Can there be a more desperate state than to think that the creator of all that exists, the singular infinite power, has cast you aside? To feel as though God has rejected you? I can think of nothing more desperate than to see myself forgotten by God. Psalm 74 informs us how to respond when those thoughts overtake us, and we find ourselves full of despair—feeling useless.
I struggle with the 74th Psalm; particularly, with phrases such as “…why have you rejected us forever?” or, “remember your congregation which you have purchased”. Does God reject His own? Does God “need” us to remind Him of His promises? Does God forget? These notions seem to challenge what we know to be God’s divine attributes, and what we see as absolute Biblical certainties. Certainly, the psalmist cannot be affirming these ideas, but there is no question that he is struggling with feelings of abandonment by God, and those feelings can be consuming.
In this prayer, I see four stages that the psalmist goes through in his despair. In the first three verses, he expresses to God his feelings of abandonment—feeling that God has forgotten him. He feels that God has forgotten His promises to His people. Even though we know that God has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Matt. 28:20, John 14:16, Heb. 13:5), there are times in our lives when we don’t feel the closeness of God. There are times when it seems like our prayers bounce off the ceiling right back down on us, never to find the ear of our Creator. I have actually prayed, “Dear God, I don’t know what to say and I don’t feel like you’re listening… amen.” I’m not proud of it, but I’ve said it.
In the second stage, vs. 4-10, Asaph recounts the circumstances God’s people find themselves in. Their enemies have taken over the sacred meetings of God’s people and arrogantly “roared” in defiance of God. They have burned the sanctuary to the ground, and there is no one to speak for the Lord (v.9) to tell them when this time of tribulation will end. So, the psalmist asks again, “How long, O God?”. Certainly, God doesn’t need me to tell Him what’s going on. He knows better than I. But, honestly and humbly taking stock of my troubles helps me to acknowledge that He is my only hope for deliverance.
The third stage is praise (vs. 12-17), and this is also one I tend to miss in my prayers. It’s not that I don’t tell God how great, how powerful, and how marvelous He is. But, far too often, those are just words I’m obliged to say. The fact is, praise is hard when life is at its low points and God feels far away. The importance of Asaph’s praise is that it not only ascribes God’s worth, but it also serves to remind Asaph who he’s talking to. It renews his awe, and strengthens his faith. It prepares his heart for the fourth phase of the prayer. He knows that His Lord and Savior can, and will, deliver and care for His chosen people.
In the fourth and final phase, Asaph tells God precisely what he desires Him to do. With confidence and faith, he petitions God to remember His people and avenge His holy name. Asaph’s request is not only for the oppressed nation, but also for God’s glory. Again, God doesn’t need our insight, our wisdom, or our perspective on what needs to be done. Nor does he need our permission to do what He has promised. The need, rather, is ours. We need to remind ourselves of what is true, what is honorable, what is righteous, pure, and so on (Phil. 4:8). It is then that “…the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 4:7).
Something that needs to be noted is that when the psalm ends, there’s no indication that the trials are soon to be over. There’s no indication that Asaph “feels” any better about the circumstances he and the nation are in. The fact is, feelings can deceive us, and distract us from what is true about God’s character. Let’s not forget that God wants the best for us, and only He knows exactly what that is. He will always bring about His perfect will, and even though His will may be hard, He is always a good Father who hears and cares for His children.
Sometimes He calms the storm with a whispered “Peace, be still,” He can settle any sea but it doesn’t mean He will. Sometimes He holds us close and lets the wind and rain go wild, Sometimes He calms the storm and other times He calms His child.
“Sometimes He Calms the Storm” by Kevin Stokes & Tony Wood,
©1995 Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Songs