:12a), and drunkards sing about him (69:12b).


Regardless of who David's enemy is – Saul or Absalom or a foreign enemy or a personal enemy – one thing is for sure, his enemy now has the upper hand. “How long will my enemy be exalted over me” (Psalm 13:2b).


Your problem may not be an enemy. Perhaps your problem is financial or physical or relational or circumstantial. Regardless of your problem, it seems to have the upper hand. It seems to be winning and you can’t find God. God seems to be silent to your pain and you may be asking,

  • How long O Lord will this financial struggle continue?

  • How Long O Lord will I have to endure this physical ailment?

  • How long O Lord will there be tensions in this relationship?

  • How long O Lord will our children stray from your ways?

  • How long O Lord before you send a revival to our nation?

  • How long O Lord will I feel this barrenness in my soul?

David had the freedom to pour out his heart to the Lord. In the same way, you can experience great relief in pouring out your heart to God. God knows your heart anyway. There is no sense in hiding your feelings from Him. Turn to Him with your thoughts and feelings. He is not going to send a lightning bolt from heaven. If your attitudes get out of line, He may ask you to repent, but He will not condemn you for sharing your heart with Him.


The Bible condemns grumbling (Numbers 14:27-29; 1 Corinthians 10:10; Philippians 2:14), but it encourages pouring out your heart (Psalm 42:3-6; 62:8; Lamentations 2:19). The difference between grumbling and pouring out your soul is the posture of your heart when you approach God. Grumbling comes from a defiant and rebellious heart. It comes from a proud heart that stands in judgment of God for the difficulties He has allowed in your life. It comes from a heart of unbelief that blames God for your pain. It flows from an ungrateful heart that is dissatisfied with God’s provision. In contrast, pouring out your heart flows from a surrendered will and a sincere heart that turns to God in faith. You can freely share the pain of your heart with your Heavenly Father, humbly casting your cares on Him knowing that He cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7). You can even question God and express the anguish of your soul while at the same time turning to Him in faith, looking to Him to answer your cry.


Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash


You may feel that you can’t take it anymore. You may have come to the end of your own strength. Tell God how you feel. Saints greater than you or I have experienced the same feelings – among them, the apostle Paul. “… we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;” (2 Corinthians 1:8–9 NASB). On another occasion, the Lord assured Paul amidst his great trials, “’My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NASB).


Paul experienced firsthand, the truth of John Phillips’ words, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” In other words, when we think we are finished, God has just started. Sometimes in our days of greatest despair God is doing His greatest work in our lives. When we are weak, we need to turn to God for His strength. When there is only one set of footprints in the sand, it is not because God has abandoned us, but because He is carrying us.


Do not mistake God’s delays as a sign of God’s denials. Do not mistake the silence of God for abandonment. God has promised to never leave you or forsake you. He has not forgotten you; you are engraved on the palms of His hands!


Closing


Like David, I encourage you to pour your anguished heart out to the Lord. Share your hurt, your confusion, and your despair with Him. David assures us that the Lord is near to all who call upon Him in truth, He will hear your cry (Psalm 145:18-19).


Christmas season is celebrated as a time of joy; though, for many, it is a time of loneliness and pain - grieving an absent loved one, suffering a debilitating infirmity, coping with relational conflict, confronting addiction, experiencing financial shortage, and more. If this is a difficult season for you, reflect on God's great love demonstrated in sending His Son into our world to take on human flesh for the express purpose of redeeming us from the suffering of this fallen and broken world. He was born to die an atoning death to save us from the penalty, power, and effects of sin, to free us from the dominion of Satan, and give us eternal life with Him, a life without pain and suffering.


The message of Christmas is Immanuel, "God with us." He is with you in your pain. He cares. He has not forgotten you.


In my next posts, we will garner lessons from David's second and third prayerful responses in his time of trial. Until then, I wish you a Christmas and New Year filled with God's presence and His peace.



REFERENCES

[1] Dan Foster, http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/pain.htm

[2] Jim Bakker, I Was Wrong (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 146-147.

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