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  • Paul Reich

How Long, O Lord? (Part 2)

Experiencing God's love and goodness in times of trial and despair - Response #2: "Pray your heart up to God."

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

Trials come in all shapes and sizes. Consider the following humorous account.

A friend of mine awoke one morning to find a puddle of water in the middle of his king-size waterbed. In order to fix the puncture, he rolled the heavy mattress outdoors and filled it with more water so he could locate the leak more easily. The enormous bag of water was impossible to control and began rolling on the hilly terrain. He tried to hold it back, but it headed downhill and landed in a clump of bushes which poked it full of holes. Disgusted, my friend threw out the water-bed frame and moved a standard bed into his room. The next morning, he awoke to find a puddle of water in the middle of the new bed. The upstairs bathroom had a leaky drain.[1]

Yes, life is spattered with trials and afflictions of all shapes and sizes – even waterbed mattresses rolling out of control. Life’s trials range from brief inconsequential irritations like a pesky fly (easily resolved with a fly swatter) or unexpected mishaps such as a car accident to community impacting natural disaster or prolonged physical or emotional suffering. Some of life’s mishaps, like the run-away waterbed mattress, can be remembered with laughter, while others leave a lasting and profound impact on us - emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and perhaps even physically.


In view of eternal glory, the apostle Paul considers all earthly affliction and suffering as momentary and light (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Yet in this life, some suffering is more intense and painful than other suffering. Among life’s greatest suffering is the emotional pain that results from relational betrayal – abandonment, rejection, violation, unfaithfulness, and more. These relational breeches can leave the heart reeling in despair.


In my previous blog, we looked at the first two verses of Psalm 13 and discovered that David experienced deep anguish of heart due to an enemy having the upper hand. We are not told in this Psalm who his enemy is, but we know that he is suffering perpetual sorrow and mental turmoil over the situation. In desperation, David pours out his heart to God, unloading the pain of his anguished soul. This is the first of three prayer responses that David models in this Psalm. Following his example, I encouraged you to follow David’s first prayer response and “Pour Your Heart Out to God.”


In this blog post, we will look at the second prayer response modeled by David, providing us an example for bringing our own anguished hearts and painful circumstances to the Lord.


2. PRAY YOUR HEART UP TO GOD


In Psalm 13, after pouring out his heart to God, David lifts three specific prayer requests to God.


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


1) Consider me

2) Answer me

3) Enlighten me


David’s first two requests are in response to his first two “how longs” (see previous blog post). Because he has felt abandoned and forgotten by God, David prays that the Lord would not be distant and unconcerned. “Consider . . . me, O Lord.” In other words, “Turn Your attention toward me. Don’t hide your face from me any longer. I need You. Please regard my pain and suffering due to this difficult situation and have compassion on me.” And then, “Answer me." I desperately need to hear from You. Please respond to my anguished soul and the cries of my heart. Answer my prayers. Don’ delay any longer.”


Perhaps you can identify with David’s prayer. “Hey God, are You there? I pray and pray, but I always seem to get a busy signal. My suffering and despair have filled my days and nights. Please consider the anguish of my soul and answer my cries of desperation.”


David’s third request corresponds with his third and fourth “how longs.” David is in despair because of his enemies. His heart is downcast and sorrowful, so he asks that God would bring light to his eyes lest he die, “Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death.” Perhaps, the threat to David’s life is literal for there were quite a few enemies throughout his life who were out to kill him. More likely though, David is speaking figuratively as eyes are frequently used in Scripture to describe one’s mental and emotional state.[2]



Our well-known English saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” conveys a double truth. First, that through our eyes we take in the world around us, allowing us to receive light for our mental understanding. In other words, our eyes are a window providing illumination to our own souls. Second, the eyes of others are a window into their souls, that is, we can catch a glimpse into the mental and emotional state of others through their eyes. Through the eyes of others, we can perceive their grief, anger, joy, peace, pride, fear, confusion, and more. In the same way, others can see into our souls through the windows of our eyes.


These contemporary concepts help us understand what David is saying. David’s eyes are dimmed by his grief and sorrow. His eyes are dull due to his deep despondency, leading him to despair of life itself. Life is a chore. He is numb and he has no sense of hope for a better future. David uses similar “eyes” terminology in other Psalms to describe his anguished soul.


Psalm 38:10 (NASB)

10 My heart throbs, my strength fails me; And the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me.


Psalm 69:3 (NASB)

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


Psalm 88:9 (NASB)

9 My eye has wasted away because of affliction; I have called upon You every day, O Lord; I have spread out my hands to You.


Also consider Solomon’s usage of a similar metaphor.


Proverbs 15:30 (NASB)

30 Bright eyes gladden the heart; Good news puts fat on the bones.


So, when David is asking God to give light to his eyes, he is asking God to help him change his mental and emotional perspective. “God, let me see this situation as you see it. Let me see Your purpose and give me hope once again, lest because of this enemy I despair to the point of death.”


Perhaps you are experiencing a time when the difficulties of life and the pain in your heart are so overwhelming that you can’t see a glimmer of hope. In this state of despair, you desperately need spiritual sight to see your circumstances from God’s perspective. You need to see that God is in control and be assured of His presence and care. You need to have hope in God’s redeeming purposes and see that He is faithful regardless of the suffering you are experiencing. As your mental perspective changes, your emotional state will also change. This is all made possible by the enabling grace of God.


