Thursday, May 16, 2013

God, Did You Fall Asleep? A Meditation in Psalm 44

Reading: Psalm 44  
Do you ever wonder if God is sleeping on the job? Or, do you ever want to say, “God, I know you have done many wonderful things in the past—I could certainly speak of great acts of God which culminate in the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus—but lately, if I dare say so, it seems like you might have fallen asleep. I need you to wake up and act.” You might not dare to pray such things even if you felt them, but the psalmist did.
Psalm 44 may adjust your understanding of the kinds of prayer God invites to come to Him, even teaches us to bring to Him, and of the willingness of our God to hear such prayers. The first 8 verses start off sounding like a promising and proper prayer.
We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. 2With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. 3It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
4You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. 5Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. 6I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; 7but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. 8In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. (Psalm 44:1-8)
The psalmist speaks of the truths of God's deliverance that have been handed down—what God did in days of old. There is no denying the history of redemption laid out in Scripture. The psalmist trusts God and even boasts in God. Suddenly the prayer changes direction. The current experience of the psalmist causes him to wonder if God has fallen asleep.
9But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. 10You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us. 11You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations. 12You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale. 13You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us. 14You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us. 15My disgrace is before me all day long, and my face is covered with shame 16at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge. 
17All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant. 18Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. 19But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals and covered us over with deep darkness. 20If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, 21would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart? 22Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
There were many times in Israel's history when afflictions like these came, bit God was “off the hook” because Israel had forgotten His name and been false to the covenant. However, this is not such a time. This list of current experiences ends with a familiar verse (Psalm 44:22)—familiar because it is quoted in the New Testament. The Christian Standard Bible captures the emotion of the statement well, “Because of You we are slain all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.” In other words, “God, because you have stopped doing for us what you did for our fathers, we are being destroyed while You do nothing to even slow down the enemy.”
The psalmist, feeling forsaken by God, says what seems inappropriate—at least to our sensibilities. He says something that almost feels we've reached the edge of blasphemy.
Wake up, LORD! Why are You sleeping? Get up! Don't reject us forever! (Psa 44:23 HCSB)
Elijah mocked the priests of baal with a similar question about why their altar was not burning (1 Kings 18:27). Now, the psalmist in his despair is bringing a similar kind of question directly to God. He is nearly mocking God in this prayer because of His inactivity. We may wonder why the psalmist dares to pray this way. However, there is a bigger question. Why did God put a prayer like this in our inspired prayer book? Is God inviting us to bring our worst feelings about Him to Him in prayer? Is God willing to bear our near mocking and ridicule in prayer about His seeming inaction? He must be.
It should be no surprise to us that God is willing to bear our near mocking and ridicule in prayer when we feel forsaken and in despair, because Jesus came and bore our mocking and ridicule at the cross while we were still enemies. How much more, now that we are saved, will the Father not bear our fears and doubts when we bring them to the Author and Finisher of our faith. In fact, as we are discovering in our series in Job at Gulf Coast Community Church, Job is commended for bringing his hardest questions, his greatest doubts, and his accusations to God with a earnest desire for God to hear and answer. Far too often, we feel we must finish our faith and then bring finished faith to the Father. Only the One who gave us faith can complete it.
What is God's answer to our crying, “Because of You we are slain all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered”? His answer is,
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)
God assures us in the cross of our Lord Jesus, that His stance toward us is love, even in the midst of the kinds of afflictions described in Psalm 44:9-19. In fact, even in these horrible circumstances, God is working it together for our good. He is not condemning us, He justifies us (Romans 8:28-36). So God not only hears our prayers, bears our near mocking Him for inaction, He answers us with assurance of His love, and in so doing He matures our faith.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,