A couple of days ago I was reading my Bible in the early morning hours and I just had to laugh right outloud when I began Psalm 13. Oh, there isn't anything particularly funny about David's song of pleading to the Lord but it brought me back to a time in my young adult years when the opening line was on the lips of my university friends pretty much daily. "How long, O Lord?" would be uttered with head tilted, eyes looking up to the Heavens, both arms outstretched , palms up and bouncing in time to the cadence of the words as they were spoken. Truthfully, it was not so much of a prayer as it was a statement of something not-so-pleasant in our lives that day.
For example, when the chemistry professor who told us to bring a hand full of sharpened pencils in to the Chem. classroom each day because we would not have time to worry about a broken point, proved to be a challenge of the extreme order for his Chemistry students. He held chalk in the right hand and the eraser in the left. He wrote one line and erased the previous line at the same time, no kidding!
We began each lecture with one hand tightly clutching a dozen sharpened pencils (points up)and the other hand poised to write on a blank, not lined, sheet of paper in a three-ring binder. Our eyes did not leave the professor writing at the board until he stopped erasing the previous line as he wrote the next. The dropping of the left hand signified that he was soon finished. We looked down only when all three of the boards were full. When the pencil tip broke we just dropped the pencil on the floor and grabbed one out of the other hand. When it felt like it was not writing smoothly, we just let go of the pencil and took another one, eyes never leaving the board. It was amazing just how one could learn to write chemical formulas in a straight line while never looking down! As you might imagine, we left that room, lifted eyes and arms to the sky and said, "How long, O Lord" but it was not really a prayer. It was more a question of how long we could actually survive this course!
If we science-types were studying and a rather talkative drama student came to practice expressions on us as he or she dramatized the various points of the day in great detail ad infinitum, the hands and face would go up while the student, who was now looking at the actor's back mouthed the words, "How long, O Lord?" What we really meant was how long is this discourse going to go on today. Until now, I just never thought that we were "praying" when we said it! We, definitely, were not in an attitude of prayer at the time.
Then there was that mystery meat on the Food Service menu. It seemed to be time for mystery meat a whole lot more often than we, students needing to eat on campus, were hungry for it! "How long, O Lord… until someone realizes that this meat is not returned to the kitchen because we were just too full of those veggies to eat any meat?"
The laughter came when I recalled so many of these occasions we had used this phrase in this manner. Not very spiritual, eh? That was my conclusion, too, so I decided to actually meditate on this very psalm that morning and I want to share a few thoughts with you… more along the lines of what David, the author, may have had in mind.
Verse 1. How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will You hide your face from me?
Certainly, these moments do come along in our lives when we think that God has taken a vacation and we are so tired of waiting for Him to return. There are also moments when we feel like God is just not answering when we ring His doorbell or send him a text message… like He is wanting us to think that He is "not at home" and go away or, maybe, his battery is too low to get our message. Now, those are some low moments. If GOD doesn't want to see you, who will, right? David had some pretty serious circumstances in his life when he felt like God was not hearing his call of distress. We think that this should not have happened because God said that David was a "man after God's own heart" which is a flowery way to say that God loved him a whole lot because David wanted to obey God with his whole heart. I rather like that God lets this part of David's feelings about his trials be included in the Bible. It helps me to not feel so badly when I think God just MAY not be answering His cell phone because His caller ID tells him it is me.
Verse 2. How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (New International Version of the Bible)
Sometimes I like to go back to the King James Version of the Bible because I like how it is written. This is one verse I thought cool. So, here it is in the KJV:
Verse 2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?
Okay, so what's the point? Well, what David is saying is this: God, I have thought about this situation from every conceivable angle; I have tossed around all possibilities for resolution until I am exhausted and just plain sick. I have just not come up with a plan. As I see it, my enemies are always going to win. How long are you going to let me try to figure out what the best thing to do is? When are you going to just tell me?
Verse 3. Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God. Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death.
Also said, "Pleeease, God, just look at me. Give me a break here. Just tell me before the worry of it all kills me!
Verse 4. My enemy will say, 'I have overcome him.' My foes will rejoice when I fall.
It is not hard to imagine what it would be like to have people just waiting for me to stumble and fall. It is a pretty common thing to have enemies gloat over any victories they have over us. Equally, other folks are quick to align themselves with the victor and rejoice with the triumph. David is telling God that he not only has not a clue what he should do but, when his enemies win, he will not only lose to them but he will suffer their taunts when they defeat him and, basically, everyone will laugh at him and be glad that he lost.
THEN, David remembers what is the MOST important thing in his life:
Verse 5. But I trust in Your unfailing love. My heart rejoices in Your salvation.
The KJV says: "But I have trusted in thy mercy" and isn't that what unfailing love is?
David may not know what his enemies are going to say or do; neither does David know what to do about it BUT David does know that he can trust God's unfailing love/mercy. David has seen God's faithful salvation in the past and knows that whatever things may look like just now, GOD can be trusted. It is a good idea to remember this when I am feeling like the cell phone is turned off in Heaven!
So, David does what he does best under troubled circumstances… and what I also find very helpful… David remembers the faithfulness of God in the past and sings praises to the Lord:
Verse 6. I will sing to the Lord for He has been good to me.
Here is a good example of how the NIV version may be thought to have "understated" what David is saying. I get a much larger picture of God's provision from reading the KJV: because he hath dealt bountifully with me
Yup, I can agree with that! God hath, most definitely, dealt bountifully with me! Truly, I can trust Him to come through under His terms and in HIS time. He is NOT switching off HIS cell phone, nor hiding under the kitchen table when His doorbell rings! God IS hearing and God DOES understand. Sometimes God needs to work on us a bit before He gives us His answer and, at other times, God needs to work on the circumstances a bit before we SEE his answer was there all the time!
This is really a special psalm! I think I will, still, be saying "How long, O Lord?" as it has, rather, become a habit after all of these years, but NOW I really will see it as a prayer to the ONE who can change either me or the circumstances that I find troubling… whichever He thinks is best!
……Monday, back to my single-digit years, and "When God Just Doesn't Seem To Be Enough"