I remember the day it all got to be too much for me. Our house had finally sold after two years sitting empty, but that hardly made a difference. We sold at a loss, and my husband had been without work for months. There was no money in the bank. We had a toddler and a baby to care for, my grandfather had just died, and we had just learned my mother had cancer. There was no more space in me for worry and it all came spilling out.
“God!” I cried out from the floor, where I lay curled up in my grief. “Where are you? Why don’t you answer our prayers?!”
It all comes back as I read the beginning of Psalm 13:
How long, LORD? Will you utterly forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I carry sorrow in my soul,
grief in my heart day after day?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
How long . . . how long . . . how long . . . how long? Repetition strings out the anguish of the psalmist, helps you feel what he feels. God, where are you when I need you? How long will this go on?
Psalm 13 is what biblical scholars call an “individual lament”: a psalm in which a person cries out to the LORD in time of personal need. There are more psalms of individual lament in the Psalter than there are of any other type. Most of them follow the pattern we see in Psalm 13: a cry of complaint or grievance; a plea for help; and an expression of trust and praise. The beauty of this pattern is that when we pray one of these psalms from the heart, entering personally into its opening plea, as we continue to read it lifts our eyes off of the problem and to God and his mercy. It actually lifts our hearts and teaches us to trust.
See how the psalmist continues his prayer:
Look upon me, answer me, LORD, my God!
Give light to my eyes lest I sleep in death,
Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,”
lest my foes rejoice at my downfall.
Look at me! Answer me! He’s demanding, persistent. Some people think we shouldn’t bother God with our personal troubles, that he has too many more important things on his mind, but the psalms teach us otherwise. “My God!” he calls the LORD. My God. God deliberately established a personal relationship with his people. The psalmist claims God’s attention based on that relationship, and so can we. The psalmist fears death; his enemies are getting the upper hand; and if he stumbles they will rejoice. All of these things deserve God’s attention, and he knows it.
But I trust in your mercy.
Grant my heart joy in your salvation,
I will sing to the LORD,
for he has dealt bountifully with me!
“But I trust in your mercy,” he says. The Grail translation reads, “As for me….”
“But.” “As for me.” This is a turning point, an about-face. Regardless of the situation and how it appears, the psalmist has come to a decision. He will trust in God’s merciful love.
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“Mercy” here is hesed in Hebrew. You’ll find this word all through the Psalms. Sometimes it’s translated “steadfast love” or “loving-kindness,” “loyalty,” or even “grace.”
It refers to the profound goodness and faithful love that God shows and has always shown his people because they are his — because of their covenant relationship that makes them his beloved children and spouse.
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“Grant my heart joy in your salvation,” the psalmist asks. He knows God is merciful, he knows God has saved and will save him again. God has blessed him and will bless again. The psalmist doesn’t feel it, though, and he asks God to grant him joy in that knowledge. “I will sing to the LORD,” he concludes. A determination to trust has risen from within, from the place where before there was only anxiety.
God’s merciful love has upheld my husband and me through many difficult times, for nearly 30 years. Each incident helps me remember: God “has dealt bountifully with me!” When new trials come and I find myself crying out again, God, where are you? How long before you answer?! I turn to Psalms like this one. Pondering Psalm 13, I feel my heart turn and from it comes a determined cry: “As for me, I trust in your mercy.”
If you’re wondering how long it will be before God answers the cry of your heart: spend time meditating on Psalm 13. The more times you read it, the deeper it will reach into your soul. You might want to remember that these are not just the words of the psalmist, they are words of the Lord as well. We can pray the first two sets of verses hearing Jesus on the Cross — and with him and the knowledge of God’s saving victory, move to praise.
May God richly bless you as you read his word!
© 2016 Sarah Christmyer
Read the first post in this series: Lord, Make Haste to Help Me!
Abigail Adams says
This psalm is so relevant now with the state that our country and our leadership is in. This gives me comfort and you could not have posted this at a better time! Thank you!
Mitch Carroll says
Thank you so much for your timely posts. It can’t be a coincidence that your message came a time where we are struggling with a situation one of our children has walked into. Thanks for the insight and the Psalm. It will be with us as we pray. Blessings.