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Keeping Faith in Hard Times

Updated: Feb 20

Keeping Faith in Hard Times


Psalm 13


How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

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;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good to me.


The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®




This psalm was attributed to David. There was a theory that it was composed when David’s son Absalom conspired against him. However, it doesn’t really matter what the background is, because this psalm gives voice to feelings that arise in any of the many trials that a person undergoes in life, and remains strikingly relevant and understandable to us today. In it David articulates both the difficulties of living in a fallen world but also the eternal truths about the character of life. The psalms have been called ‘the soul’s medicine chest’, and someone has said that this psalm is the turning point between mourning and rejoicing because it has three parts: David in despair; David looking for answers; David’s faith reasserting itself joyfully.


Section 1


How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

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?


The first section is intense – it is the cry of one who has endured pain and misery for some time. David repeats the phrase, ‘How long?’ four times. This tells us that he is feeling abandoned and in despair because he is going through a tough time and he can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. God seems distant, silent and unwilling to rescue him from his circumstances. He has hidden his face and by default removed his earlier blessings. This has resonance for us. We say things like, ‘It’s not supposed to be like this God! I’m supposed to be your child! Don’t you see the situation I’m in – where are you? Have you forgotten me?’


It’s difficult for us as Christians to think about these things. We like to package our Christianity up in the prettiest wrapping we can find. We go around saying ‘God loves you’ to people who are having a woeful experience, as if somehow that is meant to make them feel better. They ask you, ‘If God loves me why did he do this?’ We can’t answer or we say uncomforting things like, ‘God sent this to challenge your faith,’ or maybe ‘God is not responsible for the woes of man – we have free will and can choose our own way.’ These may be true but how do they help?


In church on a Sunday we always appear cheerful. Our Church services are full of singing and praise. But when reality hits, what do we do? We just bring out the most superficial and least comforting phrases we can find, because we don’t like to admit that bad things happen. I read the phrase once that Christians like to ‘dress up their mess’ – ie cover up difficulty with false smiles and trite phrases. Maybe what we should be doing is facing up to the fact that we do not live in a perfect world and no life will ever be 100% picture perfect. In reality, we all have problems to deal with, sometimes small, sometimes large, and we need to be prepared, and not only be able to keep our own faith strong but be able to help others understand it too.


And here we have David in Psalm 13 and in other Psalms confirming that the walk of faith isn’t a bed of roses. He shows us what the cry of faith looks like in the middle of a prolonged struggle. ‘How long?’ – it’s just gone on too long! We can maintain our faith in the short-term but if it drags on too long we begin to wonder if God will be silent forever and we begin to ask questions: ‘Why this? Why now? Why me?’


We all understand the idea of wrestling with our thoughts. How easy it is for us to become obsessed with our troubles and go over and over until we have driven ourselves mad. We want relief from this and we want it now. We turn to quick fixes: social media, where we bemoan our problems hoping for sympathy, but in reality this usually brings more censure and blame down upon us; drink, to literally drown our sorrows, but the next day it feels as bad as ever; drugs, to take our mind away into another zone for a time, but when we emerge the troubles are still there; therapy, counselling, bending our friend’s ears etc etc. This is when we start to turn away from God and towards false idols, in the hopes that they will give us what God seems to be denying us. Whatever our poison, the more we try to escape, the more the problem grows with no salvation in sight.


In David’s case it looks like he had a specific problem of an enemy who was triumphing over him. Perhaps this was an external threat from another nation or maybe a personal threat. We don’t know. In our lives we might not have literal human enemies. Sometimes our own attitudes are the enemy though. We have our temperaments – our tendency to gossip, be angry with other people at real and imagined slights, our interest in unwholesome things, our temptations to sin, our quick tempers, or our unwillingness to act when things are wrong, to sit on the fence, or to sling mud – again, the list is endless. Christians believe, in varying degrees, that the devil is a spiritual enemy who is the adversary to our souls, using our temperaments and our physical condition and allowing it to govern and control us. All of these aspects cause spiritual depression and is one of the reasons that as Christians we try to lead ‘good’ lives. But we all fail at times, in greater and lesser ways, and in times of trouble we are even more likely to fail, because our faith starts to slip away from us and everything seems dark. It’s at times like this that we have to find an inner strength that allows us to hold on despite everything and that strength comes from God.


Section 2


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.


In the second section we start to see reconciliation. David later wrote in Psalm 145: 17-19. This is the same David who in Psalm 13 reproaches God for deserting him.


The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

He fulfils the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.


In the second section of Psalm 13, David begins to pour out his soul, crying out honestly to the Lord his God. He humbles himself and asks God to take three actions – look; answer; enlighten.


By turning his face back to David and looking at him, God will renew his blessing on David so that David’s sense of abandonment will leave him. David is asking God to gaze upon him and bestow his grace. He is asking to hear God’s voice or receive a sign that God is caring for him. He believes that if God looks on him and answers him then he will receive enlightenment. For one who is in the depths of darkest despair, light is the one thing that can bring relief. David fears the worst – if David can’t communicate with God, then not only will his enemies rejoice at David’s demise, they will also rejoice at God’s failure to be faithful to his promises. David talks about sleeping in death, but maybe he doesn’t mean a literal death but a death of the soul, forever dwelling in darkness and despair.


