Today a dear friend came for a visit and a time of prayer. An ongoing family struggle had once again slammed into her day, a struggle she had prayed about for many years. A continual cycle of crises had worn her out. Another friend visited the evening before and voiced a similar frustration over the chaos and sickness of several family members. Schizophrenia, depression, violent behavior. “This has gone on for 30 years,” she said.
I don’t think perky or pat answers would have blessed either woman’s soul. Complex and disastrous circumstances deserve more thought and humility than that. In these weary times a consideration of the Psalms might help the person suffering as well as the person groping for an encouraging word.
One psalm in particular voices the same frustrations and yearnings felt by many Christians who suffer and turns to a “solution” that slams the door on weary doubts. Psalm 77, penned by Asaph, begins with a summary of his anguish and a confession that the very thought of God troubled him.
“My sore ran in the night and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted,” he said. “I remembered God and was troubled; I complained… (vs.2, 3).
He then confesses that he has searched diligently for answers to these questions:
• Will the Lord cast off forever? And will he be favorable no more?
• Is his mercy clean gone forever? Doth his promise fail for evermore?
• Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?
Cast off. No more. Forgotten. Shut up. Fail. Clean gone. Forever. The wording sounds as though God has left town and won’t come back. What answer does Asaph find to his anguished questions about God’s “inactivity” and “failure” to help his people?
Instead, as soon as Asaph finishes expressing his doubt and frustration he makes a decision: “And I said, ‘This is my infirmity, but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember the wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work and talk of thy doings.’” (vs. 10-12)
Asaph considers his severe questioning of God as a weakness, an infirmity of his own soul. Instead of pressing further for answers to God’s seemingly cruel behavior, Asaph chooses to counter the weakness of his belief in God’s goodness and power. He chooses to remember past answers to prayers, past events filled with wonderful deliverances, past dealings with enemies, and a past that included 40 years of provision in the desert. “Thou hast with thine arm redeemed they people, the sons of Joseph and Jacob.” (vs. 15)
He admits that God’s “footsteps are not known” yet he knows of God’s acts of redemption, deliverance, and strength. Asaph cuts his complaining short by choosing to allow memories of God’s wonderful works to lift up his soul. As he focuses on what God has done he magnifies God in his thoughts. Think of how a magnifying glass enlarges an object so you can see its intricacies and beauty.
Meditating on God’s past works in your life, his answers to past prayers, his kindnesses in the midst of your hardships, and his works in the lives of people you know, all serve to magnify God. For the moment, put your agonizing questions aside and enable yourself to rejoice. Asaph finally rested in a comforting conclusion, that God led his people “like a flock” by the hand of Moses and Aaron. Like a flock of sheep in need of a kind shepherd. Strengthen your faith today with something he clearly wanted you to know, so much so that he came to earth and proclaimed it in the street: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” (Jn. 10:11)