Why are you so far away, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself when we are in trouble?
The wicked do not care about the Lord; in their pride they think that God doesn’t matter.
The helpless victims lie crushed; brute strength has defeated them. The wicked say to themselves, “God doesn’t care! He has closed his eyes and will never see me!”
But you do see; you take notice of trouble and suffering and are always ready to help. The helpless commit themselves to you; you have always helped the needy.
You will listen, O Lord, to the prayers of the lowly; you will give them courage.
Psalm 10: 1-2; 10-11; 14
Why are you so far away, O Lord? I’ve been in trouble and felt like God was far away many times. Once, when I was living alone, I felt scared and demoralized because medical problems prevented me from taking care of myself. No matter how much I wanted to feel close to God, I felt cut off from him and overwhelmed with despair. Days later, seemingly out of nowhere, he spoke to my heart: It doesn’t matter how you feel. Your feelings do not determine if I am present or not. I am bigger than your feelings. They aren’t powerful enough to push me away. What a relief! I’d been trusting my volatile emotions to gauge my closeness to God, but feelings come and go. Shifting emotions are not an accurate reflection of our relationship with God. Just because I can’t see or feel God’s presence in a given situation, doesn’t mean he is not there. After all, the sun is still in the sky, even if a cloud temporarily keeps me from seeing it or feeling its warmth.
The wicked do not care about the Lord; in their pride they thing that God doesn’t matter…but you do see…you will listen, O Lord, to the prayers of the lowly; you will give them courage. It adds insult to injury when those driven by greed, arrogance, or self-indulgence seem to “get ahead” in life. People who take advantage of the weak don’t always seem to get its comeuppance. When that happens it’s easy to question God’s justice. Apparently that was just as true in biblical times as it is today. But the psalmist tells us God not only sees, but is always ready to help the helpless and needy. So why are there still hurting people in the world? Why did God give us free will and leave us free to choose good or evil? Although I can’t answer that I believe, as the psalmist affirms, that God does listen to the prayers of the lowly. He will give them courage. It doesn’t say he will take away their pain this side of heaven, although the bible tells us elsewhere that God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Isaiah 25:8) and there will be no more grief, crying, or pain. (Revelation 21:4)
God’s promises can be trusted. Why we have to wait only he knows but it’s safe to believe that he has a reason. Maybe that’s why he gives us courage when we’re lowly, so we can walk through the challenges this life has for us, trusting that God can bring good out of anything. If he can bring good out of the cross, he can bring good out of whatever we’re facing. I think it’s safe to trust Him, even if I don’t always feel like it.
How about you?
- When has God seemed far away from you? How did you get through those times?
- What are your thoughts when the ruthless seem to get away with something?
- What criteria do you think the wicked use to determine success?
- What criteria do you use to determine success?
- What do you think success looks like to God?
- If God sees us suffering, why do you think he allows suffering to continue?
- Why do you think the helpless are more likely to commit themselves to God?
- As an answer to prayer, how can courage benefit someone in need?
We have courage in God’s presence, because we are sure that he hears us if we ask him for anything that is according to his will. 1 John 5: 14
We pray for lots of things. It’s right to bring our needs and desires to God. After all, he knows what’s in our minds and hearts before we ask, so we may as well be honest. But asking for things in accordance with his will is trickier.
When my mother was seriously ill I prayed for her healing because that’s what I hoped for. As I prayed, I questioned whether she’d be healed. James warned that if we doubt and are tossed about like a wave blown by the wind when we pray we shouldn’t think that we’ll receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:6-8) Praying for Mom’s healing wasn’t a prayer I could make without doubting. I began praying that God’s will be done and that he hold her close to him. I was certain that was God’s will. I felt consoled as I pictured the Good Shepherd tenderly leading Mom home. Shortly before her passing she smiled and said to me, “Oh, Barbara, it’s all One and it’s beautiful.” I don’t know what she saw, but I know my prayers were heard and answered.
Honest prayer about what we want and for God’s will to be done can coexist. After all, if we can’t be honest with God, who can we be honest with? Sometimes my honest prayers look like this: “God, I don’t know if this is your will or not. I pray your will be done, but I know that you know what I really want is for this situation to turn out in this certain way. I recognize your power of veto. Help me accept your will.”
I never doubt that God is hearing and answering when I remember C.S. Lewis said God answers prayer in four ways:
- No, I love you too much.
- No, not yet.
- Yes, and here’s more.
