Monday, September 9, 2013

The Day Every Prayer is Answered: A Meditation in Psalm 102

Reading: Psalm 102
God does not despise the prayers and entreaties of the destitute (Psalm 102:17). The destitute are those brought to the lowest low; they are desperate. The description of this psalm in the Hebrew manuscript reads: A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD. (Psalm 102:1 ESV)
Many of us are well aware Israel tested God by their complaining in the wilderness. They were complaining because they didn't like God's provision and the fact that He didn't bring them to a resort the week after they got out of slavery. That kind of complaining is reprimanded in Scripture. However, there is a complaint that God hears. In fact, it is a whole category of prayer called “lament.” It is the complaint of faith—the faith of the destitute that knows something is wrong in the world and refuses to accept that God will do nothing about it. Verses 1-11 demonstrate what those prayers often look like.
Hear my prayer, LORD; let my cry for help come to you. 2Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. 3For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. 4My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food. 5In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones. 6I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. 7I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof. 8All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse. 9For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears 10because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside. 11My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass.
Job prayed many prayers of lament in the middle portion of that book. There are many psalms which are prayers of lament. We even find some in the Gospels... most notably the application of Jeremiah 31:15 to the slaughter of children in Bethlehem with Rachel weeping for her children (Matthew 2:18). That was the ultimate lament and Matthew's Gospel is pointing to the coming of Jesus Christ as the ultimate answer to that lament.
The psalmist brings his complaint in faith. In Psalm 102:12 he begins to speak of what God is like. First he had laid out his own situation and the reason for his crying out as he is. Now he lays out truth about God that anchors his soul in the middle of his desperate circumstances. In this, the psalmist speaks of what he knows God will do. This is his hope (meaning expectation; not wish).
13You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come.... 15The nations will fear the name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory. 16For the LORD will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory. 17He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.
When will God do this? Verse 13 alludes to the time for this: “for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come.” God will do this at the appointed time. When is it that this “appointed time” comes? When will all this happen?
This will be written for a later generation, and a newly created people will praise the LORD: (Psalm 102:18 HCSB)
Newly created people” expresses well the more literal, “a people yet to be created”. What generation is this? Who are these people yet to be created when the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory?
The language of verse 13, “...for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come” is reminiscent of Isaiah 49:8 and 2 Cor. 6:2. There in the time of God's acceptance of us He listened (answered their cry); in the day of salvation He came to their aid. And the context of 2 Corinthians 6:2 makes clear that this day is the day the Gospel is made known to us that God is not holding our sins against us but rather Jesus bore those sins and gave us his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). There we discover who this “newly created people” are: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17) Psalm 102 is fulfilled in Christ and results in the creation of the church!
God does not despise the complaint of the destitute. He suffers with them. He is moved with compassion. He took on flesh that He might bear their griefs and carry their sorrows (Isaiah 53:4 ESV). The day that God ultimately answers all prayers of lament is the day we hear the message of Jesus Christ and our hearts are opened to see Christ and be saved. For only in salvation can there truly be the answer to our griefs and deliverance to a new heaven and earth where everything is made new.
God hears the prisoner's groaning; He sets free those condemned to die, so that they may go forth in their freedom and declare the name of Yahweh in Zion. God does this to assemble peoples (all nations) and kingdoms to serve the Lord (Psalm 102:20-22). This reminds me of what Jesus declared when He said, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to send forth the oppressed in their release...” (Luke 4:18 my translation of the last phrase).
God frees us and sends us to free others. God hears our complaint and answers us in Jesus Christ. And then God uses us to reach others and answer their complaint by saving them too. No longer because of God's wrath will he cast us aside (Psalm 102:10).
[Side note: This does not mean that God does not also hear our cries and change our circumstances (heal; provide; deliver). That would make this a cold, unfeeling answer. It would also disregard the multitude of times that God did answer and heal, raise to life, provide, etc. But all of those “mini-salvations” are only small pieces along the way in the grand salvation that we have in Jesus. And without the grand salvation, they would be ultimately meaningless as all would end in damnation.]
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,