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Monday, 17 November 2014

Psalm 88 - Prayer in Time of Difficulty

It is clear from this psalm that its author Heman is in deep soul trouble as well as in physical distress. His bodily troubles are such that he fears he may soon die (vv. 3-5). Of course he lived in a day when medical treatments were very basic and no doubt physical problems that would not concern us today were very threatening to him.

It has been observed that the only comforting words in the psalm are found in the first line when Heman describes the Lord as the God of his salvation. This means that his subsequent words are not those of a doubter or of someone who lacked assurance. Rather they are the words of one who is wrestling through his problems in faith.

The basic expression of his faith is persistent prayer (v. 1). His troubles have not caused him to cease praying; instead they cause him to pray more earnestly and more incessantly. He realises that the primary response to providence, whatever providence may be, is to pray.

When he says in verse 6 that God has caused all the trouble, Heman is not accusing the Lord. Instead he is confessing the sovereignty of God over all things, including the affairs of Heman’s life. For some reason, Heman knows that God is angry with him and has brought him into a situation of isolation, without even any comfort from his friends (vv. 7-8); in verse 16, he calls God’s activities as dreadful assaults.

Yet the only one to whom he can turn is to the God who has brought about the circumstances. But when he speaks to God, Heman tells what he feels in his heart. Honesty is crucial when speaking to God. It is not an indication of irreverence to be straightforward with our words. In any case, the Lord knows what we feel whether we choose to be accurate or not with our words.

Clearly, Heman had strong faith in God. He saw his circumstances as a divinely-given opportunity to pray. We should note that he prayed appropriate to his situation. I once knew a man who had the same prayer each time he was asked to pray. He prayed it so often that I began to know it by heart as well. I have no doubt that he was sincere, and I’m sure that God answered some of his prayers, but I also suspect that he was not always praying according to the particular situations he and others were facing. Heman took his situation to God and asked him whether or not it would be good if he would die (vv. 9-18). The psalmist did not meekly acquiesce in his circumstances; nor did he rebel, but he did argue with God about them.

In verse 15, Heman reveals that he has been praying about this issue from his youth. One of the perplexities of the Christian life can be the length of time God takes to answer a prayer request. Having had this experience, Heman is able to advise us what to do. He tells us, and he was guided by God to do so (after all, his description has been recorded in the Bible), that we should keep on praying.

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