- I thought you’d never ask
I think this matter of removing all doubt is clearest when I pray for God to change me. Usually, the first petitions that come to mind are for God to make a situation go a certain way, have a certain person brought through a challenge, a conflict resolved, etc. But I’m never sure if that is God’s will. But every time I have asked God to change me in whatever way I need changing and for openness to act on those changes, I have truly believed I have been heard. Those prayers have been answered. I started praying for patience, and was told patience can be acquired by letting go of self-will. When I started praying for God to help me let go of self-will, I could almost hear God saying, “I thought you’d never ask.”
Prayer: Lord, your will be done today.
Reflection: How confident are you of God’s response to your requests?
I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the wonderful things you have done.
I will sing with joy because of you. I will sing praise to you, Almighty God.
My enemies turn back when you appear; they fall down and die.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a place of safety in times of trouble.
Those who know you, Lord, will trust you; you do not abandon anyone who comes to you.
Psalm 9: 1-3; 9-10
I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the wonderful things you have done. David rejoiced because God protected him from his enemies. His victory over Goliath and foreign armies were renowned, but during his lifetime David also battled enemies closer to home: Saul, his king, and even David’s son Absalom turned against him. David knew it was God’s strength, not his own, that got him through, and gratitude filled him with joy.
My enemies turn back when you appear; they fall down and die. Our opponents may be outside of us. We may also battle enemies within ourselves: destructive habits or character flaws that damage our relationships and peace of mind. These forces might be bigger than we are, but they are not bigger than God. When we surrender our problems to God, seek and act on the guidance we receive, and accept the support of those he puts in our path, our enemies can be turned back. Bad habits wither as we stop acting on them. The sharp words of those trying to hurt us can fall on deaf ears. We can learn to stop reacting to provocation or to side-step meaningless arguments. In light of God’s love for us, we can stop taking hurtful criticism personally as we consider the source. Enemies can lose their power–not because they change but because we change, by God’s grace.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a place of safety in times of trouble. The Lord truly is a refuge; his loving arms are always open, so we never have to face anything alone. He loves us as we are, warts and all…but he loves us too much to leave us that way. Nothing we have done could make him reject us, if we turn to him. Bathed in his love, the enemies—willfulness, greed, hatred and the like—will die. That doesn’t mean the trouble will magically disappear, but that God welcomes us, no matter what. Safety doesn’t always mean problems go away. Sometimes it means God’s Spirit empowers us to cope with the problems and endure. We grow as we walk through the problems and come out the other side.
Those who know you, Lord, will trust you; you do not abandon anyone who comes to you. It isn’t always easy to trust God. It’s scary to let go of control; we don’t know how things will turn out. The truth is, we’re not in control anyway. What we often have is the illusion of control. God, the almighty Creator of the universe, is in control. And it is safe to trust him. If we don’t trust him, maybe it’s because we don’t know him well enough. As we come to know him better, trust can grow. Maybe we fear things won’t turn out our way. Maybe they won’t, but do we really know better than God? As we come to know God as all wise, all loving, and all powerful, we can trust that things will turn out well—even if things don’t turn out our way. Maybe we fear a punishing God. Knowing him better will reassure us of his forgiveness. As we experience his presence and love in our lives or listen to those who know him better, we can be reassured. After all, Jesus forgave those who crucified him. What more reassurance could we want?
How about you?
- What wonderful things has God done in your life?
- Can you thank God for the things that bring you joy?
- Who or what are your enemies?
- How has God guided or helped you in facing trouble in the past?
- What actions might God be prompting you to take in coping with current conflicts?
- When has God been your refuge?
- How would growing closer to God help you trust him more?
Elisha died and was buried. Every year bands of Moabites used to invade the land of Israel. One time during a funeral, one of those bands was seen, and the people threw the corpse into Elisha’s tomb and ran off. As soon as the body came into contact with Elisha’s bones, the man came back to life and stood up. 2 Kings 13: 20-21
Contact with Elisha’s lifeless bones brought another man back to life. With that much power, why did Elisha die in the first place? Why couldn’t he heal himself? Maybe it’s the same principle as a surgeon who can’t perform surgery on himself. We can do for others what we can’t do for ourselves and they can help us when we can’t make it on our own. We need each other. We’re meant to live in community and help one another.
Sometimes our very wounds and weaknesses empower us to be useful to others. They give us credibility, a point of empathy, common ground, and hands on experience. In AA, one recovering alcoholic helps another in ways a non-alcoholic helper never could. Someone who has gone through similar challenges can give us strength and hope and help us find the way out of our dilemma because they have been there. They know what we’re up against and what it feels like. We can identify with others who have overcome or at least learned to cope with the same challenges we’re facing. There is power in weakness.
