Yesterday’s message concluded the Practicing The Presence series with an in-depth look at Psalm 13.
It began with an acknowledgment: God is emotionally secure. He is so emotionally secure, in fact, that he inspires biblical texts that question his existence or competence or both.
It all led to this bottom line:
God delays answers to prolong communication.
You know what is so cool? This thing we JUST did – where we declare that the leadership of this church (& presumably a whole lot of people who go here) believes that the biblical library is inspired, eternal and true. We lift it up to demonstrate that. You may not believe that (which is fine, and you may believe it one day) but a lot of folks here believe that God breathed, the authors wrote, and what resulted is what the Father wanted. And the reason that is so cool is because as you’ll see today & then in a host of other texts that God breathes out sections of Scripture that doubt his own existence! He inspires those parts of the bible that question whether or not he is really there! And other parts that, while admitting he is there, seriously question his job performance. Our God is so emotionally secure he inspires words that doubt his existence or performance!!
Look at what I mean. Check out Psalm 13, as we have been parked in the book of Psalms for the bulk of PtP. READ 13:1-2.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Woah! FOUR TIMES he asks, “how long?” (Clip, “How long … has this been going on …”) What nerve David has! To start out a prayer with shaking a fist at his maker and ask in this accusatorial tone, “How long are you going to keep ignoring me, turning your back on me, NOT ANSWERING MY PRAYERS?! How long, huh?” I really hope that throughout PtP you’ve been able to see the shockingly raw honesty that people in the bible bring to God; that that old line, “can’t question the Lord!” has the world’s quickest comeback: “Oh yeah? Tell that to all those people who wrote the bible.” I’d say you can’t really practice the presence if you don’t have the freedom to get in a little scruff with the Lord every now & then as well.
And that question … how long? It’s one I’ve asked. It’s one you’ve asked. It’s one I’m asking. It’s one you’re asking. We’ve all wrestled with unanswered prayer and NONE of us wanted to settle for the country music song about how they’re really God’s greatest gift. No thanks! Now these unanswered prayers range from the obvious – like the true story of the group of guys in Des Moines IA who paused to pray for “divine protection” … before they robbed Herman’s Fine Jewelry store. Well, they prayed for divine protection; what they got was a felony indictment. So, some are obvious.
But unanswered prayer moves from the obvious to the much more painful. The family members you have lifted up for YEARS that they would come to know Jesus … and they don’t.
The marriage that you prayed faithfully would be made whole … and it didn’t.
The loved one on whose behalf you prayed for healing. And you claimed it, they claimed it, you uttered the name of Jesus all over that sickness … and you STILL had to attend that funeral.
Even those that I pray – revival, live up to our limitless potential, build on what we do that’s so good to make it better than so good … and the response I feel I get many times is crickets. Yeah, you, me, and all of us, on issues ranging from the trivial to the tragic, we have those prayers we’ve offered, those answers we’ve needed, and all we heard in response was crickets. How long? Indeed.
And more than likely you have FELT that frustration even if you didn’t think you had the freedom to express it. You didn’t know Psalm 13 was in the bible! And now, now that you realize just how emotionally secure God is, you’re all eager to join in the chorus of “How long? What are you doing? I don’t like that country song about the gift of unanswered prayer & I sure don’t need that line now. You have some explaining to do, Lord!” How in the world can we practice his presence when what we feel is his absence? Or … his incompetence?
Well, look where Ps 13 goes next in 13:3-4:
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
So I’ve asked WHY and you’re not answering and now, Lord, I’d like to give you some instructions FOR answering. And especially, Lord, I’d like it if you would give my enemies what is coming to them. So David moves from NERVY QUESTIONS to NERVIER instructions. And after all that NERVE, there is an especially abrupt change in 13:5-6:
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
But I trust … You haven’t answered, my circumstances haven’t changed, but I’ve realized something in your silence: I can ask “how long?” and declare “he has been good to me” AT THE SAME TIME.
Yes, David can! And so you can you and so can I ! Simultaneous questioning and confidence. Wondering and believing. Realizing that a clenched fist is but a prelude to a raised hand. Understanding that God is doing something in our delay that is beyond our understanding. David has here gotten to a place where the presence of God himself is ENOUGH even in the absence of God’s answers. Here’s where it lands all of us who want to practice God’s presence til we have it just about perfect: God delays answers to prolong communication.
