Psalm 88 — A prayer for help in times of despondency
I don’t know about you but there have been times when I
have been praying and have really wanted God to answer my
prayer there and then, but for His own divine reasons it hasn’t
happened that way. I sense with Heman the Ezrahite here
in Psalm 88 that he is going through a similar experience in
terms of answered prayer or at least getting answers to prayer
at the right time.
There are a number of things that I think are helpful for us here
in this Psalm and hopefully I can be of some encouragement
to you as I highlight them.
Firstly we see Heman’s approach to God in verses 1-2.
Heman cries out to the Lord, to the God of his salvation for
help. I think it is important for us to recognise that when we
cry out to God, the God of our salvation, that we recognise He
is our only source of help. It brings home a number of things
that are important about prayer; the first being the need to pray.
Often when we hit difficult times the last thing we want to do is
pray; rather when in difficult times our reflex action should be
to pray because we have been so used to praying and seeking
God. This is underlined with Heman’s declaration that he had
cried out to God day and night. Have you ever prayed like that
because you are in a tough spot? Maybe it is because there is a
struggle going on in your marriage or maybe it’s because one of
your children have wandered off the track and you desperately
want to see them come back into that right relationship with
God. Sometimes in our desperation and despondency we can
get a bit upset with God because He doesn’t respond on cue.
Then I think it is important for us to learn to pray persistently.
Now when we pray in that manner part of what we are doing
is learning to be submissive to God in our prayer. A classic
example of this of course is when Jesus was praying in the
Garden of Gethsemane and He said to His heavenly Father
“Not my will but your will be done”. It is important that when
we pray we come with a heart attitude that says not my will (as
much as I want it) but your will God be done. Now why is it
important to be submissive; well it helps us keep our focus on
God and to be submissive to His divine schedule and agenda
and when we are, then things don’t seem quite as troublesome
as we thought.
Secondly Heman spells out his troubles in verses 3-9.
It is important that when we are praying to God we are truly
honest in sharing with Him our concerns, and even how we are
feeling. I love the way David again and again declares that his
heart was failing him, which is really an expression to say that
he was in deep trouble. Again as we pray about our troubles
there are a number of things that are helpful as we look at these
verses. First of all we need to accept trials as from God. If you
look at verse 7 it says “your wrath lays heavy upon me and
you have afflicted me with all of your waves”. Now Heman
isn’t suggesting that God has deliberately set out to hurt or
offend him but really to bring about a desired result in his life.
We need to accept trials as coming from God. Part of doing
this is acknowledging then that God is in full control of the
situation. I know myself as I look around the world and see
certain things happening I could be thinking that God has lost
the plot altogether but in fact the opposite is true. Everything
is working towards a divine timetable that eventually will mean
that Jesus will return and reign supreme. Another important
principle here is that trials can reveal the glory of God in our
lives. We can really see God doing some amazing things in
our lives as a result of trials and affliction. In Psalm 119 and
verse 67 David says “before I was afflicted I went astray but
now I keep your word” and then in that same group of verses
he says in verse 71 “it is good for me that I have been afflicted
that I may learn your decrees”. What I have discovered is that
in times of trouble I learn most about God and His word.
Thirdly you will notice in verses 9-12 Heman’s argument
in favour of God’s salvation that is the life of Christ. We
can take hope in the eternal life He gives to us. It is important
for us that although we call upon the Lord day and night as
we stretch out our hands before Him in agony as it were, that
we can know that the Lord gives us eternal life. Verse 10 says
“will you work wonders for the dead, shall the dead arise and
praise you?” Then in verse 11 “Shall your loving kindness
be declared in the grave or your faithfulness in the place of
destruction; shall your wonders be known in the dark and
your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness”. So when we
recognise that we can take hope in God’s eternal life, it is then
that the sufferings of this world seem to loose their significance
against the back-drop of the eternal life God has given us.
Lastly we see how Heman re-states his problems in verses
13-18. In trials and troubles we should never pretend happiness.
Sometimes we hear people preach and suggest that we should
be going around with a smile on our face when the wheels
have come off in our lives so to speak. There are times when
you feel down and discouraged but I think it is important that
we don’t try to pretend that nothing is happening. One of the
things I have found to be of great help personally is to have a
person or persons that you are accountable to; where you can
share the burden with these people and have them praying for
you through the troubles you are going through. Then we need
to also talk through the issue honesty and frankly with God.
Heman is not frightened to state how he is feeling when he says
in verse 14 “Lord why do you cast off my soul, why do you hide
your face from me”. These are questions I am sure are asked
in the depth of trial and difficulties. The reality is that God has
not cast us off, He hasn’t hidden His face from us – it is just our
perception in what are difficult and perplexing times. That is
why it is important that we don’t allow ourselves to slip into a
pity party as some people call it, or to wallow as John Bunyon
called it ‘in the slough of despond&rslquo;. As Warren Wiersbe puts
it; ‘trials can either make us better or bent, and how we view
these things can determine what the outcome is’.
In conclusion I want to say this Psalm brings home to us the
fact that we should never lose hope in God as it is important
we recognise that whilst things may look hopeless we should
always realise that we have hope in God. Is also important to
realise there are times when we go through struggles, that God
is using them to strip us of things which are not helpful in our
Christian walk. As it says in John 15 verse 2 “The branches
that bear fruit He prunes that they may bear more fruit”. One
of the pruning techniques God uses is trials, and whilst it is
not a pleasant pruning method, it can be a most effective one
to bring us back to Him. Then last but not least we need to
keep our eyes on God and in doing so we can keep on hoping
and keep on waiting and praising and trusting despite the pain
and the struggle. I like the way Isaiah sums it up beautifully
for us in chapter 40 verse 31: “But those who wait on the Lord
shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like
eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and
not faint”. That word ‘wait’ means to literally wait in faith,
and as we do He renews our strength day by day. I trust and
pray you will know the reality of this Psalm in your own walk
with the Lord.
Carl Carmody, Editor of Challenge
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