Good morning brothers and sisters of IBF.
Like many of you, my family and I have been staying indoors these past two months because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to my work as a missionary, we used to meet people constantly. And when the pandemic hit, at first my wife and I welcomed the chance to rest from the endless social interaction. But as weeks passed, we began to feel that the novelty of isolation was not so refreshing after all. We longed to meet friends face-to-face. We craved going out to eat. We felt stuck.
During this season Psalm 143 spoke to me. Bible scholars say that David probably wrote this psalm when he was hiding from King Saul in a cave. In some ways, he was under a kind of lockdown too, where going out might get him killed and yet staying in was suffocating. Some of you may be feeling what David felt—though it may not be the pandemic but other challenges in your life.
I hope my three reflections on this psalm will be a stimulus for your prayer today, the way you talk to God in the midst of your problems.
First, I would like to read the psalm aloud.[Read Psalm 143]
This morning, I’d like to share three takeaways from the way David prayed. 1) it’s ok to express your true feelings to God, 2) remember what God has done in the past, and 3) prayer is a good time to recall God’s character
It’s ok to express your true feelings to God
My first takeaway is that it’s ok to let God know that you feel down. In this Psalm, David doesn’t refrain from telling God how he truly feels. Surrounded by his enemies, David was losing hope, sinking into fear and depression. In verse 4, he tells God, “my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.” In verse 7, he prays for God’s quick answer because his spirit is failing.
I wonder, how often do you go to God as you are, with all your raw emotions? Do you feel that God is only approachable when you have been good enough? Or perhaps that you cannot speak honestly to God? David reminds us that we can still come to the Lord when we are not okay.
We may not have King Saul pursuing us, but the invisible enemy of Covid-19 has devastated our plans, our jobs, or even our families. So may we find relief in telling God the pain, frustration, fear, or anger of our hearts.
Remember what God has done in the past
My second takeaway is this: Remember what God has done for you in the past. While David acknowledges his feelings of misery, he doesn’t just stop there. He takes a further step to reflect on how God has been good to him, even if it was a long time ago. In verse 5, David says, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.”
When you find yourself weighed down by dark circumstances, will you take time to remind yourself of God’s goodness—even if it was a long time ago?
The Scriptures, even and especially the Psalms of lament, call us to do that. Each of us will have different stories of how God has helped us. For example, I saw how God came through for me when I was losing students due to Covid-19 because everyone was staying home. Students who were at first not open to taking online lessons with me suddenly changed their minds, and unexpectedly I managed to retain two-thirds of my students. True, I still make less than before and continue to depend on our mission supporters. However, seeing the way God provided for me over the past 4.5 years in Japan, I can trust that God will continue to carry us through the rest of this year. Also, looking at God’s goodness to me, I believe I can be content should God call us back to Malaysia even though I’m not ready to return.
So, what happens when we meditate on God’s goodness in the past? When we do that, we may find it easier to trust him for the present and the future.
Prayer is a good time to recall God’s character
Though, I want to add, we should do more than recall God’s goodness to us in the past. This brings me to the final takeaway: Prayer is a good time to recall God’s character.
God’s character is more than merely how he has been good to us in the past. It is all of his attributes, his desires, his plans, who he is.
I noticed that David’s prayer often mentions God’s character, for example: God’s faithfulness, righteousness, unfailing love. And David recalls his position in relationship to God: David is the servant, the one who does God’s will, the one who should be taught by God.
How different his prayer is from my prayers oftentimes. My prayers often look like a shopping checklist. “God please do this, do this, and help this, help that.” Then, when the prayers are answered, you tick off the list. “God, thank you for this, thank you for that.” Imagine if that’s all to my relationship with God.
Prayer should be a relational conversation. When you talk to someone you love, you don’t just give them requests or say thank you. There’s more to conversation, isn’t there? For example, you notice things about someone you love. Like, “Oh, you don’t like this type of food huh?” Or, “Oh, you’re so funny.” When we take time to notice and talk about someone’s character, it can strengthen our appreciation for them, or be a reminder of how we should act appropriately in the future.
It also puts the focus on them. I have an old friend who sometimes wants to meet me for dinner, but I try my best to avoid this person. It’s because this friend talks about themselves all the time, and even if they ask me questions, somehow the conversation ends up being about them. I get the sense that it doesn’t really matter who is having dinner with them. So imagine if that’s how we are with God! Do we pay real attention to God himself, or is prayer mainly about our desires?
Self-centered, self-absorbed prayers keep our Christian life very narrow. They may even lead to us giving up prayer when God doesn’t answer the way we hoped. After all, God’s will and God’s desires may not align with ours.
But when we take time in prayer to think about God’s will, God’s plan, God’s nature, it broadens our perspective and builds our relationship with Him.
So in response to the virus, how are we praying? Are we praying, “God, please take this virus away as quickly as possible! Let everything go back to normal soon!” Now it’s not wrong to want that or ask for that. But are we also praying, “God, your greatest commands are to love you and my neighbor. In what way can I do that this week?” Or perhaps, are we praying, “How will I support my family during this time of loss of income? God, I don’t understand your plans. But Romans 8:28 says that you work for the good of those who love you. And in Matthew 6, you asked me to trust that you know my needs and you want me to focus on seeking your kingdom first.”
We often say that it’s hard to focus on God because we’re so busy. Well, prayer is a great time that you can set aside to dwell on who God is.
And how do we know who God is? We can start by thinking of what Christ Jesus has revealed about him, because Jesus himself is the fullest revelation of God. The Apostle Paul, who encountered Jesus, wrote in Philippians 4:12-13 that “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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” The Lord Jesus will give us strength to go through life, even life with Covid-19.
To end, let me share about an Irish missionary to India, Amy Carmichael. At age 64, she suffered a terrible injury that made her bedridden for the rest of her life. A friend brought her comfort from the words of Revelation 2:9-10, which starts with Jesus saying to a persecuted church, “I know your troubles”. And the quotation ends with the words “fear not.”
Amy made a plaque with the words, “I know” and “fear not”. It was placed near her bed. Whenever she felt weary, she would turn to those words for strength. Later, she wrote a poem about what those words meant to her:
“I know”: the words contain
Unfathomable comfort for our pain.
How they can hold such depths I do not know—
I only know that it is so.
“Fear not”: the words have power
To give the thing they name; for in an hour
Of utter weariness, the soul, aware of One beside her bed,
O Lord most dear,
I thank Thee, and I worship—
Thou art here.
May we, like Amy, experience God’s grace to face this year with hope and even joy.
May you find relief in conversations with God that are honest. May you find assurance in recalling his goodness to you. May you gain perspective and deepen your relationship with Him by dwelling on his character. Let’s pray.