Sometimes we are more effective in helping others from a position of weakness. When we feel weak and ineffective God may be preparing us for service. I’ve had physical and emotional challenges that I wouldn’t want to go through again, yet I can see how God has brought good out of each and every one. I’ve been able to encourage others who have similar physical problems or are limited by incapacity. I’ve been able to reassure others in stormy emotional situations because I’ve weathered some myself.
I’ve also learned a lot about being there for others more effectively through my own incapacities. I’ve learned that platitudes don’t help. I’ve learned that offering solutions isn’t necessary—especially when those solutions have probably already been thought of. I’ve learned saying “You look so good” in an effort to cheer up someone who feels lousy can have little effect. It can even make the sufferer think the depth of their discomfort is not understood. Honesty and kindness work. I learned this through my own weakness. As St. Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 10) You can’t get weaker than Elisha’s lifeless remains, but another regained life through them anyway. It wasn’t Elisha’s power, it was God’s. God may work through us best just when we feel weakest.
Prayer: Lord, use my weakness.
Reflection: How might God want to work through your weaknesses?
O Lord, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world! Your praise reaches up to the heavens…
When I look at the sky, which you have made, at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places—what are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them?
Yet you made them inferior only to yourself; you crowned them with glory and honor. You appointed them rulers over everything you made; you placed them over all creation…
O Lord, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world!
Psalm 8: 1; 3-6; 9
Ever seen the Grand Canyon? Or look out over the ocean? Or study the delicate petals of a single rose? Observing the wonders of creation generates opportunities to praise the Creator.
A sense of awe gives us a healthy perspective on who we are in the cosmic scheme of things. It’s so easy to think of ourselves as the center of the universe. Why else would we get irritated when plans don’t unfold according to our schedule or people don’t follow our agenda? Awe-inspired awareness of our creature-hood invites us step out of self-centeredness without developing an inferiority complex. As the Psalmist points out, even though we are “mere mortals,” God cares for us. For whatever reason, he placed us in charge of creation. What we’ve done with the environment he gave us speaks for itself. Even so, God not only cares for us, he crowns us with glory and honor.
As an antidote to getting puffed up with pride, let’s remember that any honor we have is a gift from God. We reflect his greatness, not our own. That greatness can be seen in all the world and is evident to anyone who opens their eyes to see it. God doesn’t need our praise. His glory and achievement is self-evident. Praising God enhances our lives. I think that’s because it helps us remember who we are: frail, humble creatures loved by an almighty, glorious Creator!
How about you?
- What part of creation reveals God’s glory to you?
- When have you felt your frailty, mortality, creature-hood?
- How does it feel to think about God loving you with all your weaknesses?
- What difference does it make to give God the glory instead of grasping at glory for yourself?
I invite you to read the entire Psalm and meditate on the thought or phrase that speaks to you today.
“My food,” Jesus said to them, “is to obey the will of the one who sent me and to finish the work he gave me to do.” John 4: 34
Jesus stopped by a well to rest while his disciples went on to buy food. During this rest period, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman. Their conversation changed her life and the lives of the townspeople she brought back to meet him. When the disciples returned and urged Jesus to eat, he explained that he had been nourished by sharing the truth of God’s love with those who needed it.
I had my first taste of that kind of nourishment years ago, when I was working full time. One day, I found myself with an unexpected hour of free time before I had to pick my daughter up at school. I didn’t know what to do with this precious windfall. Beginning a new chapter in my spiritual journey, I decided to pray and ask God what he wanted me to do with the extra time. I felt a strong nudge to go to my daughter’s second grade classroom even though school was still in session. The urge was completely out of character for me, but very persistent. I reasoned that I had asked God for direction and received an answer, so I’d better act on it. Feeling shy and nervous, I walked in to the classroom anyway, smiled, and asked if I could help. The teacher, my daughter, her classmates were all surprised, but no more surprised than I was myself. Following the teacher’s instructions, I began helping the children with their lessons.
As it turns out, an hour or so earlier, the teacher had received a phone call about a family member who had taken ill. Although she still was running her class, the teacher was understandably concerned. An extra pair of adult hands in the classroom that afternoon was just the thing. I know, because the teacher told me all this after class was dismissed. I could not have felt more energized and nourished, all because I asked to know God’s will for me for that day and did the work he gave me to do. I didn’t convert a town, but I made a difference in at least two lives that day.
Prayer: Lord, show me what you want me to do today and give me the willingness to do it.
Reflection: What might God have planned for you today?