David turns from reproach to cry honestly to God. He turns to God and directly asks him to help him. This is something we all need to do in our darkest moments. It can be a struggle because sometimes the last thing you feel like doing when you’re in despair is praying. Sometimes you take all your troubles on yourself and internalise them and you forget that you can ask God to help you. It is easier to blame God for your troubles, as if he has either brought them on you or failed to prevent them, but actually a better way is to turn away from blame and directly ask God to help you. No matter how big or small your troubles, just offering them up to God and asking him to see you through will bring joy back to your heart. It might not happen straight away. You might continue to feel despairing for a time. You might feel better but then lapse again. That’s normal – that’s human. But remain steadfast and keep turning to God and asking him to look at you, answer you and bring light to you and over time it will happen.


Section 3


But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good to me.


David’s cry to God is real and heartfelt, and it is while he is praying that something happens within his heart and mind which leads him to his joyful conclusion in the final section. It is a miraculous change of perspective. In the span of 6 verses, God has gone from being blamed for his trouble to being praised for his salvation. What changed? Was it his circumstances? Probably not, as there is no indication of this. What changed was the way David responded to the circumstances. As he honestly and humbly prayed, he moved away from his own feelings and his own life and began to ‘believe and think right’ thoughts by remembering the objective truths of who God is and His character. He began to remember God’s faithfulness during other trials he had experienced. Hope and trust was restored because God is always faithful in fulfilling his promises. Paul said in 2 Corinthians, after he has had a terrible time in which he ‘despaired of life itself’ that it was ‘to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.’


Conclusion


We will always have troubles in our lives – that is the nature of being human. We do bring troubles on ourselves, but some troubles just come to us and are beyond our control. What matters is how we deal with them. If we turn away from God in anger and disgust, blaming him for the things that have gone wrong, all we will face is more despair. But if we turn to God and ask for his support then our troubles will be lifted, and in fact more blessings will follow. As we said last week, we don’t always know why troubles come upon us, and on the whole we’d prefer a trouble free life, but we can’t see our whole lives in one long continuum from birth to death and we don’t know how it will turn out. Sometimes God’s hand in our lives is not obvious until after he has acted. Then we look back and see his plan for us.


All the while we live on this earth, we will experience sorrow and despair, but not all the time and not forever. Mixed amongst this we will experience joy, happiness, well-being, love and fulfilment. When we are in our darkest hour, then we need to remember the wonderful things we have been given and give thanks for those.


But how do you do this?


1. The first thing to do is to build a relationship with God. Read God’s word and try to understand what He is saying to you. Pray often and not just when you want or need something.

2. Praise God and give thanks. Thank God for what he has already done, praise him for being loving and mighty, thank him for guiding you and blessing you. Remember to say thank you when you receive a blessing from him.

3. Say sorry for your own shortcomings and turn away from the things that God wouldn’t want you to do. Wrongdoing separates you from God and to hold your hands up to it and be genuinely sorry tells God that you know you need to change. Ask for forgiveness. Make amends if there is something you know you’ve done wrong.

4. Pray to be kept safe from evil that is around you. Rebuke it and send it packing. Say it out loud.

5. Be honest with God about what you are feeling. God knows everything you think and feel, so there is no sense in hiding. Be completely honest about your thoughts and feelings. Honesty will open God’s ears to your prayers.

6. Ask God specifically for what you want. Tell God what you want or need and ask him to provide that for you – look on me, answer me, enlighten me, as David said. Be specific about your request. Even though God knows what you want and need, you also need to tell him directly because in doing so you demonstrate your faith in him.

7. Invite God to work in the ways that He wants to work. Pray that his will be done in your life. Ask him to show you what he wants from you.

8. Close by saying ‘In Jesus’ name’. The Bible teaches us that the name of Jesus Christ is powerful. Every time you pray end by saying ‘I pray this in Jesus’ name.’ This acknowledges that God moves through Jesus and that Jesus is powerful.

9. Be patient waiting for God to work – he has a different timeline to us. Don’t give up. Continue to praise him and be thankful even if you don’t immediately see an answer. It’s really important to remember that if you don’t believe that God has the power to act, your prayer loses power, so you must believe that He has heard you and will act.

10. Remember that your prayer might be answered in a different way to that which you expect. Remember also that God does not want you to be unhappy and that your steadfast faith in him will bring you more spiritual richness and blessings than you can imagine.


Prayer


Heavenly Father, we trust in You and thank You that there are no circumstances of life that You do not know about, and that in all things we can turn to you. Meet us in our hardest and most difficult times and places. Bring us comfort, dissolve our troubles, enter our wayward hearts and fill them with the knowledge of your presence and your guiding hand in our lives. Help us overcome our demons.


Father, your steadfast love for us is unquestionable and inexhaustible. Help us to remain faithful through pain and heartache. Help us to honestly offer you our troubles and have them lifted from us. Help us to learn how to call to you, listen for you, become enlightened by you. We are your beloved children and you are our grace-full God.


We pray, in Jesus’ name,


Amen.



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