Monday, July 8, 2024

Prayer in Times of Trouble


Psalm 22:1-21

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!

When things are going well many forget God. But when trouble appears, disturbing their lives, they beg God not to forget them. One can almost hear the pathos in the voice of the Psalmist crying in agony to his God.  Maybe every prayer prayed is fervent begging, but the prayer of our text is surely so.  Listen to the supplicant’s cry to God: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He feels not just forgotten by God, but forsaken by God! “Why are you so far from saving me?” O my God, I cry by day…

Why is he in such distress?  The enemy has come.  We see here the enemy is a person lifting up his voice to oppress and to punish the Psalmist.  Though the enemy that has come to us may be impersonal, it still puts us on our faces before God.  Many now are begging God to end this time of perversion and to give us back our normal lives. We sense we cannot continue this way for many more days without irreparable harm being done.  We are becoming desperate. 

God often sends such things to His people to chase them, who have wandered away from Him, back to Him.  Unbelief may cause one to question God and His doings, but we know whatever He does is right.  To be near God is better than being from Him.  Whatever it takes to bring one near to God is good.  In fact, it is the highest good possible. 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? We suffer lack, we suffer sickness, lose our loved ones,

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, when He said, Eli, Eli, lema sabachtani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

-        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. What do you do with your enemies? You pray for them! How?

-       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, since, according to him God seems silent and inactive. So his dismay is amplified by his long relationship with God (v.10) so he 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 bitter rebellion to God in prayer. To the contrary his devotion is evident in his constant appeal for help, despite 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. This is because God 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. Since God knows all our emotions and feelings, and sees all our losses and our troubles, it is better to pour all our needs to Him.

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…” All this is contrary to the prayers of those who teach positive confession. They say that you only say those things that are pleasant, and say those things that are positive. So they would say that when you are sick, don’t say you are sick. Instead say that you are well. If you are poor say that you are rich! This is contrary to these prayers in the Bible. You say what is true. You employ words that convey your condition properly and represent your situation faithfully.

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, “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (22:8). We may in the same way present our circumstances to God whether great or small honestly to our heavenly Father. If we are mocked or ridiculed we simply tell God.

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.

Psalm 95:7–9 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

1 Corinthians 10:9–11 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

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.

What a Friend we have in Jesus! 1 Peter 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

James 1:2–4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Prayer in Times of Trouble

  Psalm 22:1-21 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 yo...