See, we ask how long? in frustration when we ought to utter it in appreciation. Because God knows that quick answers could lead to a thin faith – or, much worse, a faith in ANSWERS – and God wants a living relations. So he will delay in giving us what WE WANT so he can have what HE WANTS – time with us. Is that selfish? I dunno. It’s just God. So with his delays, with his “no,” it’s all a calculated way of loving us MORE.
We think he’s ignoring us. Nope, adoring.
We believe he’s forgetting us. Nope, favoring.
We believe it’s a cause for our dismay. Nope it brings him delight. REFRAIN
Because here’s the thing: God’s great joy is your state of complete desperation before him. What parent DOESN’T remember what it is like and the joy it brings when you hold a completely dependent newborn in your arms? The one time in your life your kids need you for everything. That’s 100% how God loves your posture before him; though in your case it’s a posture you CHOOSE. When you are too busy or too content or too distracted, he’s not mad at you. He misses you. He values spending time with you. And he will endure your questions because he enjoys your company. God delays answers to prolong communication.
I love this description of how a chess master mentors his students: READ
My lessons consist of a lot of silence. I listen to other teachers and they’re always talking … I let my students think. If I do ask a question and I don’t get the right answer, I’ll rephrase the question — and wait. I never give the answer. Most of us really don’t appreciate the power of silence. Some of the most effective communication — between student and teacher and between master players — takes place during silent periods.
Yeah, not ignoring but adoring; not forgetting but favoring. God delays answers to prolong communication.
You know what has helped me immeasurably in all this? It may or may not work for you, but here goes. I write my prayers most days. Something about a pen on a piece of paper frees me up to be honest with God. To vent with God. To go all Psalm 13 on God. Honestly, there have been Mondays when I’ve been like “where is it, Lord? I’ve been praying for uncontrollable revival, I think you promised you’d send it, and I ain’t seen it. You have some explaining to do, Lord!” I mean, GS is good, great, but I know that our potentital on Moss and on Zoar is essentially without limit. And so I’ve been praying for a Holy Spirit sweeping movement of God to start in this place and among this people. Calling it a revival of obedience.
And when I see bits and pieces of it (remember baptizing 70 people in a day during Hell Or High Water?), little appetizers of it, it makes me want it more. So if things don’t go the way I think they should, I let God know my displeasure. And in the middle of that Psalm 13ing, the words comes through: “I want you right here. Close enough to vent; honest enough to complain; dependent enough to keep asking. I’ve got you where I want you! When I send crickets you keep asking. Communicating with me all the time.” Yep, he does. God delays answers to prolong communication.
And it’s not just here. I keep going back to pray for our Xn friends in India. For the salvation of family and friends. For the future of the UMC. Answers seem elusive and God is OK with that because he his ensuring that communication is constant. It is the most loving thing he could do. God delays answers to prolong communication.
So what is the thing you’ve been praying for? The thing that you could stand with David, raise your clenched fist at God and shout, “How long, Lord?”
Is it the family member with cancer? Is it YOU with cancer?
Is it the loved one who will not love Jesus? The prodigal who simply won’t come home?
Is it for the cloud of depression to lift over your own head? That your mood would match your circumstances?
Is it for just the right job, the one to replace the dead end you’re currently going to every day?
Is it for the right person to come into your life and fill that romantic gap you’re feeling?
Or even for that baby you and your spouse have long wanted? You’re so tired of rocking an empty cradle you could scream?
Here’s what I want you to do. We’ve got these twin poles of How Long? and For he has been good to me. Bookends to the Psalm. Bookends to your life. The realization that both can happen at the same time. We’re going to give you some silence now. Like me, you may vent best when writing. Others may vent best kneeling at the altar. Others may vent best by tearing the fabric we have placed on these tables. Some may want to sit and shake a fist. However you are wired. We know that God allows your frustration because that is another form of communication.
But in that silence, we want you know and feel and touch the incredible love poured out in the painful delay. Let’s pray ….
(Outline that day in program to have space for “How long?” and “For he has been good to me” almost as columns.)