How long, Lord? How long must I wait?
Have you ever asked that question?
We began asking that question before we had words. Our diaper was wet, we were hungry, we wanted attention and what happened? Did we stop to think if this was ok or not? Were we patient? No. We felt a need and cried and cried until we got what we wanted. Waiting was not an option for us.
In the car, heading off on a trip to see grandma and grandpa, or heading off to a vacation spot, what do the parents in the front seat hear? “Mommy, are we there yet?” “Daddy, how much longer til we get there?”
We’re better at waiting now that we are adults, but not much better. We have to wait for three cycles of a light before we get through an intersection and we complain – not always in pleasant ways. We have to wait for ten minutes before someone takes our order in a restaurant and we say we will never come back there again. When we are on hold on an automated telephone service, waiting for a person we can talk with, we are tempted to say – and sometimes do say – rude things to the automated voice that keeps telling us, “Thank you for your patience. Please continue to hold.” When we go to a bureaucratic office and are told to come back tomorrow, and then next week, and then next week again, it is time to incite a revolution.
No one likes to wait and yet waiting is a significant part of our following of Jesus.
Abraham and Sarah waited twenty-five years for the fulfillment of God’s promise to them to have a child. Hannah waited for years to have a child while her rival wife had child after child after child. Joseph waited two years in prison before he was remembered by Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer. Israel waited in Egypt 200-300 years for God’s deliverance. The exiles from Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, waited for 70 years before they were able to return from exile to Jerusalem. Israel waited 400 years for the promised messiah. The man born lame, the man born blind, the man laying by the side of the pool, the woman who was unclean because of her bleeding, lepers who lived as outcasts – all these and more lived with their suffering for years, praying for healing, pleading with God for help.
Let’s put this into perspective. Twelve years is 2006 to 2018. That is how long the woman who was unclean because of her bleeding waited until she was healed by Jesus. Where were you in 2006? What has happened in your life since 2006? That is how long she suffered and waited to be healed.
Twenty-five years is 1993 to now. That is how long Abraham and Sarah waited to have a child. Many of you were not alive in 1993.
Seventy years is 1948 to now. This is how long Israel waited in Babylon before they were permitted to return to Jerusalem. Two hundred fifty years is 1768 to now. That is about how long Israel waited in Egypt, pleading with God for deliverance. Four hundred years is 1618 to now. That is how long Israel waited for the Messiah the prophets promised was coming.
And for almost 2,000 years we have been waiting for Jesus to return as he promised he would. The disciples of Jesus expected his return within their lifetime, but they died. Their children waited and they died. Their children waited and died. There have been sixty-six generations since the resurrection of Jesus and we are still waiting. That is a lot of waiting.
We don’t like waiting. We don’t like to wait and yet waiting is a significant part of our experience in our relationship with God.
Our impatience is not new. In the Bible the phrase “How long, Lord” appears throughout the psalms.
Psalm 6 is a psalm of David, written during one of the dark moments of his life. (Psalm 6:3)
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?
Psalm 35 is another psalm of David and written when he was feeling attacked by those plotting to take over his kingdom. (Psalm 35:17)
How long, Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions.
Psalm 79 was written after the unthinkable happened. Many had tried over the centuries to conquer Jerusalem but had been unsuccessful. Time after time God had intervened and delivered them from their attackers. But this time Nebuchadnezzar had been successful and Jerusalem was taken. In their despair this psalm was written. (Psalm 79:5)
How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever?
How long will your jealousy burn like fire?
Psalm 80 was written about a century and a half earlier when Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, was conquered by the Assyrians. (Psalm 80:4)
How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smolder
against the prayers of your people?
Psalm 89 was written in remembrance of the covenant God made with David to establish his kingdom forever. But now, with Jerusalem destroyed and no more kings, what had happened to this covenant? (Psalm 89:46)
How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?
Psalm 94 looks forward to a time when the Lord will be king and laments the rule of brutish and unjust tyrants. (Psalm 94:3)
How long, Lord, will the wicked,
how long will the wicked be jubilant?
The prophet Habakkuk looked out at a world of injustice, wrongdoing, destruction, violence, strife, conflict and called out, (Habakkuk 1:2)
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
What Habakkuk wrote was not just in response to a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad month. Day after day, month after month, year after year he cried out to God for help. And what was the result? The law was paralyzed, justice never prevailed, the wicked hemmed in the righteous so that justice was perverted. (Habakkuk 1:3-4)
Over the course of the next few sermons we will be looking at waiting. We wait for healing. We wait for wholeness. We wait for justice. We wait for an end to suffering. We wait for the return of Jesus.
This morning we will look at the “How long, Lord” psalm, Psalm 13.
Psalm 13 has three sets of two verses. Verses one and two speak of desolation, David’s feelings of discouragement, anxiety, and sorrow. Verses three and four are David’s supplication, his prayer to God. Verses five and six express the hope and certainty that came to David as he reflected on his long relationship with God.
David begins with desolation.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
David was a man of strong emotions. He ran the range of being giddy with delight, skipping like a little child, dancing with uncontrollable joy as the ark was brought up into Jerusalem, all the way to grief, anger, bitterness, and depression.
When you read the psalms, David’s psalms and others, you read about the emotions, the feelings of those who wrote the psalms. How long, Lord?
How do we wait? We start by identifying what we are feeling as we wait.
Sometimes we begin with great joy as with Psalm 126 that was written when Israel returned from exile.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
But what we are feeling is not always nice, not always pleasant, not always what we think good Christians are supposed to feel. Psalm 137 was written when the Jews first arrived as captives in Babylon. Their captives asked the musicians to play a tune. I don’t know how the musicians responded to the request for a merry song from Zion, but this is the psalm they wrote:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
And then, as you know, the psalm ends with a horrible cry for vengeance.
