April 9, 2018: How Long, O Lord?Josh Moody
Calamity breeds its own kind of despair. It is difficult to know how to respond when something tragic and terrible occurs. How can we answer the cries of those who are brought low? How can we find strength to help those trod down under foot? How can we discover the inner strength to keep going in the midst of a storm? But while any kind of calamity breeds despair, there is a particular kind of calamity that breeds a special kind of despair for the Christian. That calamity is when God’s people are defeated. It has certainly happened in church history. Augustine faced this when the pagans said that the reason why Rome was being destroyed was because it had gone over to the worship of Christ. What did Christians say when Constantinople was finally sacked by the Moslems? How did the Christians answer the terrible event of the St. Bartholomew’s massacre that targeted the French Christian Huguenots?
But perhaps no calamity of this kind has been so great as that when ungodly nations “laid Jerusalem in ruins” (79:1). “Blood” was “poured out” “like water all around Jerusalem” (79:3). The sheer scale of the butchery was hard to contemplate. But even more than that—how? Why? Were they not God’s people?
This psalm is written to face head-on these kinds of questions when dealing with this kind of disaster. The prayer has four elements that we will do well to recall when we face confusing calamities of our own kind:
First, ask God for the answer to your question. “How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?” (79:5). It is easy to go everywhere apart from to God in our desperate search for answers. Which of us, if we are honest, is not more prone to consult Google for answers than God? First, go to God for answers. Ask him in prayer. Seek out the truth from his Word.
Second, appeal to God’s love. “Let your compassion come speedily to meet us” (79:8). When the situation around you does not match with what you know to be true about God’s love, that is not the time to back away from what you know to be true about God’s love, but instead to lean into God’s love. God is a God of love. Therefore, God, because of “your compassion,” come speedily to help. Appeal to God’s love.
Third, ask him to intervene for the sake of his own glory. “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name…for your name’s sake” (79:9). Because we are called by God’s name, because we are God’s, therefore our eternal destiny is wrapped up in the reputation of God. Moses prayed the same way to God when the people had rebelled against God. He asked what the other nations would say if God’s people were destroyed. Surely they would say that God was not able to save them and bring them to the Promised Land as he had promised. Ask God to intervene for the sake of his own name.
Fourth, bring before God the plight of the desperate. “Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die!” (79:11). In prayer bring before God the dying, the desperate, the broken—all those in need of God’s power and the anointed intervention of the gospel of his Christ, and pray, ask, plead that for Christ’s sake those who are perishing would be saved!