The Psalm from morning prayer today was Psalm 28, which begins, like many psalms, with a cry unto the Lord and a plea for God to hear our humble voice of petition. Consider the plea: "hear my petition, O God." Mentally, we can likely all agree that God hears us when we call out to him. We may quibble over how that is possible and try to craft hypotheses to describe the process whereby God hears us, but we will likely all agree, at least from an ideological or theological perspective, that God hears us. The psalmist, like us, expected God to hear him yet he still cried out, pleading for God to hear him because the circumstances of his life made him wonder whether God had turned a deaf ear to the cries of his heart. We, like the psalmist, will at times question whether it is really true that God hears us given that we do not always experience the answers we hoped to receive from Him when our hearts have cried out to Him.
All too often we can feel like we are crying out to an empty void, possibly questioning the validity and effectiveness of our prayers. Perhaps then we start to feel guilty, as if we are somehow insulting God with our doubts. God desires us to seek after Him, though, and He is not insulted by our weakness and our confusion when the circumstances of life don't turn out the way we think they should. He is not offended when we, in our humanity, ask Him if He is really there or cry out to him in frustration or even anger that He hasn't interceded the way we think He should. Rather, He lovingly and patiently walks with us, even when our eyes struggle to recognize that He is there, and He gently beckons us to stay with Him, to trust Him, and to wait for Him.
As Psalm 28 closes, the psalmist gives a proclamation of confidence that the Lord has heard him, and that, although the circumstances around him seem to be insurmountable and treacherous, that he still trusts in God. "Praised be the Lord, for He hath heard the voice of my humble petitions. The Lord is my strength, and my shield; my heart hath trusted in him, and I am helped; therefore my heart danceth for joy, and in my song will I praise him."
We may be tempted to read these words and think, "well, of course the psalmist is trusting in God; God delivered him from his enemies." However, if we read the closing lines, "O save thy people, and give thy blessing unto thine inheritance," we see that the psalmist is proclaiming his trust and confidence in God before the deliverance has taken place. The physical circumstances have not changed; what has changed is the heart of the psalmist. Where the psalmist, due to the circumstances, initially pled with God to hear him, thereby revealing that those circumstances led him to doubt God's presence and concern for him, by the end he has concluded that the circumstances he is facing are not what determines whether he will trust God or not. He is determined to trust God despite the circumstances, and so he continues to ask God to save them, but now with the confidence that, "the Lord is my strength, and he is the wholesome defense of his anointed."
Life will send us any number of hardships and circumstances which will test our resolve and challenge our ability to trust in the goodness, and grace, and mercy of God. God is honored by our honesty with him, not by some false trust and piety that is nothing but lip service. God wants us to pour our hearts out to Him and to express our frustration and doubts when the circumstances of life seem to overwhelm us. But He also wants us to trust Him, and to come back to the point of realizing that we are not slaves to our circumstances, but are free to have hearts that, "dance for joy."
Let us dance for joy and proclaim to the world that our hope is in the Lord and our confidence is in Christ; therefore, though the world may be poised against us and the circumstances of life seem to overwhelm us, still we will trust in the Lord our God.
(as published in St. Luke’s weekly newsletter, 1/23/19)