DESPAIR TO HOPE
You can listen to the devotion here.
In the Name of the Father, and (+) of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
15 You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16 When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
This Psalm has a lot to teach us about what it looks like to wrestle with God in prayer and what it looks like when faith in God’s promises grips us.
In the first half of the Psalm, the psalmist is overwhelmed and tormented by despair. Luther believed it was from the psalmists struggles with his own sin. Whatever the source of Asaph’s struggles, it is clear that he sought help in the Lord by going to him at night in prayer. It is not that the psalmist couldn’t sleep, rather he chooses to stay up so that he might take the things that are weighing him down and afflicting him to the Lord. This is what our Lord Jesus Christ did as well, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death…” (Hebrews 5:7)
In verses 6-9, we see the psalmist wrestling with his doubts and fears. Had God forgotten him? Had the Lord removed His grace? Would he never again fulfill his promises? Notice that it is faith that drives him to talk to the Lord like this. In expressing his doubts out loud to the Lord, he would also come to see how his doubts are contradictory to the promises and power of God.
It is extremely important to notice the shift that takes place in the Psalm. The first half of the psalm is dominated by the psalmist talking about himself and his affliction. The second half of the psalm is dominated by his focus on who the Lord is and what the Lord is capable of doing – based on what God had done and the promises He had already kept. Asaph gains courage and strength by recounting all the mighty and wonderful things that God had done for His people in the past. People who had suffered and were afflicted like he was! He knew that the same God who had done those things for His people was his God and that he would not be abandoned by the Lord amidst his own afflictions. Notice he meditates on the works of the Lord. He meditates on how powerful and truly awesome God is. He realizes that the One True God is the Almighty One who is strong to save.
Luther says this about meditating: “Meditating is an exclusive trait of human beings, for even beasts appear to fancy and to think. Therefore, the ability to meditate belongs to reason. There is a difference between meditating and thinking. To meditate is to think carefully, deeply, and diligently, and properly it means to muse in the heart. Hence to meditate is, as it were, to stir up in the inside, or to be moved in the innermost self. Therefore, one who thinks inwardly and diligently asks, discusses, etc. Such a person meditates.”
When we are afflicted and despairing and meditate on God’s Holy Word, we are strengthened by seeing God fulfill His promises for His people. Most importantly we see that He fulfilled His promise in sending His Son to suffer and die for us. When we realize this, our eyes are taken off or ourselves and our problems, and they are directed to how great our God is and what He is capable and willing to do for us.
The imagery at the end seems almost anticlimactic. We are led like a flock. But for the Christian, could there be a more comforting image? It calls to mind Psalm 23 and our Good Shepherd who even leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. We shall not lack anything, and we have nothing and no one to fear. The psalmist ends the psalm fully confident that his afflictions have met their match in his Lord, his faithful Good Shepherd.
God of all comfort, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, grant the consolation of Your Holy Spirit to all comfortless and afflicted souls. Make us to be rooted and grounded in faith, armed with the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness, furnished with the helmet of an unwavering hope, and provided with the sword of the Spirit, the word of Truth, by which we shall triumph over all enemies. Amen. (This prayer is taken from Reading Psalms with Luther.)
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