8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
Listen to what David wrote in his psalms as he was expressing the pain of his deep emotions.
May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and a trap.
23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
24 Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
25 May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
27 Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.
Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
and may his prayers condemn him.
8 May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.
9 May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.
10 May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.
11 May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
12 May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.
13 May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.
14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
15 May their sins always remain before the Lord,
that he may blot out their name from the earth.
This is creative brainstorming about how to make someone suffer. David’s pain and anger is unleashed in the worst things he can think to have happen to the one who has hurt him.
The Bible tells us God is love. Jesus told us to love our enemies. Why are these psalms in our Bible?
These psalms are in the Bible because God wants his children to be honest with him. God does not want phony, religious, or superficial relationships. There is nothing we think or feel that God does not already know, but when we hold back on what we feel, bury what we feel, pretend to ourselves that this is not what we feel, then we create distance between God and ourselves.
The goal is to be in a loving, intimate relationship with God, not to be nice, not to pretend. This requires that we express fully what we are feeling and thinking, regardless of what we are thinking or feeling. When we take time to explore what it is we are feeling, take time to go deep into what we have hidden within ourselves, then we can open ourselves to prayer that is meaningful.
This takes us to the next two verses in Psalm 13, supplication.
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
This is where David often found himself, between God and one of his enemies.
David was king but in palaces and in organizations, there is always intrigue, plotting, and scheming. When I was growing up, we had a family friend who was a vice-president of Ortho Pharmaceuticals, a large company. He told me once that he spent 75% of his time doing things to protect his position. He wrote unnecessary reports, went to unnecessary meetings, made unnecessary phone calls to protect himself from those who would take his position away from him.
I did not grow up with a family friend who lived in a palace, but I know from reading history that palaces are dangerous places with people plotting and scheming for power. David had to contend with this. David had friends and allies who decided that siding with David was best for them. David also had enemies who wanted what David and his friends and allies had and plotted to get it.
So David prayed for God’s help as he made his way through the perils and dangers of his rule.
David has expressed what he is feeling, has prayed, and now he comes to the last two verses of Psalm 13, certainty.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
David remembered. “He has been good to me.” He remembered when he was a shepherd boy and wrote Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He remembered how God protected him from Saul. He remembered God’s provision, his goodness, his faithfulness, and then he relaxed and trusted.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
This is always the sweetest part of the psalms. When we read through the psalms, we read quickly and then slow down when we get to this good part.
David wrote in Psalm 131:2
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
David wrote in Psalm 57:1
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
I remember a time when I was in seminary, about a year before I began dating Annie. I was feeling overwhelmed. I had final exams to study for, papers to write, and if I recall correctly, I was dealing with a breakup with a girlfriend.
When I feel a lot of pressure, I want to escape, avoid the pressure. So what I most wanted to do was to put a couple pairs of jeans in a backpack, head out the door without telling anyone I was leaving, and hitchhike to someplace where no one knew me.
What I did was to sit down in a comfortable chair, pull my knees up so I was in a fetal position, pull a blanket my grandmother had knitted for me over my head, and complained. I talked about all that I was feeling. I talked for a long time about all that was going on, how it was making me feel, how much I wanted to run away. I talked until I had nothing more to say and then I began to pray. I thanked God that he was sovereign, in control of everything. As I prayed I felt loved and secure. It was as if God put his arms around me and held me. I took refuge in the shadow of his wings. I was a weaned child in his mother’s arms. I was at peace.
Verses 5 & 6 are where we want to be. We want to trust, we want to relax, we want to know we are safe – but there are no shortcuts to get there.
There are some who will say that when we are worried or anxious or depressed we should simply pray and ask God for help. But if our prayer is to be meaningful, we have to start with where we are. We have to be honest. If we pray, trying to be a good person, a nice person, our prayer will be meaningless. Our prayer will not deal with the reality of our life. Our prayer will be sanitized, superficial, and we will end up with an inadequate peace.
When David wrote Psalm 13, did his circumstances change between verse 1 and verse 6? After finishing his psalm, David’s situation was unchanged. The man plotting against him continued to plot David’s downfall. There was just as much reason for David to be fearful and sorrowful after he finished writing Psalm 13 as there was before he began.
David still had to wait. But what changed was his attitude, his emotions, his spirit. David was at rest.
When I curled up in the chair when I was in seminary and prayed, and when I finished and got up out of the chair, I still had exams to study for. I still had papers to write. I still had to deal with the emotions of a girlfriend breaking up with me. My circumstances were unchanged, but I was no longer feeling so overwhelmed. I moved forward with confidence and trust, feeling safe because God was in control.
Waiting is a part of our experience with God. We will talk more in later sermons about why waiting is helpful, how God uses our waiting in positive ways. For this morning I want to encourage you to wait well. Wait with trust. Wait with confidence. Wait knowing that you are safe in the arms of God.
What are you waiting for? What are the circumstances in your life that overwhelm you? What is making you anxious, fearful? What are the unanswered prayers in your life that you still feel led to pray? What healing are you waiting for? What relationship is worrying you?
God does not promise to change your circumstances, but he promises to be present with you.
God spoke to us through Moses (Deuteronomy 31:6)
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
And again in (Exodus 33:14)
“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus gave us his promise to be with us before he ascended (Matthew 28:18–20)
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
And Paul shared his conviction at the end of his thirteen chapters of brilliant theology in Romans (Romans 8:38–39)
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because of his presence we have the promise of his peace. Jesus told his disciples in the upper room: (John 14:27)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Whatever your circumstance, whatever your fear, your anxiety, whatever your need, you can wait with faith and trust as you experience the peace Jesus gives you.