How to pray when you don’t
feel like praying
When we used to go on holiday as a family, one of the questions that we frequently received from our children was "are we there yet?" Or "how much longer?" or "are we ever going to get there?" Have you ever notice that these kinds of questions never come when the kids are having a great time?
We’ve never made it to Disney World but on the few times we’ve been to Thorpe Park, I don’t remember ever hearing the question "How much longer?" "Are we done yet?" "Can we go home now"? It’s the same for us as adults.
When times are going great...we seldom ask, "How much longer is this going to last"? But, when times are rough...they seem to go on and on and on. We begin to wonder if it will ever end. We say “Time flies when you are having fun”. But time crawls when you are not.
Sooner or later we all find ourselves in the midst of circumstances that bring unbearable pain, despair and disillusionment. I visited a man this week. His wife died, they were married for 27 years. Alone for the first time, he couldn’t cope with the pain, the loss, the emptiness. Yesterday I got this letter from a member of our church in Guildford.
The death of a loved one, divorce, terminal illness, financial crisis, serious family problems or other circumstances bring about “dark nights of the soul.” In the midst of the pain, confusion and uncertainty of such times we, too, sometimes cry out to God, lamenting over and over again,
“Why? Why? “Where are you God? Don’t you care?”
Our text for this evening, Psalm 13, is a psalm of lament. Psalms of lament often make people uncomfortable. They say things we aren’t sure should even be said aloud. They get in touch with the pain inside of us that we’re not always eager to engage. Nevertheless, Psalm 13 and the other psalms of lament are part of the inspired Word of Almighty God. They have been placed there by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, deliberately. Deliberately to give us permission to lament.
This Psalm is equally divided into 3 stanzas; each one with 2 verses each. As you read this Psalm, you will notice a natural progression in thought. You could almost picture this Psalm as a mountain. When it begins, in the 1st Stanza, David is at the lowest valley of his life. But in the 2nd Stanza, we see that David has begun to climb the mountain of faith before him.
And in the 3rd Stanza, David has reached the top of the mountain; and he can look back and see how God was with him. Let’s look at each of these stanzas.
1. First Stanza--In the deepest valley (Psalm 13:1-2)
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever? 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?” (Psalm 13:1-2) David just jumps right in by sharing with God what was on his heart. One thing we learn from David in the Psalms is that we can always "bare our soul" to God. Even when we are angry or frustrated with God; it is okay to tell God just that. David doesn’t pull any punches.
and neither should we. It is obvious that David has wanted God to intervene before now and do something about his situation. David has likely persisted in prayer to God for his needs. He has probably poured out his heart to God over and over... but now he has got to the end of his rope...
and it is like he is saying, "God, do you even know I am here"? Can you hear me when I cry out to You? Do you care what I am going through?" I can’t stand it much more. I am sure we can all identify with David in some way. We’ve been there ourselves. We’ve cried out to God until we couldn’t cry anymore... We’ve reached the end of our rope... and God didn’t seem to even know what we were going through. And when we get there, we need to realize that we can still bring all our frustration and pain to God. David could have given up. But David didn’t give up... because we see him here in Psalm 13 pouring out his guts to God. Don’t give up on God. Even if He hasn’t answered you... even if you feel He isn’t listening... even if you feel abandoned... Go to God and just open up and share with Him exactly how you are feeling. Continue to go to God in prayer. Don’t give up.
2. Stanza 2: Starting the Ascent (Psalm 13:3-4)
“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.” (Psalm 13:3-4). In the 2nd Stanza, we see that David is still struggling... but at least he has started climbing the mountain of faith before him. He is no longer languishing in the valley.
I really enjoy the Tour De France. The final 152 kilometre stage of the 2003 was this afternoon. The Tour De France is a bike race that lasts 3 weeks... The riders race for over 2,000 miles. It goes through the Alps and the Pyrenees Mountains... so it is a very arduous race...arguably one of the most arduous sporting events of all. Lance Armstrong won the race today. You may know his story. In 1996, twenty-four-year-old Lance Armstrong was ranked the number-one cyclist in the world. He proved it by winning the World Championships, the Tour Du Pont, and multiple Tour de France stages. Lance Armstrong seemed invincible and the future ahead was bright indeed. But that October, "The Golden Boy of American Cycling" was sidelined by excruciating pain. Then they told him he had cancer. Next to the challenge he now faced, bike racing seemed insignificant. The diagnosis was testicular cancer, the most common cancer in men aged 15-35. If detected early, its cure rate is a promising 90%. Like most young, healthy men, Lance ignored the warning signs and never imagined the seriousness of his condition. Going untreated, the cancer had spread to Lance's abdomen, lungs and brain. His chance for recovery was as low as twenty percent.
