Psalm 13 | “How Long, O Lord?”

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By Preston Highlands Baptist Church. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Why We Need the Psalms

One of the reasons we need to spend time in the Psalms, both individually and as a church, is because the Psalms touch on all the major themes of our lives. They’re the songs of the ancient people of Israel, written by people who were dealing openly and honestly about where they’re at and what they’re feeling.

John Calvin, one of the Protestant Reformers, said that the Psalms are “an anatomy of all parts of the soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.”

In other words, the Psalms are honest reflections about the full range of human emotions and experiences. They’re written by people not afraid to admit their fears and doubts and loneliness and sins and struggles and anger and heartache and confusion and frustration.

We resonate with what they’re saying because we often feel the same way they do and we want to be around people who understand, people who’re honest about things going on in their hearts, people not afraid to share the unedited version of how they feel. This kind of honesty is often lacking among Christians. We’re always “fine” and everything is always “going well,” even though it isn’t. A pastor of a church ministering to the homeless in downtown Dallas prayed this for his church, “Lord, thank you for a broken people. Broken people are real people…they ain’t got nothing to hide behind. And that’s OK.”

Are we a broken people, or a well put together people? Given the existence of a book like Psalms in the Bible, why do we think that we have to pretend we’re okay all the time? Why have you never shared your honest thoughts and feelings with God or other believers? What are you hiding behind? One author puts it this way, “The gathered church is not a warehouse of perfect prototypes but a workshop of saved sinners under construction.”

The Psalms are God’s way of saying to us that we aren’t alone in our struggles, that his people have wrestled with these things for thousands of years, and that he’s not intimidated by our questions and complaints. God gave us the Psalms to meet us where we are.

A Psalm of Utter Despair

The Psalm we’re going to be looking at today – Psalm 13, is about suffering. More specifically, it’s a lament, or crying out, to God by someone who’s on the verge of utter despair. We don’t know all the circumstances behind King David’s words, and it’s probably better that we don’t because if we knew exactly what he was dealing with, we’d think that this Psalm only applies to people who’re in those exact circumstances. The Psalms are purposefully vague on the historical events they’re referencing so that they can be applied to any situation.

What we do know is that David is feeling things in this Psalm that we have all felt and asking questions we’ve all asked. For example, have you ever wondered if God has forgotten you? Have you ever felt like God was far away? Have you ever wondered if the pain in your heart was ever going to go away? Do you feel that you can’t endure any longer? That it’d be better if you just weren’t alive?

If you have, or if you do, you’re not alone. King David – Israel’s king and a forefather of Jesus Christ, struggled with these same thoughts. The Enemy loves to convince us that we’re the only ones who feel or think or struggle with certain things in order to keep us isolated. He knows that the Bible says that there’s nothing you’re dealing with that we all haven’t dealt with at some point. But he tells us we’re the only ones. God, in the Psalms, challenges that lie and tells us that some of the greatest saints were just like us.

David’s Problem

In Psalm 13, we’re going to see three things: David’s problem, David’s petition, and David’s resolution. David’s problem in verses 1-2 can be summarized like this: David thinks that God has abandoned him and he doesn’t know how much longer he can hold on. He’s on the verge of total despair and he wonders if he can keep going.

Did you notice the question David asks God four times in these two verses: “How long…?” David is growing tired of waiting for God to intervene. “How much longer God do I have to endure this?” “How much longer till you act?” “How much longer till I feel your presence again?” Haven’t we all asked these questions?

Implied in the question is the thought that God has forgotten or abandoned us. We think, “If God was with me then I wouldn’t be feeling this way for so long. So because I do feel this way then God must’ve forgotten about me.” This is how we try to reason our way through the despair and emotional darkness that we feel.

Two Kinds of Darkness

It’s been said that we face two kinds of darkness (or suffering): internal and external. Internal darkness is when we have no sense of God’s presence at all, when we think his love and care is absent. External darkness is when circumstances are not what we want, when we’re mistreated, or when we’re dealt a hand in life that we don’t like.

Having internal and external darkness at the same time creates the most intense despair. This is where I think David is in Psalm 13. Verse 2 says he has unceasing sorrow in his heart – internal darkness. And it says that his enemy is “exalted” over him – external darkness. So he’s facing suffering externally and internally, which leads him to this place of utter despair.

David knows how to handle this despair, as we’ll see at the end of the Psalm. But many of us don’t, especially when it comes to internal darkness. I think it’s fair to say that American Christians are generally naïve about internal suffering, and one of the reasons is because we have wrong expectations about the Christian life.

Our expectations control how we process and handle what comes to us, how we deal with the experiences of our lives. If I lead you blindfolded to my office and say, “This is a honeymoon suite,” when you see where you’re at you’ll be disappointed. But if I say, “This is a prison cell,” you might say, “Oh, this isn’t so bad.” Expectations control how we process our circumstances.

We think, or expect, that if we’re a good person, if we go to church, if we’re a Christian, then God won’t let bad things happen to us. But that’s a naïve way of thinking. Jesus was a good person and look what happened to him? Are we above him?

So if we think, “God loves me, therefore, I’ll never suffer, I’ll never want for anything, I’ll never have bad days, I’ll never have paralyzing doubts and fears and anxieties,” then we’re setting ourselves up for frustration and despair. We can do everything right and everything can still go wrong – for a long time. So if we have wrong expectations about following God, then we’re likely to end up in really dark places. We may even end up leaving God altogether.

