Paul wrote to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith.” If I were to ask you, “What is the greatest threat to our faith?” I wonder what you would say. What threat makes it so that the fight for faith is necessary? Perhaps we might think of persecution. After all, if someone were to say, “Renounce Christ, or I will kill you,” that is most assuredly a threat to our faith. Or maybe we think of the pressure of the culture around us, approving of things that the Lord condemns, so that we feel pressure to deny things we hold to and, thus, need to fight to hold on to faith. But I think, as a pastor, having walked with a number of members and their struggles over the years, I’d say that that greatest threat to our faith may well be those times when things just don’t turn out as we’d hoped or anticipated in life. I think you know what a mean. It’s felt by the person who wanted to be married and still finds himself single, the person who got married and their marriage is nothing like they’d hoped, the couple who dreamed of children and has battled infertility or suffered through the loss of children, the person whose career is far from fulfilling but seems more like they’re running on a treadmill of suffering, day after day. And I could go on. You know well what I’m talking about.
I know there are many of you who know exactly what I’m talking about and feel like you’re living there right now. If you’re honest, you may confess that you feel alone, abandoned by God, and maybe even feel like he’s stopped caring about you. These are the moments, in my experience, where the fight of faith is at its fiercest. The enemy is relentless. When he can suggest that your Heavenly Father doesn’t love you or isn’t treating you well, he does so. When he can suggest that the Lord is holding out on you or ignoring you or not paying attention to your pain and struggles, he’ll do so.
And, sadly, I could provide you with names of people who have walked away from the faith, and if you pressed and trace their wandering off to its root, it would be found in a feeling of bitterness through some life situation that didn’t go as they hoped or expected, and they felt alone and abandoned by God.
So, if that place in life can be so common that I can assume many of you are in that very place of struggle today and can be so threatening to our faith that many have walked away from the Lord while finding themselves in that place of feeling alone or abandoned, then what do we do when we are in those moments? How do we fight the good fight of faith when life, the enemy, and our own hearts are often tempting us to think God has abandoned us and calling out to us to turn our hopes away from him as well?
The answer, I believe, is found in the psalms. If you read the psalms, you’ll quickly see that you’re not the first who has felt this way. In fact, if you divide the psalms up into categories like praise psalms or psalms of thanksgiving or the like, you’ll find that the single largest category of psalms is that of lament. More than any other kind of psalm, if you read through this book, you’ll find psalms where the psalmist is lamenting before God because he feels like he’s alone, been abandoned, or even being punished by God. And he aches and laments and cries out. And I think the Lord gave us those psalms both to show us that he is big enough and wise enough to handle even our most troubled and complex emotions and to help us understand how to express those very emotions and struggles to our God. And Psalm 13 is one such psalm that helps us do that.
We know the psalm was written by David. We’re told that in the superscription. We’re not told what circumstance in David’s life led to him writing this psalm, and I think that’s a gracious thing of God. I say that because if we were told the specifics of David’s life that led to him feeling this way, we might find ourselves in a very similar feeling as David but thinking we really can’t apply this psalm because our circumstances are different. But because we don’t know the situation that caused David to feel this way, we can merely say that any time we feel like David in this psalm, we can turn to Psalm 13 to see guidance on how we handle our feelings of being alone or even abandoned by God. What guidance does this psalm then give us? First, it reminds us to run to the Lord when we feel abandoned by him.
Run to the Lord when we feel abandoned by him
That’s perhaps the most striking thing about how this psalm opens. David feels that the Lord has forgotten him. He feels like the Lord is hiding his face from him. But instead of running from the one he feels has abandoned him, he turns to the Lord and cries out to him, expressing all of his pain to the Lord. He says, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (v. 1). He feels abandoned. He feels forgotten. He feels like the Lord is intentionally ignoring him and hiding from him. And he cries out to the Lord, letting him know.
In verse 2 he asks God how long it has to be this way. He says, “How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” That is, when he looks into his own soul to see what’s going on, all he sees and feels is sorrow. And, again, he’s declaring this all to the Lord, which is key.
You see, I think there are two ways we can get this wrong. On the one hand, we could run from the Lord in our bitterness and pain and feeling of abandonment. We could say, “Lord, my marriage hasn’t turned out like I thought it would, and I was counting on you,” and you could then turn away from God. But, brothers and sisters, we need to remember in times like these the words of Peter when Jesus asked him in John 6 if he wanted to leave in light of the hard road of obedience that we walk on in following Christ. Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and . . . we have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). To run from the Lord is to run away from our only hope in life. It is to run away from the one who sent his Son to live, die, and was raised for you. It is, if you remember Psalm 2 from a few weeks back, to put yourself in a place of saying to God, “I want to be an enemy of your appointed king.” Running from God in your times of pain and turmoil would be like running from a doctor in your time of sickness.