O Lord, my God, I come to you for protection; rescue and save me from all who pursue me, or else like a lion they will carry me off where no one can save me, and there they will tear me to pieces.
Rise in your anger, O Lord! Stand up against the fury of my enemies; rouse yourself and help me!
God is my protector; he saves those who obey him.
God is a righteous judge and always condemns the wicked.
If they do not change their ways, God will sharpen his sword.
See how wicked people think up evil; they plan trouble and practice deception.
But in the traps they set for others, they themselves get caught.
So they are punished by their own evil and are hurt by their own violence.
I thank the Lord for his justice; I sing praises to the Lord, the Most High. Psalm 7: 1-2; 6; 10-12; 14-17
O Lord, my God, I come to you for protection… Calling on God makes a difference. There are plenty of people, situations, problems that are bigger than we are—but no person, situation, or problem is bigger than God is. When we try to fight a powerful opponent in our own strength we become well aware of our weaknesses. It’s easy to feel like these problems will destroy us. When we focus on the trouble, it looms larger. Our very focus can give it added power to weaken our resolve. God created the universe, and is therefore bigger than any part of the universe—including our problems.
God is my protector; he saves those who obey him. I don’t think obeying God is something he demands as a tribute, or a deal whereby he will only agree to help us if we offer him our obedience in exchange. It’s more a statement of reality. How can God help us if we won’t cooperate with his plan to rescue us? If a drowning man resists a lifeguard’s instructions, he makes it harder for the lifeguard to save him. If he panics and fights the lifeguard’s efforts, the lifeguard may have to render him more helpless. If the man could save himself, he wouldn’t have needed a lifeguard in the first place. On the other hand, I don’t think God saves us from our problems by sweeping them away. Sometimes he saves us by allowing us to wrestle with the challenges while giving us the wisdom, strength, and support we need to endure through His power.
God always condemns the wicked…if they do not change their ways, God will sharpen his sword….in the traps they set for others, they themselves get caught. So they are punished by their own evil, and are hurt by their own violence. The wicked are condemned but not hopeless…if they are willing to change their ways. When we repent, we are no longer God’s enemies. If we persist in wrongdoing, God apparently punishes us by letting us continue to do what we want. We are then punished by the consequences of our own poor choices.
I thank the Lord for his justice; I sing praises to the Lord, the Most High. God is just, but also overflowing with mercy. He truly is worthy of our praise. When I think about this, I’m very grateful.
How about you?
- When have you gone to God for protection? When have you tried to struggle on your own?
- What issues are bigger than you are? How can you appropriate God’s help in dealing with these issues?
- What is the difference between condoning evil and offering people a chance to change their ways?
- Ever “practiced deception” and get caught in your own trap? What happened?
- How has experiencing the consequences of your actions helped you become willing to change your ways?
I encourage you to read through the entire psalm and reflect on the phrases that speak to your heart today.
“People of Israel, don’t fight against the Lord, the God of your ancestors! You can’t win!” 2 Chronicles 13: 12b
Abijah, quoted above, made a good point. When we fight against God, we can’t win.
Abijah, the Judean leader, was speaking to his kinsmen, the Israelites, who had rebelled against their relatives, David’s descendants. Both sides had their flaws, but in this particular battle, “the people of Judah were victorious over Israel, because they relied on the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 1:18)
How often are we at war with ourselves? Even if we do some research or get other opinions, weighing the pros and cons of an issue can feel like a tug of war…especially when emotions are involved. Sometimes, we end up making our decision because we just plain feel like it.
I don’t always remember to ask God what His will is in a situation. Other times, I think of asking for God’s guidance but think, I don’t care what God wants-I want things to work out my way. The times I’ve acted on this haven’t always worked out well. I forget that God wants better for me than I want for myself. Insisting on my way can be a short-lived victory. Either I end up in conflict with others or simply bite off more than I can chew.
For example, I believe that God has been trying to teach me to balance activity with quiet periods for some time now, but I’m a slow learner. I planned a sight-seeing trip to Philadelphia last spring to coincide with a retreat I was leading nearby. Because it was efficient to combine the two, I refused to take my physical limitations into account when making plans. The retreat went beautifully and people seemed to find it rewarding, but I was unable to go on the sight-seeing trip. My physical resources, limited by MS and chronic back problems, had been tapped for the retreat. I spent a few days resting instead of sightseeing. My understanding husband and I have rescheduled our Philadelphia trip for another time—when nothing else is on our agenda.
Self-will can create problems when choices have more serious consequences. Maybe you can think of a few of your own. When we fight against the Lord, we can’t win.
