Week of April 2, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

The Psalmist spoke for many when he cried out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Psalm 13:1-2) This is far from the only place in the Bible where the Psalmist asked such a pained question of the Lord! “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1) These are serious human questions raised by people of faith, who dared to voice their most excruciating and searching questions to God. This is why John Calvin said, “The Book of Psalms is an anatomy of all parts of the soul.” Perhaps this is one of the largest reasons why Calvin loved the Psalms so deeply. Contemporary Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann puts it this way: “The Psalms are a voicing in a highly stylized way of the emotional extremities of our lives in the presence of God and in the presence of the congregation.” In other words, the Psalms speak human truth in the faith that God listens and cares about our deepest cries of pain and sadness. No honest human question is off base or out of bounds for the Psalmist, nor should they be for us. At the heart of Psalm 13 is the question, “How long, O Lord?”

To be human is to wait. Sometimes we wait for a day, sometimes for a season, sometimes for what seems like an eternity for something or for someone for which we long. Waiting can be painful, and while we wait, all kinds of feelings pass through our souls. Simone Weil, that French mystic, who though born Jewish, became a believing Christian, said, “Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of spiritual life.” In our waiting, we can experience confidence and develop patience, which Augustine said “is the companion of wisdom.” But in our waiting, we can also be racked with doubt, filled with anxiety and haunted by the uncertainty of life. This is clearly behind the insistent, pointed questions that the Psalmist raises to God. One thing is certain, though: The Psalmist’s raising of these questions to the Lord makes them legitimate and acceptable plaints for us to make before God as well. But waiting, which can instruct us in patience and humble our souls, making them deeper and softer, can also try us to the point of breaking. Peter Marshall knew this, which is why he said, “Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work.”

Everyone who has ever been honest to God has wondered, “Will you forget me forever?” We have all been in a place where we understand what the Psalmist was speaking of when he cried, “How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” Sometimes life hurts, and hurts deeply. In our hurt, we often feel helpless to change things, and all that we can do is wait upon the Lord. Jesus waited and prayed in Gethsemane all night long while his closest friends slept. Yet wait and pray he did. It is often what life forces us to do as well. In one sense, all of us find ourselves waiting for things that we are helpless to bring about ourselves. We wait for answers to long-term questions and prayers regarding our children or our grandchildren. We wait for the future and are left wondering what it might hold. We wait for the day when our deepest fears will be relieved, or when our wildest hopes and dreams will be fulfilled. Most of us live on this side of that day and not on the other. Which means that we wait. “We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and lightning, in the cold and dark. Wait, and God will come. God never comes to those who do not wait.” So said the hymn writer and British cleric Frederick Faber. I believe with all my heart that he is right. Isaiah believed this as well, which is why to his own nation of Israel living in exile, he could say, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Waiting is often the posture of faith, and no one who is honest would ever say that it is easy. I pray for you today in your waiting, that you would sense the presence of the One who always comes in time.

Waiting, Hoping and Praying,

Todd Jones

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