Then, with a combination of physical conditioning and a strong support system Lance’s competitive spirit took over. He declared himself not a cancer victim but a cancer survivor. He took an active role in educating himself about his disease and the treatment. Armed with knowledge and confidence in medicine, he underwent aggressive treatment and beat the disease.
During treatment, before his recovery, before he even knew his own fate, he created the Lance Armstrong Foundation. This marked the beginning of Lance Armstrong's life as a cancer survivor and a world representative for the cancer community. Armstrong embarked on the most aggressive form of chemotherapy available and underwent surgery to remove cancer that the treatments couldn't reach. Five months after his diagnosis, he resumed training under a cloud of uncertainty, and the path back to competition wasn't smooth. It took a ride with friends through the mountains of North Carolina for Armstrong to rediscover his genuine love of the sport, and to rededicate himself to its pursuit...
Lance Armstrong's victories in the 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002 Tour de France are
sweet (only one other person has won five races consecutively), the battle against
cancer has just begun—not just for him, but for all cancer survivors and people
just like him who think cancer could not affect them. Lance Armstrong plans to lead this fight, and he invites
us to join him. This is a life he owes to cancer.
"It's true that I like to suffer. I know what pain is. Eventually, sacrificing yourself and suffering are what is going to make the difference between he who becomes a genuine champion and he who will never be one." Lance Armstrong.
Lance is extremely focused. He has a strong determination... and a strong drive to compete. You can see it in his face. You can hear it in his voice. Sometimes that is the kind of drive and determination that we need to even begin to climb the mountain before us. Pericles said “Those who can truly be accounted brave are those who best know the meaning of what is sweet in life and what is terrible, and then go out undeterred, to meet what is to come...”
the truth be told, we probably feel like giving up. We would rather just throw
in the towel. But we are confident that the climb is worth the effort. The strain
of the effort of the climb won’t last forever. And we are hoping that when we
reach the mountaintop that there will be a blessing waiting for us. But we have
to persist! We can’t give up in the middle. In Psalm 13:3, David says, "Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep
in death" He has stopped asking "how long"? And now his request
is for understanding. It is as if David is saying, "If
I could just understand why I am going through this, it would help" or "if
I just knew what was going on, I’d be okay"
By persevering, David reaches the summit of the mountain of faith!
3. Stanza 3: The Mountaintop (Psalm 13:5-6)
“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 13:5-6)
David is saying "I know that You love me"
"And that knowledge is enough to bring a song to my heart" On the top
of the mountain, David looks back. He sees all that he has come
through... He sees the valley where he started out... He sees that there were
times that he didn’t think that God was there; but now he realizes that God was
there all the time! He says, "I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good
to me." Psalms 13:6 (NIV) If we will hang in there. If we will persist...
If we will struggle with all our might to climb this mountain... it may seem insurmountable
at times... but if we continue to cry out to God... even to the point of expressing
all our frustration and pain... We will reach the mountaintop. We will be able
to reach the summit... and look back and realize that yes, God really does love
me.... and He has really been good to me... and we will have a song in our heart
We’ve all been in the valley at one time or another. We’ve questioned God... We’ve asked "how long are you going to let this go on"?
Maybe you are there right now. And the pain that you feel is so fresh and raw. But, like David, we continue to cry out to God...
He can handle our questions... our pain... our frustration... and yes, even our anger. And we begin to climb that mountain of faith once again.
We may not feel like it. We may feel like giving up many times along the way. But if we will persist, there is a blessing waiting for us at the top! Our pain won’t last forever. The terrible circumstances that you find yourself in are temporary, and they will pass, some time or other... perhaps not as soon as we would like... But hang in there! And when we do, we will be able to shout from the top of our lungs from the mountaintop: 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. Psalms 13:5-6 (NIV)
closing, I want to summarise three things that I believe will help us to trust
God to bring His will and destiny to pass in our lives.
