God’s Prayer Book – Suffering
length: 88:32 - taught on Nov, 13 2022
November 13, 2022
Many of the psalms are antiphony types. Antiphony literally means “other voice.” We know songs like this, where the leader sings a line and the audience sings the next line on their own. There is a bit of this done in the Catholic mass, of which I fondly (or not so much) remember. The praise psalms are especially like this. There many psalms of praise throughout the Psalter, and the final five (146-150) all begin with “Praise the Lord” and repeat the phrase again and again. Psa 145, “A Psalm of Praise” seems to introduce these final praise psalms, and it is clearly, like them, antiphonic.
PSA 145:1-7 A Psalm of Praise, of David.
I will extol You, my God, O King,
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised,
And His greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of Your majesty
And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.
6 Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts,
And I will tell of Your greatness.
7 They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness
And will shout joyfully of Your righteousness.
The antiphony psalms would lose all their hutzpah if they became tired rote of the ritualistic and mechanical. I can still hear the voices in Blessed Sacrament church after the priest said “Bless the Lord.” “We will bless His name forever…” (monotone bored voices … or so it seemed to a young me who was as bored as any).
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty expanse.
2 Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.
3 Praise Him with trumpet sound;
Praise Him with harp and lyre.
4 Praise Him with timbrel and dancing;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.
5 Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with resounding cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!
Review prayer to this point…
Pray continually; our life demands communication with the Father; seeking God in prayer; the meaning of “in the name of the Son;” examples in Augustine and Luther; prayer in the Psalms (intro Psa 1-2); prayer is about Christ’s glory not ours; themes in the psalms (considering creation; keeping the law; remembering God’s history; the Messiah; the church; good things).
Our next theme is suffering. We have a few more of these to do and then we’ll finish by looking at the practice of prayer using the Lord’s prayer in concert with the recorded prayers in the Scripture.
Praying the Psalms: suffering.
Suffering is a fact of the Christian life. The measure and extent of it in believer’s lives differs by God’s sovereign design, but it is a given for all believers. If we chose not to follow the Lord and His word then we will suffer from the results of sin. If we chose to follow the Lord, we will suffer at the hands of the world and the resistance of the flesh. The later one glorifies God and has great reward, and if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are made for His life and you will never be truly at ease and fulfilled until you give all of yourself to it in obedience.
For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
“Where do you find more miserable, more wretched, more depressing words than in the Psalms of lamentation? There you see into the heart of all the saints as into death, even as into hell. How sad and dark it is there in every wretched corner of the wrath of God” (Luther).
I find Luther to be an excellent theologian, but a little too dark, especially in his later years. In fact, he and others like him, are a reminder that years of persecution against yourself and your doctrine can make a person hard and angry, getting more focused on defending yourself than joyfully following the Lord.
The world brings suffering upon Christians. We are all promised it.
For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you;
Not all of us get the same kind or the same amount, but all of us are destined for it. To be sure, all of us sin and so we all receive suffering for bad decisions. Every sin comes with its own deposit of suffering in our soul, body, and often in the life of another. This suffering as well as undeserved suffering is on display in the Psalms.
All conceivable peril is on display in the Psalms. The writers do not try and coat it with pious words. It is painfully revealed.
Suffering on display: Psa 13, 31, 35, 38, 41, 44, 54, 55, 56, 61, 74, 79, 86, 88, 102, 105, and others.
We might want the psalms that deal with this aspect of our lives with high, pious language: “Though I suffer Lord, I will take it all with the grace of heaven and purity of stellar light and the happy smile of heavens angels …” or some sort of unreal, Hallmark card nonsense. Like the Bible as a whole that spills out on its pages the ugly deeds and thoughts of mankind from age to age, so are the psalms delightfully honest from the hearts of men, which words God adopted as His own.
In all suffering there is an attack on faith; to turn eyes from the Lord to self, pushed by the pain.
PSA 13:1-2 For the choir director. A Psalm of David.
How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
I imagine David is months or years in the wilderness, fleeing from Saul who is set on killing him, away from home, from his wife, from his parents, from any comfort of civilization or place of worship.
