For the director of music. A psalm of David.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;(Ps. 13:1-6 NIV)
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
The Psalmist expresses desperation and desolation and brings that into the presence of God, and then he ends with such an expression of confidence in God. Why are so many of these early Psalms like this? It is because it takes us a long time to learn to pray like this. We’re not used to expressing our feelings like this, especially in prayer. Yet this inspired prayer book gives us these examples of how we should pray.
Four times the Psalmist cries out ‘how long?’ This fourfold cry heightens the tension of the emotions the Psalmist feels. The voice of God is a dreadful thing, but the silence of the Lord is deeply disturbing. The days, weeks and months have rolled by and it seems as if God has forgotten. Did the Psalmist pray every day and the sky seemed like brass? The phrase ‘how long’ has a sense of urgency. But how long does it take us at times to pray?
The face of God is a familiar OT phrase. The people of God wanted God to turn His face toward them
the Lord make his face shine on you(Num. 6:25-26 NIV)
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face towards you
and give you peace.
When the face of the LORD was turned towards His people they were blessed, but when God turned His face away or hid His face then the people were not blessed, and might even be disciplined or punished by the Lord.
The first cry ‘How long, Lord’ is more like a groan. The Psalmist appears to have been musing upon his trouble and when he can contain his thoughts any longer, he cries out to God. Is this silence and hiddenness going to last forever? When the Psalmist sensed that the Lord was with him there was less to fear from the enemy. But now God has been silent. When you are alone, thoughts can be troubling day after day. There is no-one to share the thoughts with, no one to provide perspective for you. The Psalmist wrestles with his thoughts without relief and he is deeply sorrowful in his heart. The enemies triumph over him and gloat at his trouble.
The Psalmist utters a threefold petition, ‘Look…, answer…, give light. If you have hidden your face then turn and look. Break the awful silence with your answer.’ He wants light in his eyes as a symbol of the blessing of God. His eyes have become dim, perhaps through many tears of sorrow. If this sorrow takes him to the grave then the enemy will have cause to gloat. Even worse if he wavers in his faith and falls
Then the Psalmist comes to confidence in (hesed covenant love) God’s unfailing love. He moves from sorrow of heart to rejoicing in his heart. The overflow of the heart causes him to burst into song. I will sing to the Lord for He has been good to me.
We should be able to echo that sense of rejoicing. As we approach Easter celebration and think of the death and resurrection of Christ, we will sing to the Lord for the Lord has been good to us.
Lord when we are troubled and afraid help us to bring all that fear and trouble into your presence, and in your presence cause our hearts to move from sorrow to joy, because great is your salvation. You have shown us covenant love and that love will never let us go. We are secure in your unfailing love and we sing the praises of Your name for you have made us glad and done us good. Receive our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.