A woman in my former congregation sat in the sanctuary sobbing—for six hours. Maybe longer. She and her husband had endured years of infertility and miscarriages, and they had just received word that their long-awaited adoption had fallen through. The attorney they consulted had also grossly overcharged them, leaving them without funds to keep trying. The cries my wife and I heard as we sought to console her were “How long? How long, O Lord?” It didn’t sound much like a prayer, but that’s really what it was.
While we know that God has provided ready access to His throne for every believer in Christ, deep communion between the temporal human and the eternal God often emerges powerfully in the darkness. It is there, in that desperate place, that we cry out to God.
The Scriptures teach much about the spiritual exercise of prayer, recording prayers of the saints in the Old and New Testaments. The Book of Psalms represents the song and prayer book of the nation of Israel. Each chapter unites the intellect with the emotions while stirring the will to act. David—“a man after God’s own heart,” a musician, poet, and fellow pilgrim on a journey of both flesh and spirit—penned many of them.
Within the Book of Psalms we encounter every human emotion. We find psalms of joy and celebration, hymns of praise and thanksgiving, even a few that call down God’s judgment on Israel’s enemies. Yet most psalms are devoted to “laments.” These precious passages express the crying-out of the soul, the wailing—from the depths of being like our friend expressed—that releases the genuine sentiment of the heart.
Consider Psalm 13, a psalm of David, a relatively short lament that develops in three movements from exasperation to expectation, and finally to exaltation. This psalm challenges us to discard any notion of quick solutions to problems. Rather, it engages us in the divinely inspired pathway for a suffering saint to cry out in all candor to the God who hears, cares, and responds.
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
We read the voice of one crying out in anguish, who feels forsaken, abandoned, forgotten. Could God really forget a beloved child such as David? Of course not. Yet David voiced the seemingly endless, hopeless, desolate longing to be remembered and delivered by God.
At first the psalmist sought answers from within himself—me, me, me—where he found nothing but emptiness. The voice of the parched soul from the pit of despair echoed and faded. Such experiences resonate with us as we engage the pain of David, so like our own.
David trusted that the God he could no longer sense would give him victory and vindicate his faith and God’s own name. Though we don’t know the circumstances of David’s agony, he speaks for all who have entered the darkness.
Respond to Me
Look on me and answer, O LORD, my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
My enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
Even in the darkness David believed God heard him. Hope glimmered that his God would see him in agony and at least reveal Himself. Like a tot demanding attention from a parent, the psalmist pleaded with God to make Himself known.
“Give light to my eyes,” David cried from a place of spiritual darkness. Like many saints through the centuries, David likened this experience to death itself. If God would not respond, David felt he would not survive. So he cried in despair that he might see God again, that the God who is light and dispels all darkness would come to his aid.
Though at times it appeared the enemies of God would prevail, no dangers, illness, or enemies could defeat the God of David—whom we also serve. As we learn to rest in Him, even in the darkest of hours, our courage swells. God always delivers His children. Sometimes He removes the pain and suffering so that the child lives on. At other times He removes His child from the pain, ushering him to the place of no more tears and no more sorrow.
Rejoice in You
But I trust in your unfailing love;
My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD for He has been good to me.
Psalm 13, this short prayer, concludes on a triumphant note. Requests have led to praise. David trusted in God’s provision and rested in His everlasting love. The psalmist’s faith is evidenced by trusting in God’s hesed, that unfailing, covenant love that acts always on behalf of the beloved. This beautiful Hebrew word, appearing nearly two hundred times in the Bible, has been translated “lovingkindness,” “mercy,” “jealous affection,” and similar terms that reflect God’s promise and commitment based on His own character. Such a love is worthy of God, and such a God is worthy of praise.
Having determined to trust, David rejoiced even while still in the darkness, and he sang to the Lord. Meditation has brought remembrance of God’s grace and goodness.
Through reflecting on God’s character and past dealings with him, David journeyed from crying to confidence, from despair to dependence to delight. Though his psalm has only six verses, the journey represented in it may require for us months or years to traverse the darkness to the dawning. But the lessons are clear:
- God invites us in times of desperation to cry out, voicing our own laments.
- As we remember and reflect on the Lord’s character, we can rejoice in the hesed, the loyal love, of the covenant-keeping God. We can remember how God in Christ has indeed “been good” to us (v. 6)
Such a journey through suffering brings greater trust and deeper intimacy as we encounter God even in the darkness, for He is the light.
What our friend didn’t know as she sat despairing was that a child—to become her child—had already been born. She had to trust God in the dark, believing that even if He never gave her a baby, He would still be good. On the day she sobbed asking, as David did, “How long, O Lord?” she received mere silence. Only sixty days later when I placed God’s answer in that couple’s arms, not more than a hundred feet from where she echoed David’s lament, did she and her husband understand how God had been whispering behind the scenes, actively directing events in answer to their prayers.