That’s the first mistake we could make, but the other can be equally as harmful to us, though it’s on the other end of the spectrum. You could have these feelings of being abandoned by God, like God has forgotten from you or is hiding his face from you, and you could think, “I shouldn’t feel this way. I’m going to just suppress these feelings and act as if they’re not there.”
That response is as foolish for multiple reasons. For one, your emotional struggles and aches aren’t necessarily going to go anywhere. Just because you’re suppressing them so that you’re not saying them out loud doesn’t mean they’re gone. It’s like closing your eyes and assuming that no one can see you just because you can’t see them. You’re still there, right out in the open. And oftentimes, if you try to suppress your pain, it will merely turn into bitterness and those around you will see it clearly, no matter how well you’re trying to hide it.
It’s also foolish to try to suppress your pain or feelings of abandonment before God because God already knows what you’re feeling and thinking. It wasn’t as if God was surprised by David’s words in verses 1-2. God wasn’t saying, “Oh, good grief. I’m so sorry. I had no idea you felt abandoned or like I had forgotten you. I had no idea your heart was only full of sorrow all day. I had no idea you were bothered by the circumstances of your enemies seemingly prevailing over you.” Of course not. The Lord knows.
Rather, we need to understand that the reason Psalm 13 was given to us by the Lord himself and included as part of the Scriptures is because the Lord is inviting us, through this psalm, to run to him when we’re feeling alone, abandoned, and forgotten by God. He’s the one who put this psalm there. He’s not embarrassed by your pain. He’s not going to shrink back when you tell him you feel deceived and hurt and betrayed. If there’s anything this psalm teaches you, let it be that. The Lord wants you to run to him.
David mentions his sorrow in verse 2 and in verse 3 asks the Lord to light up his eyes (which probably means the same thing it meant in 1 Samuel 14:27 when we’re told that Saul’s son, Jonathan, ate some honey and his eyes lit up). That is, he was downcast, empty, low of energy, perhaps feeling like he was wasting away, and he ate honey and was revived. That’s what David is praying for. Perhaps he feels so downcast that he doesn’t even feel like he has the strength to push forward, and he’s asking the Lord to light up his eyes, to give him energy. But note that he specifically says in verse 3, “Lest I sleep the sleep of death.” That is, give me strength, Lord, lest I die, is his prayer.
Now, I don’t want to downplay this because it may well be that some of you are right there today. Maybe you feel like your sorrow is so deep and so weighty that you don’t even know how you’re going to find the strength to press on. You feel like your sorrow is killing you. Well, let me say this, even though the person sitting next to you may have no idea what that’s like and no idea how you feel, there is one who does. Do you remember Jesus, in the garden, saying that he was sorrowful to the point of death? I have no way to understand that statement except to think that Jesus was saying, “My sorrow is so deep and weighty that I feel like it’s going to kill me.” There is one who knows your pain. There is one who knows your sorrow. There is one who can look at you and know what you’re going through. And he’s the one who is saying, “Cry out to me.”
Brothers and sisters, don’t run from God, and don’t suppress your pain and sorrow. Run to God. Set aside some time to pour out your heart to him. Tell him how you’re feeling. Tell him of your disappointment. There is a certain fellowship with our God that is only known through suffering. There is a certain intimacy with our Lord that is known through our pain. And our God is inviting you into that fellowship and into that intimacy. Run to him.
I hate it when my heart can identify with David’s in verses 1-2. I’d love to live the rest of my life never feeling like my sorrows or killing me or feeling crushed in disappointment. But I can testify to knowing some of my deepest fellowship with the Lord when all I can muster in my heart is sorrow and pain and disappointment as I cry out to the Lord. So, run to him. When you feel abandoned by God, run to him. Also, tell him your requests, knowing he loves you.
Tell God your requests, knowing he loves you
In verses 3-4, David turns from merely letting God hear his pain and turmoil to asking God to do something about it. He says, “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.”
Notice two things here. First, David is making his requests known to God. He wants God to give him strength. He wants God to not let his enemies prevail over him. He wants God to deliver him from death. Make your requests known. God invites our requests.
