Reading: Revelation 5–6
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" 11Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)
The cry which these saints have as they await the vindication of God on their behalf is a common cry throughout Scripture. “How long, Sovereign Lord... until...”. “How long, O Lord, how long?” (Psalms 6:3; 13:1; 35:17; 79:5; 80:4; 89:46; 90:13; 94:3; Habakkuk 1:2; Zechariah 1:12.) How often have you wanted to cry out to the Lord, “How long, O Lord, how long must I put up with....?” Is that where you find yourself now?
There is something surprising in Revelation 6:10 in this familiar prayer. In every other case we have this prayer on the lips of those in this world, on this side of death. Yet here this cry is coming from the martyred saints on the other side of that great divide called death. No doubt they are ruling and reigning with Christ (Revelation 20:4), but they still await the day when all wrongs will be righted; when the wicked shall be dealt with rather than going on in their wickedness. It surprises me to see that they are still crying out, “How long, O Lord?”
Maybe it surprises you that you are crying out, “How long, O Lord?” Maybe you thought that because you have served God, because you have raised your kids a certain way, because you have (fill in the blank), that your life would be different: old age would have been kinder; your sacrificial living would mean that you had gotten ahead; your sacrifices for the work of the kingdom would have been rewarded by the Lord. Instead you see the wicked prospering, and the righteous suffering. “How long,” you ask, “can this go on?”
The preacher in Ecclesiastes observes this same fultility with which we too wrestle:
There is a futility that is done on the earth: there are righteous people who get what the actions of the wicked deserve, and there are wicked people who get what the actions of the righteous deserve. I say that this too is futile. (Ecclesiastes 8:14 HCSB)
All of creation longs for this frustration, this fultility, to be overturned (Romans 8:19-21). You and I long for it to be overturned. And it seems that the martyred saints still long for the restoration of all things that awaits the second coming.
I suspect, based on what I see as I observe the world today, that we will be praying “How long, O Lord?” prayers more and more in the days to come. We should not be surprised that the world hates us (John 15:8; 1 John 3:13), it hates Jesus. We should not act so shocked and horrified that it wants to stop celebrating “Christmas” as “Christmas” but would rather secularize it. (It may help to remember that it wasn't called Christmas in Paul's day.) I am not saying that I want these changes to happen; I am merely wondering what our expectations were—mine included.
How do we respond? What do we do if our lives seem to be a far cry from what we hoped? What if it seems that the wicked are prospering, and, though we have served the Lord, we are going backward? What do we do when the wicked continue aborting children, while those opposed get mocked? What can we do?
We can pray. We must pray. And when you pray, don't be afraid to ask, “How long, O Sovereign Lord, how long?” May the fragrance of that prayer rise up before the Lord continually.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,