Monday, August 18, 2008

Psalm 44: When God Seems to Sleep

SCRIPTURE LINK: Psalm 44

BACKGROUND

Do you ever wonder where God is, why He’s not answering your prayers, why He doesn’t help?

Guess what? That’s exactly what this psalm is about. This unknown psalmist begins his song with remembering that God has helped in the past – that it wasn’t the strategies or weapons that were used that enabled the Israelites to have victory. He remembers the stories he’s been told; he even remembers his own past; he realizes that God is the one who won the land of Canaan for them, who gave them victory over their enemies. God helped them because He loved them. God’s help resulted in praise to Him.

So often we want to stop there, with the victory. That’s what we hear about. So I’m glad that God included this psalm in His Word. The psalmist wonders what’s happened. He still trusts God; he and his people continue to follow the Lord. But they’re not being given victory now. They are being humbled by the enemy; people look at them with scorn and derision; they are taunted and made fun of.

The psalm ends with another plea to God for help – a plea from a hurting and helpless heart.

REFLECTION

Lessons from this psalm:

1. There will be times when it seems to those of us who belong to God and follow Him, that God is sleeping and doesn’t know or care what is happening. That’s what the psalmist wonders here. As I reflected on this psalm, I thought of the time when the disciples were with Jesus in the boat on the lake and a storm came up (Mark 4:36-41) and the boat got swamped. That incident pretty much echoes this psalm. Jesus was sleeping then! The disciples got scared and worried and woke Jesus up. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus calmed the storm and then asked the disciples his own question, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Jesus let them experience some of the storm; He didn’t operate on their timetable.

2. It helps to remember the times God has helped, to note the times He has intervened and answered prayer. Remembering reminds us that God is the one who gives victory. It’s not because we’re strong or because we have certain talents or gifts or do things a certain way that we succeed. It is because of the LORD. Remembering also helps us trust that if He isn’t helping right now, there’s a reason, because He is able to help and He has helped in the past.

3. Keep praying!! Keep trusting. Even in the dark places, even in the storms, God is with us. He doesn’t tell us why there are times when He seems to be sleeping. Perhaps it is to build our faith (not fun, I know!). Perhaps it is so that we KNOW, when the help comes, that it is from Him and not because we figured out some strategy or used some tool that worked. Perhaps there is some other reason. We’re not God and may never know the reason for His silence. I love the last verse of this psalm. “Rise up and help us;/ redeem us because of your unfailing love.” The psalmist clings to God’s love. He appeals to God because of God’s nature, not because the psalmist or his people deserve anything.

APPLICATION

We live in a world that is pretty instant. We can communicate across the world in a moment. Politicians try to speak in sound bites. If I go to a fast food restaurant, I get impatient if I have to stand and wait for five minutes to get my meal. Somehow, though, I don’t think God is interested in performing instantly. He has His own timetable and His own purpose and He is working it out in each of us and in history. Sometimes He may give a quick and decisive answer; He may intervene immediately and help. Other times, though, He waits and is silent. It’s so easy to wonder if He’s sleeping or if He cares.

I think that’s one reason for reading the Old Testament. We sometimes think of the LORD as a kind of vending machine: If I put in the right change (trust and obedience), then God will give me what I ask for when I want it. But God is so much more than that. As I have read the Old Testament this time while also doing the entries on the Psalms, I have been overwhelmed by how the stories illustrate what the psalms are saying. I look at Manoah and his wife, Samson’s parents, and I see how they trusted God and obeyed Him in raising Samson and I wonder what they thought when their son, the son specially sent by God, strayed from Him. Don’t you think they probably wondered what was going on and experienced anguish? And Naomi, who for years didn’t see God actively involved, who had to leave her home to find food and whose husband and sons died, she herself thought she should be named, Mara, or “bitter.” It’s easy to read the stories and gloss over the hard times to the times when God actively intervenes.

So I guess I’m asking those of you still reading along, to read the stories and put yourself in the places of those in them. What would you be thinking if you were Naomi? How would you have reacted if you’d been the mother of Samson?

When God does answer a prayer or intervene or help in some visible way – note it!! Write it down. Mark it in your memory. Talk about it! It will encourage you and your children and friends at some time in the future.

If you’re going through a very difficult time right now and it seems that God just doesn’t care or isn’t involved, think of the disciples in the boat in the storm with a sleeping Jesus. He was there. He, even asleep, was in control. He has reasons we may never know for acting as He does. But we can cling to the sure knowledge of His love, demonstrated in the greatest act of redemption ever – His death for us. Read Romans 8: 31-39 and keep on trusting and praying.

PRAYER

Father, thank you for your visible help to us in the past. Keep us from fear and enable us to have faith in you even when stormy circumstances rock our lives and it seems to us that You don’t know or care. Thank-you for becoming flesh and being obedient to death to show us that no matter what it may seem like – NOTHING can separate us from Your love.
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