Friday, 19 September 2014
Psalm 4: While you wait…
What unanswered prayer is at the top of your list? What temptations have you faced as you wait for God?
For the past four years, my top prayer involved our son. We were riding the waves of hope and disappointment with him as he made repeated applications to various medical school programs. He had felt called to medicine as a child, had that call confirmed by many, and had not wavered. Why hadn’t the door opened? We felt like our knuckles were bloody from knocking, our fingernails had left long marks in the wood, and our bodies had sunk to the floor while one hand feebly continues tapping.
Then, after all seemed lost, and our son had begun to research other paths, the door swung open silently and we tumbled inside. Astonishment, joy, gratitude for this answer from our God!
But what was happening during the four year wait? This psalm has provided me with a chance to stop and reflect on our journey with David’s, and Jesus’s help.
Since the exact occasion of this Psalm is not spelled out, commentators have differed on the possible historical cause. Today’s conservative scholars have come full circle, returning to a fourth century interpretation: David was crying out to God for deliverance from drought, and all that drought meant for the nation. So David was interceding, not just for himself, but for his people. Kind of like a mom, huh? Interceding not just for herself, but for her children.
Drought is actually a good metaphor for all unanswered prayer, isn’t it? For one thing, drought is one of those problems that leads to other problems–famine, starvation, unrest, even rebellion. Drought is also one of those problems that starts small and gets bigger the longer it lasts. One growing season with no rain is a trial. Two or three becomes a national disaster. Stores get used up. The ground hardens to rock. Hunger becomes epidemic. Critics rise up. People turn to other gods. Do you hear the emotion in 2 Samuel 21:1?
Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the LORD.
Waiting for an answer from the Lord can feel like a drought. But the good thing about drought is that it can send our roots deeper. Into him.
While you wait…
Pray. Of course. This psalm is a carefully crafted prayer. But how do you keep praying? A few thoughts:
1. Answers matter. “Answer me” is the cry of a son who has been encouraged to “ask of me.” Remember Psalm 2:8 “Ask of me…”? Think ahead to Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it shall be given to you…” It’s ok to plead, “answer me”!
2. Take past answers seriously, as seriously as the present unanswered prayer. Speak them out loud. Write them out.
3. Confidence to ask boldly comes from God’s character. God is righteous. He always does what is right. He did it before, and you can bank on the fact that his character hasn’t changed.
4. Confidence to ask boldly comes from God’s grace. “Be gracious to me and hear my prayer” means that David isn’t demanding on the basis of his merits, but on the basis of God’s favor. We have a stronger hold on grace since the coming of Christ, because he arrived on the scene “full of grace and truth.”
5. Confidence to ask boldly comes from our relationship with him. “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.” This verse stuck out to me. David has just said, “hear my prayer!” Now he says, “The Lord hears when I call to him.” What changed? All I can figure is that he is banking on the covenant, the one way promise God made to Abraham that David has inherited by faith. I have a covenant to remember, too.
David’s confidence that God hears him is a whisper compared to Jesus’ shout of confidence. Jesus only prayed out loud for the benefit of his listeners. He didn’t actually need to pray that way, because he had utter confidence that the Father heard him. Psalm 4:3 led me to John 11:41-42 recorded at the tomb of Lazarus. Before raising Lazarus, Jesus first voices this confidence,
Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.
Jesus had the confidence of a Son, the only begotten of the Father. Is that kind of confidence available to me? Yes. Because of the new covenant in his blood, I am one of “the godly ones he has set apart for himself”. Because of adoption, I am a daughter of the Father. Because of union with Christ, I am one with him, his prayers are my prayers, his faith is my faith, his confidence is my confidence.
6. Encouraged in faith I can encourage others. David addressed the “men of rank” exhorting them to take God seriously. I can benefit from David’s exhortations, and I can use them to encourage others.
7. The “good” that comes in answer to my prayer may be natural or supernatural or both. Certainly grain and new wine are good. In famine, there is nothing like food! In drought there is nothing like rain! But God may choose to bless me with his presence before he answers with provision. A flood of joy and bed of peace announce that he has heard my prayers.
8. When hope is dead, count on resurrection. This post wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t talk about Jesus’ own unanswered prayer. The Father didn’t grant his request that the cup pass from him. He drank the cup of suffering for us. He emptied the wrath of God. He died. But that wasn’t the end of the story. He rose. His resurrection changes the storyline for every one of his brothers and sisters. We can count on resurrection. We must count on resurrection.
Keep asking, sisters. He hears you.