Instead of easy resignation, we find struggle, anxiety, and doubt. Don’t we all respond in like fashion, usually when we suffer unjustly? But this is not the end of the story, or the psalm. We may doubt, perhaps all of us do at least for the first moments or hours when the suffering appears unannounced on our doorstep, but we must not remain in that state.
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 And my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
You see how in the second stanza, David turns to prayer, appealing to God. He’s very honest with God (no point in not being so in the presence of omniscience) and he tells God that he doesn’t think he can go on much longer without God enlightening his eyes, presumably to the understanding of why his loneliness must happen. And also, he smartly adds an appeal to God’s reputation (like Moses did) in that the enemy will boast that they have overcome God’s anointed.
Then the third stanza brings the fruit of prayer in the midst of suffering, clarity through trust.
David looks to one of our themes from the psalms - God’s history. “I have trusted in Your lovingkindness” (vs. 5). He recalls how his trust in God in the past had wonderful results, “He has dealt bountifully with me” (vs. 6b). David’s deliverance is not the removal of the hardship, but the eyes of his heart being opened to the truth of God’s works in his life and in all redemptive history. Every one of us are a small part of the entire drama of redemptive history, and God’s plans, which are to His glory, are always available to us, or we can resist them. If we resist, the joy of our salvation (5b), which is the continuous joy of eternal life, will elude us.
Note, David is not taken out of the sphere of his suffering, his anxious and fearful heart is delivered while yet still in it.
In Psa 44 we have a situation of undeserved suffering.
The psalmist declares that they have not forsaken the Lord (and we’ll take his word for it), but the enemies of Israel are defeating them and taking spoil from them.
He also appeals to God’s history of giving the Promised Land to Israel, and then emphasizes that the Lord is still their King.
You are my King, O God;
Command victories for Jacob.
Yet You have rejected us and brought us to dishonor,
And do not go out with our armies.
All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You,
And we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant.
18 Our heart has not turned back,
And our steps have not deviated from Your way,
19 Yet You have crushed us in a place of jackals
And covered us with the shadow of death.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
Or extended our hands to a strange god,
21 Would not God find this out?
For He knows the secrets of the heart.
22 But for Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
This might sound familiar to you. Keep the context of this psalm that Paul quotes and see how it therefore brings this passage in Rom 8 alive with clarity for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,
"For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Vs. 36 is the undeserved suffering of Psa 44. We need to know that when undeserved suffering comes upon us, no matter how severe or lasting it may be, God’s love has not moved away from us at all. Nothing, not even all the powers of the devil if they were released upon us, would separate us from the love of God.
We overcome through Christ, for He is the only one to truly know pure suffering (no sin, sublimation, fear).
In all these things, no matter what they may be, we overwhelmingly conquer through the Lord Jesus who loved us. He’s the only man to ever go through pure suffering, because He’s the only one to have done so without sin or doubt or fear or worry. He’s the only one who knows what suffering truly is. Strong and faithful believers all behave like David in Psa 13 - fear and doubt, followed by prayer and reflection, followed by clarity, restored faith, and overcoming. We take no credit in the end for our victory. The One who truly suffered, Christ, got us through by the gift of the new creation, the gift of His word, the gift of His Holy Spirit, and the gift of His example - and we took our sweet time going from the doubt and fear phase to the overcoming phase.
The writer of Psa 44 is puzzled as to why God is not delivering them from their enemies since Israel was not at that time forgetting God or His law. So, he does what is the only thing we can do, pray.
Arouse Yourself, why do You sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not reject us forever.
24 Why do You hide Your face
And forget our affliction and our oppression?
25 For our soul has sunk down into the dust;
Our body cleaves to the earth.
26 Rise up, be our help,
And redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.
Even when God’s behavior is too difficult to grasp, and even in the deepest hopelessness, God alone remains the one addressed.
Help is not expected from people, nor is self-pity the way, for self would lose sight of the origin and the goal of all suffering, namely God. I’m not claiming that God directly hurts us, but it is because of Him that we suffer; even deserved suffering is due to Him. Why did evil angels and people attack our Lord? It wasn’t random, and it wasn’t even something like a personal vendetta. It was because of who He was.