1. Be Honest - God knows how you feel
Call on God. Do just as David did. Shout out, scream out to Him, let God know your pain. God is a big God. He would rather you cry out to Him, than sit in a corner and sulk.. Let God know your pain, your feelings, what it is that is making you feel so desperate. That is prayer from the heart. And know that God hears and responds to that type of prayer.
Be Patient - the dark night is only temporary
Maybe you are enduring the death of a loved one, a painful divorce, a terminal illness, financial crisis, a rebellious teenager or a debilitating time of depression. Share your laments to God no matter what they are.But also continue, as did the Psalmist, to seek His face in prayer, trusting Him. And remember that God, whose ways are unsearchable, is weaving your life into a pattern.
The story is told of a Sunday class that had been asked the question, “in your time of discouragement, what is your favorite Scripture.” A young man said, “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" Psalm 23:1.” A middle age woman said, “God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1
Another woman said, “In this world you shall have tribulations, but be of good cheer, I have overcome this world. John 16:33-35. Then John, an 80 years old man said, “and it came to pass” 396 times in the bible". The class started to laugh a little, thinking that old John’s lack of memory was getting the best of him.
When the snickering stopped, he said. "At 30 I lost my job with six hungry mouths and a wife to feed. I didn’t know how I would make it. At 40 my eldest son was killed overseas in the war. It knocked me down. At 50 my house burned to the ground. Nothing was saved out of the house. At 60 my wife of 40 years got cancer. It slowly ate away at her. We cried together many a night on our knees in prayer. At 65 she died. I still miss her today. The agony I went through in each of these situations was unbelievable. I wondered where was God. But each time I looked in the bible I saw one of those 396 verses that said, “and it came to pass.” I felt that God was telling me, my pain and my circumstances were also going to pass and that God would get me through it." When life gets rough, we need to remember ol’ John’s verse, “and it came to pass.”
need to realize, like John, "and it came to pass". Patience
is never easy. As a matter of fact it seems to get harder with time… but there
are rewards that only patience can bring. “because you know that the testing of
your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you
may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4). Be honest, be patient.
3. Be Thankful - God is closer to you than your breath
There’s a story told of an old farmer who had lived on the same farm all his life. It was a good farm, but with the passing years, the farmer began to tire of it. He longed for a change… something “better.” Everyday he found a new reason for criticizing some feature of the old place.
Finally, he decided to sell it and listed the farm with a real estate broker who promptly prepared a sales advertisement. As one might expect, the ad emphasized all of the farm’s advantages: ideal location, modern equipment, healthy stock, acres of fertile ground, etc. Before placing the ad in the newspaper, the realtor called the farmer and read the copy to him for his approval. When he finished reading the farmer cried out, “Hold everything! I’ve changed my mind. I’m not gonna sell… I’ve been looking for a place like that all my life!!
He wasn’t content with what he had until he realized what he had. And we as Christians need to realize what we have and to be content with it. No matter where God has us at the time. No matter the situations that come upon us.
The word contentment in the scripture comes from the Greek word “Autarkeia” which literally means satisfaction with what one has. The picture isn’t how much or how little… but rather a condition of spirit that is satisfied with anything… or nothing. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
The apostle Paul wrote this epistle to the church in Philippi from a prison cell in Rome. Here he is, sitting in jail and he tells them that he is content! Humanly speaking it was one of Paul’s darkest hours in life… but he took strength and contentment from the fact that God was still God and no circumstance in the world could ever change that!! He understood that his hope wasn’t in the things of this world… but in God alone!!
”You will never know that God is all you need until God is all you’ve got.” (Rick Warren). Be honest. Be patient. Be thankful.
“The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving. To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but we must sail, and not drift, nor live at anchor.” Oliver Wendell.
It is okay to hurt, to feel desperate and despair, but know that we have a God who has been tempted in every way, has been persecuted, and yet was without sin. Next time you are hurting, call on Jesus, call on the Master Physician, call on the One who says "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-29).
am grateful to the following for ideas and resources used in this sermon, “Dark
Night Of The Soul” by David Swensen,
Derek Kidner, “Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary”, (IVP, 1973), Sinclair
Furgeson, “Deserted by God” (Baker, 1993), Michael Wilcox, “The Message of Psalms
1-72” (IVP, 2001).