David’s Petition

David was in one of these dark places. That was his problem. How did he respond? Notice David’s petition in verses 3-4.

Notice first of all that David’s complaints and questions in verses 1-2 led him to prayer. His despair and frustration led him to God, not away from God. The temptation to abandon God when we think he’s abandoned us is great. When the darkness sets in, we’re all tempted to stop praying, stop going to church, stop hanging out with Christian friends, stop reading our Bibles – which are, of course, all the things we need the most in times of darkness. David knew this. His despair led him to prayer because he knew that God was his only hope for survival.

In verse 3, he asks God for three things. First, he asks God to “consider him,” or to “Look on him” (NIV). Do you think he asks this because God had misplaced him, that he couldn’t see where he was? No, of course not. But when we aren’t getting the help and relief that we want, we conclude that God must’ve lost track of us, that he must not see us anymore.

So David says to God: “Look at me,” “consider me,” or “I’m over here trying not to die God, can’t you see me?” Even a plea like this is evidence of faith in David’s life. David is crying out to God, after all. He hasn’t concluded that God doesn’t exist and gone about his life; he’s crying out to God because he believes God is there.

The second thing he asks God is that God would “answer him” (v. 3). David began this Psalm with questions and he wants answers. They weren’t just rhetorical devices. These were legitimate questions that David wanted answers to. It’s okay to want God to answer our questions. But we must understand that God’s answers may not be what we want, or may be long in coming.

The third thing David asks God is at the end of verse 3 into verse 4. What does he mean when he says, “light up my eyes”? Bringing light back into the eyes signifies bringing new life back to a person. Strength and joy in life is found in the brightness of our eyes.

When God’s favor seems absent, our eyes grow dim. God’s favor, or a sense of his presence and care and love, in our life brings light to our eyes and the eyes of our souls. I love how the great Puritan Matthew Henry says this, “Nothing is more killing to a soul than the want of God’s favour, nothing more reviving than the return of it.”

David asks for God to restore this inward light to the eyes of his soul. And he says that if God doesn’t, he’ll be as good as dead and his enemies will think that they’ve defeated him and they’ll rejoice and taunt over him (v. 4).

Our great Enemy, Satan himself, rejoices to see Christians who live in perpetual and paralyzing despair because he knows that they won’t have any desire to know or serve Christ. May God “light up your eyes” and take away any reason for your Enemy to boast over you, to think that he’s defeated you.

David’s Resolution

After David has stated his problem and his petition, he concludes with a resolution (vv. 5-6). Despite his frustration and despair, David is resolved to rejoice in the salvation of the Lord. His prayers turn to praises. He’s resolved to worship God in the middle of the darkness.

His sorrow and pain didn’t just disappear between verses 4 and 5. Notice the word “but” at the beginning of verse 5. He’s contrasting what he’s said with what he’s about to say. He’s saying, “Despite all I’ve said in verses 1-4, despite my pain and my sense of abandonment, I’m choosing to trust in God and rejoice in his salvation. I will not let myself stay in the darkness.”

Where does the strength for David’s resolve come from? Verse 5, “I have trusted in your steadfast love.” The term for “steadfast love” is a powerful and rich word. It’s the Hebrew word hesed, and it refers to God’s unchanging, unfailing, and loyal love to his covenant people Israel. It’s the redeeming and specific love that God has for his people.

As David remembers the mercy and love of God toward the people of Israel, how he loved them and redeemed them and provided for them despite their sin, David’s heart rejoices. God’s saving love toward Israel was why he could trust in God while being frustrated with God.

David’s trust in God’s love led to joy, “My heart shall rejoice” (v. 5). And his joy led to singing, “I will sing to the Lord” (v. 6). Singing is one of the primary means that God has given us to express our joy in his love. Singing in church is a result of trusting and rejoicing in the love of God.

Looking to the Past for Strength in the Present

Notice that David’s confidence in God was rooted in things that happened in the past. Verse 6, “I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” God’s “bountiful” dealings with David in the past are enabling him to worship in the present, despite the darkness he’s in. David is looking backwards to God’s acts of grace in the past in order to find strength to face his present.

We also must look to what God has done in the past in order to find strength to face the present. When the dark days seem to never end, we must remember the dark day when the Son of God was put to death for our sins. On that day, Jesus was forgotten by God so that we might be remembered by him. God hid his face from his Son so that he might shine his face on us. Jesus’ enemies prevailed over him so that our enemies of sin, Satan, and death might not prevail over us. Jesus slept the sleep of death in order that our eyes might be brightened eternally.

Because of what Jesus did, we must never think that God has forgotten us. We may feel that he has abandoned us, that he has stopped loving and caring for us, that he has given us over to our enemies, but we must not let our feelings have the last word. We must be resolved, like David, to remember the steadfast love of the Lord, to remember that, in Jesus, God has dealt bountifully with us.

As we reflect on the truths of the gospel of Jesus, we’ll find strength to endure the darkness. We’ll find a desire to rejoice in the salvation of the Lord. Our troubles may last a long time, but they won’t last forever. Jesus defeated our greatest enemies of sin, Satan, and death through his death and resurrection, securing a future for us with no troubles. Turn to Jesus in faith and repent of your sins and he’ll deliver you from eternal trouble, though the troubles of this life remain.

The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s way of telling you every day, “I have not forgotten about you.” If you’re feeling any of what David felt, may God give you grace to be honest with him and with others, strength to run to him and not away from him, and resolve to trust and rejoice in his love.

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