A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.
All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears
because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
But you, Lord, sit enthroned for ever;
your renown endures through all generations.
You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favour to her;
the appointed time has come.
For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.
The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
For the Lord will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.
He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.
Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:
‘The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.’
So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the Lord.
In the course of my life he broke my strength;(Ps. 102:1-28 NIV)
he cut short my days.
So I said:
‘Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.’
This is one of the seven penitential Psalms. We can see examples of the suffering often (though not exclusively) associated with sin (v10, 23-24).
The structure of this Psalm is important because it gives a panoramic view of where the Psalmist is taking us with this particular Psalm.
- Introductory Prayer v1-2
- Lament v 3-11
- Promises v12-22
- Lament v23-27
- Future viewpoint v28
The Psalmist uses three terms to describe his address to God – his prayer, his cry and his call. The Psalmist does not presume a hearing with God as if he has a right to be heard. He wants his prayer and cry to be heard. If God turns His face away from us He would be perfectly righteous in doing so. If we pray, or call or cry out to God based on our own merit, we will definitely not be heard. Our life, our righteousness, and the sincerity of our words have no merit, worse than that, they would appear as a mere trampling of God’s courts. We must realise the importance and necessity of praying in the name of Jesus’ Christ. As Jesus is the only way to God for our salvation, so He is the only way to God in prayer. In the OT the people of God would plead the covenant, we know from the New Testament that the Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of the covenant, so pleading the covenant and pleading through the name of Jesus Christ is the same thing.
The Psalmist feels the sense of urgency in needing God to act. God’s response knows no urgency. It is not like mustering all the resources in response to an urgent 999 telephone call. The Lord knows what is happening, the Lord has all the resources of His Almighty power to hand.
The Psalmist has numbered his days and he acknowledges that they pass like smoke. The glowing embers of his bones will soon turn to ash and he will be no more. He has lost heart, his heart is blighted and as dry as withered grass. I met up recently with someone who told me how a dark depression had settled in upon them. It was clear to see that a considerable amount of weight had been lost. They had no desire to cook or eat. When they did force themselves to cook, the food would sit forgotten. I remember the zeal and the energy that this person used to have, and it was sad to see them reduced like this. The comfort is that we can see from this Psalm that the Lord recognises that state of mind. Often when we are depressed, we feel alone and misunderstood, in fact no-one understands, we say. But that is wrong, God does, it is described here for us. Calvin says that the Psalms are an anatomy of all parts of the soul, because there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities – in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated. In our Christian 21st century world many of us feel that however we feel we should ‘tough it out’, because after all we are people of faith. The Psalmist pours it out before the Lord because he is a man of faith.
The cries and groans have had the physical effect of reducing him to skin and bone. He feels like the desert owl, all alone and existing in the ruins of his own life. He has lost the blessing of sleep and feels awake like a bird on a rooftop.
The Psalm’s plight has not gone unnoticed – the enemy is at hand to taunt him. My friend, to whom I referred earlier, expressed a similar feeling. They felt accused by conscience or the devil of being a bad Christian because of the way that they felt. It is easy to feel that you are a curse to yourself and all others. There is not even any pleasure in eating food, everything tastes like cardboard and it is a competition between the amount of his tears compared to the amount he could drink. It is an act of faith to acknowledge that the Lord has done this. Whatever our ailment, we ought to realise that the Lord has done this. We often want to know why, and what God is teaching us through this. We may never know what God is doing but He asks us to trust that He is doing. Like the Psalmist the answer will only come in the future. Until that day we acknowledge the hand of God in our lives and seek to trust Him daily.
Our days are short and will soon disappear like the evening shadow, therefore let us make the most of the time and trust the Lord for today and tomorrow.
O Lord our God we cry out to You in the name of Jesus Christ. Help us Lord in our time of trial. Help us to have the courage and faith to bring our real emotions before You. When the emotions are strong, we feel we ought not to pray until we have our emotions under control. We thank You that we can see in the Psalms that all our emotions are understood and acknowledged by You in Your word. Lord in our joy, in our fear, in our anxiety and in our happiness help us to always come before You in prayer, because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.