A Pattern for Praying
(H) For the director of the choir, a psalm of David. (1) How long, Yahweh? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (2) How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? (3) Consider and answer me, Yahweh, my God. Give light to my eyes, lest I fall asleep in death, (4) lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” and my adversaries rejoice because I am shaken. (5) But I have trusted in your steadfast love. My heart shall rejoice in your salvation. (6) I will sing to Yahweh because he has dealt bountifully with me.
The fourfold repetition of “How long?” (vss. 1 & 2) stands out as this psalm’s most distinctive feature. Along with these repeated questions, David employs two expressions to show how interminable, how unrelenting, his situation must have seemed to him at the time: “forever” (vs. 1) and “all day long” (vs. 2). Out of deep frustration, David prayed earnestly (vs. 3 & 4). Twice he uses the term “lest” to persuade the Lord to answer him. If God does not respond, he fears he might die (vs. 3) with his enemies exulting over his demise (vs. 4).
The conjunction, “but” (vs. 5), marks a striking change in the tone of the psalm. It is as if we emerge from a dark tunnel into bright sunshine. With this affirmation of trusting in Yahweh, David evidences a transformed outlook. While his situation may not yet have altered, his attitude has. He now rejoices in Yahweh’s sure deliverance and is singing in anticipation of God’s bountiful provision (vss. 5 & 6).
I. How long, Yahweh, must I wait for you to respond? (1 & 2)
II. How I need you, Yahweh, to answer my prayers! (3 & 4)
III. How I trust in you, Yahweh, and your salvation! (5 & 6)
Deep frustration that leads to earnest prayer will soon result in our rejoicing in God’s gracious provision.
Believers are sometimes afraid to confront God with their frustrations, their responses of anger and anxiety, lest they offend him with such “sinful” attitudes. How could we ever try to conceal how we are really feeling from God who already knows our thoughts before we think them and our feelings before we feel them? If we were to embrace the truth that our loving heavenly Father yearns for us to come to him openly and honestly and that nothing we think or say can ever surprise or shock him, we would be far more honest in our praying.
David was not afraid to cry out repeatedly “How long, O Lord?” Paul was not afraid to question God about his “thorn in the flesh” on three separate occasions. Neither one was rebuked. David’s heart was transformed as he cried out to the Lord. He moved from a sense of frustration (vss. 1 & 2) to earnest petition (vss. 3 & 4) and then to a heart filled with rejoicing (vss. 5 & 6). Paul learned an important lesson from God after he had prayed three times: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
David in this psalm provides us with a pattern for our praying in desperate, difficult moments. First, we should express our deep concerns openly to Yahweh, letting him know what we are really thinking and how we are really feeling about the frustrations that face us (vss. 1 & 2). As we frame our petitions, we should express them with a desire for him not only to change our circumstances but also to transform our attitudes and broaden our perspectives (vss. 3 & 4). Then, in an attitude of dependence, we are ready to rejoice in his steadfast love because of the bountiful way he has promised to deal with us in our difficulties (vss. 5 & 6). In this way, our praying becomes the means by which God is able to transform our concerns into confidence, our predicaments into praise.