Prayer: God of power, wisdom, and love, may I turn to you for guidance, and trust the guidance you provide.
Reflection: What’s the difference between getting your way and winning?
Lord, don’t be angry and rebuke me! Don’t punish me in your anger!
I am worn out, O Lord; have pity on me! Give me strength; I am completely exhausted
and my whole being is deeply troubled. How long, O Lord, will you wait to help me?
Come and save me, Lord; in your mercy rescue me from death.
I am worn out with grief; every night my bed is damp from my weeping; my pillow is soaked with tears.
I can hardly see; my eyes are so swollen from the weeping caused by my enemies.
…The Lord hears my weeping; he listens to my cry for help and will answer my prayer. Psalm 6: 1-4; 6-7; 8b-9
David, who wrote this psalm, suffered turmoil and anguish—even though he was a man “after God’s own heart.” Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings of sadness or fear. We don’t have to pretend otherwise. After all, God gave us all our feelings for a reason. David demonstrates his faith, not by denying or running away from his feelings, but bringing them—in all their brutal honesty—to God.
It’s safe to be honest with God. Although David starts out the psalm by asking God not to punish him, David also admits that his weeping is caused by his enemies, not by God. The beauty of this prayer is that David pours out his heart to God—and feels safe in doing so—and in spite of his problems, trusts that God will not only hear his cries, but will answer.
On more than one occasion, I’ve felt completely exhausted. Having multiple sclerosis, it doesn’t take much to feel exhausted physically, but the most devastating times have been when I’ve felt worn out emotionally. When emotional and physical exhaustion come at the same time, spiritual depletion follows. At those times, psalms like this one have been my comfort. It was reassuring to know that when I was feeling despair I was in good company. That gave me hope and a template to follow.
David kept right on talking to God. He didn’t use his pain as an excuse to decide God didn’t exist, or was out to get him. That encouraged me to keep right on talking to God, even when all I had to offer God were my complaints, exhaustion, and pain. I especially found comfort knowing that David’s pillow was soaked with tears, because my own pillow has gotten pretty damp at times. When I couldn’t see an end in sight, and didn’t have the strength to persevere, I was enabled to put one foot in front of the other anyway. Because I walked through those times of desolation I know God answered my prayers. I came out the other side of those challenges with not one ounce of my own strength. God rescued me from the depths of hopelessness. Praise God!
How about you?
- What is the difference between thinking God causes our pain and trouble and thinking that God enables us to get through our pain and trouble?
- If God is merciful, why do you suppose he allows suffering?
- When have you felt worn out? What got you through? If you were completely exhausted, could you have gotten through on your own strength?
- When sorrow overwhelms you, what do you do?
- Are you comfortable bringing your complaints to God?
- Do you believe God listens when you cry to him, even if relief doesn’t come instantly? When solutions are slow in coming, what are some ways to remember that God’s timing is perfect?
- When has God rescued you? What has he saved you from?
I invite you to read through the entire Psalm and reflect on whatever phrases speak to your heart.
…your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5: 16
So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do…they do it so people will praise them…but when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. Matthew 6: 2-4
Which is it? Should we shine our good deeds before people or keep them secret? That depends.
The reason for “shining our lights” so others will see the good we’re doing is not so they’ll praise us, but so they’ll praise God. We don’t make our own light. It comes from Jesus, the light of the world. We just reflect it. When we’re God’s channels, He gets the praise, not us.
On the other hand, as Jesus warned, the hypocrites make sure other people know when they are helping the needy to get praise for themselves. They’re hogging the spotlight for themselves, not reflecting God’s light. It’s human nature to want credit and recognition. There’s nothing wrong with that. A healthy sense of self-esteem develops as we receive validation, but the truth is we have worth just because God loved us into existence. Although we may feel good about ourselves when we are of service to others, our self-esteem is inherent in our being children of God, not in accumulating brownie points.
There is no room for love in a do-gooder’s contest where people are caught up in themselves. It doesn’t really help others when we’re “helpful” but never let them forget it. The word self-righteousness was invented for a reason. We want to make ourselves right, instead of knowing that, apart from God, we can do nothing.
So when should we let our lights shine? Probably when we’re most afraid to. Maybe God gave us a nudge to serve in a certain way and we’re afraid what we have to offer won’t be good enough. We can trust that if God wants us to shine our light, it will help others and we’ll be reflecting His goodness and love. It’s not about us. There is no ego involved in using our gifts when we thank the Giver. We shine whenever we’re reflecting the Light of the world.
Prayer: Lord, make me a channel of Your light.
Reflection: How can you shine your light today?