The apostle Paul understood this when he experienced indescribable sufferings for the sake of Christ. Because of the surpassing power of the indwelling Christ, he could say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11). And he could also say, Therefore we do not lose heart,” first because of the daily renewal of his inner man, but second because he saw his “momentary, light affliction” in light of the incomparable weight of glory that is being produced, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).


Having a divine perspective is also behind James’ directive, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing(James 1:2–4 NASB). When we see a positive purpose for negative circumstances, we can experience hope, even joy, to help us endure. In fact, it is in this context of trials that James instructs, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God … and it will be given to him, but he must ask in faith without any doubting” (James 2:5-6a). If there ever is a time that we need wisdom (God's perspective), it is during trials when we are so blinded by the immediacy of our pain that we cannot see the light of hope. Thankfully, we can receive God’s wisdom through praying in faith.


In fact, the recurring biblical instruction during times of trial, anxiety, or suffering is to pray.


Psalm 50:15 (NASB)

15 Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.


Philippians 4:6–7 (NASB)

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


1 Peter 5:7 (NASB)

7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.


James 5:13a (NASB)

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray.


Prayer is a means to unload the burden of your heart and lift up your requests to God. God invites you to come to Him with your troubles. If you do this with thanksgiving, Paul promises that God’s incomprehensible peace will guard your heart and your mind. The imagery is that God’s peace like a sentry will stand watch over your heart and mind to protect it, fending off any harassing anxious thoughts and feelings that come to assault you.


Scripture added to photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash


Now back to Psalm 13. Underlying David’s request, though not directly stated, he is asking that God would deliver him from his enemy. His motive is that God would answer his prayers so that his enemy cannot claim a victory and rejoice at his defeat.


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


David does not want his enemy to win and celebrate his downfall. He does not want to be overcome but to be an overcomer. David knew that the Lord was his protector and the lifter of his head in times of trouble, the one who gives him hope and enables him to walk in victory even amidst the situation – so much so that on other occasions he was able to offer sacrifices with shouts of joy and sing praises (Psalm 3:3; 27:5-6).


Regardless of your circumstances and the outcome of your situation, God has grace for you to stand in your trial. He is “the God of hope” who can fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13 NASB).


In situations beyond your control, you have no good recourse but to ask God for His deliverance and then turn your heart in trust to him. Through prayer, you can cast your anxieties on God with the full assurance that He cares for you and with the promise that He will sustain you, enabling you to stand strong and not be overcome by your situation.


Psalm 55:22 (NASB)

22 Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.


Both the Hebrew and the Greek words for “cast” describe throwing or hurling objects – lots, stones, fishing nets, and more. In each case these objects are cast in a chosen direction: lots are cast into the lap, stones are hurled at various targets, fishing nets are cast into the sea, and some things are even cast behind one’s back. Casting your cares requires you to intentionally release them from your hands, that is from your control, deliberately choosing to release them to God. By placing your burden upon the Lord, you are trusting Him to carry it and trusting Him for His sustaining strength, wisdom, and resolution for your situation. You are trusting Him to work things out for your good and His glory.


Prayer often changes us before it changes our circumstances. Through prayer, our burdens are released, our perspectives changed, our hearts are assured with God’s peace, and we find hope to move forward.


During the most difficult seasons of my life, I have found that praying the Psalms and other prayers recorded in the Bible are especially valuable for helping me express my own anguish and formulate my own requests. I have also found prayerfully reflecting on the stories and teaching of Scripture to be a great source of God’s encouragement during these challenging times.


Romans 15:4–5 (NASB)

4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.


As I reflect on how God worked in the lives and difficult situations of biblical men and women, I’m encouraged by their example and receive renewed hope. In fact, Scripture itself even instructs us to learn from the examples of biblical characters who underwent suffering.


James 5:10–11 (NASB)

10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.


We discover from this passage in James that we can learn how to endure suffering from those who have gone through it, and we can also learn about God’s faithfulness to those who endure suffering – “the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” In both these ways we can receive encouragement from the Scriptures. By identifying with biblical characters who have turned to God in their suffering and by prayerfully engaging with the insights gleaned from their lives, we can also lift our own hearts to God in meaningful ways. These faithful saints of old can become witnesses to us of how we are to run our own Christian race with endurance (Hebrews 11 and 12:1-4, a message for another time).


Closing


In Psalm 13, so far we've explored two of David's prayer responses during a time of trial and suffering in his life. In my previous post, you discovered the value of "pouring your heart out to God." In this post, you learned the importance of "praying your heart up to God." In my next blog post, you will learn from David's third prayer response in Psalm 13, and discover the value of "praising your heart full of God." May you experience God's comforting presence and hope during your time of trial.




REFERENCES

[1] Reader's Digest, March, 1993, p. 123.

[2] (1 Samuel 14:27-29; 15:17; 24:10; 2 Samuel 6:22; 2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 6;7; 17:2; 18:27; 31:9; 36:1; 54:7; 131:1; Proverbs 3:7; Isaiah 6:10; and many more)

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