2. Praying In Times Of Trouble
To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; "He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!" Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
Living between the times, under the tension of the kingdom here and not yet, in a world bedevilled by sin, and its consequences, we are bound to have trouble. So how are we to pray in times of trouble?
1. We should approach God as we are
God wants us to come to Him with our troubled hearts. Consider Psalm 22 – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Compare with Matthew 27:46, as our Lord also prayed in the same manner)
- The Psalmist feels bad about himself. He doesn’t like the state of having lost personal dignity. “…I am a worm and not a man…” (v.6a). Consider his poor physical condition he describes in verses.14,15 and compare this with Psalm 55:2; 69:2; 90:10. In this we can pinpoint one of the sources of our troubles in life. We mourn over our condition, we grieve over our disappointments or discouragements. We are frustrated and are perplexed.
- The Psalmist expresses his displeasure for his outward circumstances. He tells God of the contempt he receives from others. (v.22b-7). He describes his opponents as powerful, vicious animals (v.22:12,16). What do you tell God when you are falsely accused, sacked or demoted from your job by colleagues at work conspiring against you? What do you do when loved ones are killed, when thieves strike? God is also interested in knowing what we feel about others who are out against us.
- The Psalmist also expresses his troubled feelings about God. Look at how this Psalm opens (v.1&2) the concern here is God’s apparent unwillingness to answer his prayers. Although he is not doubting God’s holiness (v.3), yet present realities stand in sharp contrast to the way God acted in the past – see vv.4-5. This history makes this difficult now as according to him God seems silent and inactive. So his dismay is amplified by his long relationship with God (v.10) so cries, Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. (v.11)
NB: he never endorses a disrespectful anger or rebellion to God in prayer. To the contrary his devotion is evident in his constant appeal for help, in spite of his troubles.
We must never hide our genuine attitude towards God. We cannot really conceal our attitude to God as we do with friends and relatives, because is all-seeing and all-knowing. So we should tell God things as we feel and experience them, albeit aware of our finiteness and His greatness as God.
2. We should put our troubles in words
Is it only positive words that are acceptable before God? Can’t we express negative feelings as well? How does this Psalmist speak of himself? He paints a gloomy image of himself – “…I am a worm and not a man… I am poured out as water…my heart is like wax…my strength is dried up like potsherd…” In our prayers, we too can use vivid images and detailed descriptions of our condition. If we are rejected, we may feel like worthless rubbish. If we are lonely we should express it to God and pray for friends and companionship.
In the same way, he prayed about his feelings and about his enemies… how they mocked him – even quoting their mockery (22:8). We may in the same way present our circumstances to God whether great or small honestly to our heavenly Father.
We also notice the intensely personal and affectionate manner that the Psalmist he calls God – “My God, my God…” (v.1). Yet he also describes how God would not answer his prayers so that he has to cry day and night! Here is a confused man and his confusion with God comes out clearly. If our prayers will be real expressions of hearts, they must bear the marks of our own personalities and interests. So when we pray we must give a careful attention to our laments about ourselves, our circumstances and our God.
3. We must acknowledge the limitations on the negatives
While honesty is essential to prayer, yet brazenness has to be avoided. There can’t be just freedom leading to excesses – restraint to this freedom is necessary. Scriptural warnings are very necessary here. We must particularly heed the scriptural warnings against irreverent grumblings against God. See Psalm 95:7b-9 and 1 Cor.10:10.
a) We must maintain our fundamental trust in the goodness of God
The Israelites questioned God’s faithfulness in their complaints – Ex. 17:2-7 as they turned from faith to rebellion. The psalmist here does not abandon his faith and trust in the Lord – he still remains his God, holy, his keeper (vv.1-3, 10-11, 22-31). There is a clear demonstration of loyalty to God. When we face situations that face situations that hide the faithfulness of God from our sight, we too should communicate our doubts and concerns to Him. However, in spite our troubles, we must also remember that the Lord is faithful and trustworthy. Our predicaments must never cause us to doubt or cast shadows on God’s holiness and faithfulness.
b) The expression of negative attitude in prayer must not be motivated by greed or selfishness
In the wilderness, the Israelites were not satisfied with God’s provision of manna. They grumbled for lack of luxuries like meat (Numbers 11:4-5), onions, cucumbers and melons! This greed is in sharp contrast with the attitude of Psalm 22. He is mocked, abused and threatened. Shall we be like the Israelites and grumble about owning brand new houses, cars and new clothes? Shall we moan about what we call ‘good schools for our children?’ shall we complain about being unable to take our families on holiday to Mombasa?
c) Negative feelings must be accompanied by an openness to receiving God’s response with gratitude
In the wilderness, the Israelites often grumbled against a command from God, see Numbers 14:1-15. They were unwilling to be instructed, corrected or further enlightened on the matters that concerned them. Psalm 22 displays the opposite attitude – the psalmist was looking for answers from God, and was willing to listen and learn from God. We will consider his transformation and his word of praise at the latter part of the Psalm, which could be an indication of acceptance of the will of God. Reflections on scripture is one of the means the Holy Spirit uses to cause us to know how to deal with trouble so that we are strengthened.
QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION:
I. Why do many Christians think prayer is improper if their attitudes are not entirel positive? What biblical evidence exists for expressing our troubles in prayer? What three focal points can our troubles have?
II. What techniques did the psalmist use to communicate effectively the troubles they faced? How may we imitate these today?
III. What are the three important limitations that control us as we express our troubles in prayer? How do the stories of Israel’s wilderness wanderings help us arrive at these limitations?