There have been numerous times in my life that prayers of lament have been answered with the Lord’s kind provision. I have mentioned this numerous times, but I remember one prayer of lament, when I didn’t think I could go on, and I was expressing to the Lord my feeling of being abandoned. I told him, I’d even felt like it was obedience to God that led me to feeling so alone. That is, if I’d sought to rebel against God, it seemed that it would have led to a better outcome, but instead, I sought to obey him, and now I felt like I was being punished for it. I was crying out, hiding nothing. And, I’m going to be honest, even when I began making my requests, my heart was so wounded that I felt like I was saying, “Lord, it doesn’t seem like you want to do what I’m asking, but …” and then I’d lay out what I wish would happen.
And on that specific night, about thirteen years ago, I said, “Lord, I wish you’d just let me do something else besides pastor here in Jackson. I wish you’d let me just go to Louisville, KY. I would have loved to have studied under a guy like Steve Wellum (whom I’d had teach some of my Master’s classes), but you didn’t, and that’s fine. I’m still going to obey, but I’m hurt, and I wish you’d do or do something different.” It was a pretty low point.
I also remember a day four years later when I went to mailbox, after the church had decided to give me a two year sabbatical to do Ph.D. work, when I opened a letter from Southern Seminary, and the first line read, “Congratulations! You’ve been accepted into the Ph.D. program in the field of Systematic Theology. Your supervisor is Dr. Steven Wellum.”
Now, I don’t want to pretend that every request we make to our Lord is answered in the way we desire or even beyond what we desires, and sometimes, even when they are, it can be years later. But I do know that he invites us to make our requests to him, even in our laments, and he is gracious. Sometimes he’s given me what I need by allowing me to continue to walk through what feels like the valley of the shadow of death. And other times, he’s graciously given what I’ve asked. But either way, we can know that he purposes all for our good, which brings me to the second part of this second point. Don’t only make your requests to the Lord, but make your requests, knowing he loves you.
Do you see that David’s requests in verses 3-4 are built upon an assumption? He’s saying, “Lord, if you don’t intervene, I could die. If you don’t do something, my enemies could overcome me and rejoice because I’m shaken.” Why is he providing all of this reasoned prayer? Why isn’t he just saying, “Light up my eyes”? Why add, “Because if you don’t, this and that will happen”? It’s because he’s praying from a position of knowing God loves him. And you and I pray from that same position.
When we pray from the position of our marriage not turning out as we’d hoped, or with the cancer not having gone away, or our wandering child having not repented, or whatever the travesty in our lives, we’re still praying as a beloved child of God who need look no further than the cross to know that we are loved by God. We are praying to our Father as his beloved child. That’s the position from which David prays, and it’s the position we must pray from as well. We run to God when we feel abandoned by him, and we make our requests known to him, knowing that he loves us.
And, finally, we pray, remembering God’s faithfulness and trusting in him.
Pray, remembering God’s faithfulness and trusting in him
The way David ends this psalm can almost feel unimaginable. He begins with complaint and lament, and he ends, taking about singing and rejoicing. But it’s reasonable to assume that his circumstances didn’t change between the time he wrote verses 1-2 and the time he wrote verses 5-6. So, what’s going on?
Well, what we see in verses 5-6 is David lifting up his eyes and setting them on something he knows to be true and certain and always reliable—the faithfulness of God. He says, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love.” That is to say, “I’ve seen and known as aspect of your character that is unchanging, namely, that you are faithful, that you demonstrate steadfast love. He is the God who is full of steadfast love.
Again, we need look no further than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to see that he is faithful and faithfully loving toward his people. But we can also look at the history of redemption. To read the Bible is, yes, to watch people go through the valley of the shadow of death again and again. But it is also to watch God’s faithfulness, working all for their good, faithfully walking with them and loving them, not forsaking them or abandoning them. In other words, we may feel that God has abandoned us, but in reality he never does and never will.
And David knows this, so by faith—looking at what is unseen—he confidently proclaims, “My heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” It may not be that our circumstances will change tomorrow (maybe not at all this side of the resurrection), but our faithful God will one day deliver us. And until then, we walk by faith, knowing one day faith will be changed to sight and prayers to praise. Even as our Lord endured the cross for the joy set before him that he knew was coming that Easter Sunday morning, so we can do the same. Joy is coming. Resurrection is ours. Our God is faithful.
So, until that day of deliverance, cry out to him, make your requests to him, and know he loves you. And, remember that he is faithful, has promised our good, and will one day deliver us. One day we will know the weight of glory to such a degree that we’ll look back and see our present as momentary light affliction. So, let us then join with the saints throughout history and pray, “Lord, come quickly.” And until he does, let’s fix our eyes on our faithful God, sing to him, and run to him, even when we feel we’ve been abandoned by him, for we know he has promised us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. Therefore, do not fear nor be dismayed.” Amen.