A Cry From the Heart
July 4, 2015 | Brian Bill
As many of you know, I like to begin my sermons with humor, often at my own expense. This morning as we come to Psalm 10 in our series called, “Praying Through the Psalms,” I must confess that I can’t find anything very comical about this cry from the heart.
Last week we focused on Psalm 8 and on the fact that that while God’s glory is above the heavens, He is involved with His children. He treasures you and He thinks about you all the time! Scholars have suggested that Psalm 9 and Psalm 10 were originally a single poem, as evidenced by the fact that taken together the verses form an alphabetic acrostic, with the first word of every other verse beginning with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. But there are some differences. Psalm 9 is a hymn of thanksgiving, while Psalm 10 is a languished lament.
This psalm is an example of an “imprecatory prayer,” as it contains brutal honesty and an earnest call for God to bring His justice to bear on the wicked. No punches are pulled here. As C.S. Lewis once said, reading Psalm 10 is like throwing open the door of an oven that is set to 500 degrees – you immediately get hit full in the face with the heat of the psalmist’s fury (see Reflections on the Psalms, page 20).
[Read Psalm 10]
One of the things I like about the Psalms is that they are so honest. These poets of old had no qualms about questioning God and had little patience with powerful people who persecuted the poor.
This prayer gives us a three-fold process for dealing with our own questions and problems. When life throws you for a loop…
- Declare your questions (10:1)
- Describe your complaint (10:2-11)
- Deepen your commitment to God (10:12-18)
Declare Your Questions
Verse 1 begins rather abruptly: “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” God, you may be powerful and you may be personal, but why can’t I sense your presence right now? The psalmist is expressing his frustration at the aloofness of the Almighty.
The psalms are saturated with these kinds of questions. Here’s just a sample.
- Psalm 13:1: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”
- Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”
- Psalm 42:9: “I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’”
- Psalm 44:23-24: “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?”
When tragedy leaves you teetering, it’s not unspiritual to declare your questions to God. He’s big enough to handle your cries. Some of you have been rocked by some pretty tough stuff.
- Maybe a person very close to you has died unexpectedly
- Perhaps you’ve just recently lost your job
- Your marriage is fracturing and you wonder if you’ll stay together
- Your parents’ health is fading fast
- Your children are not living like they should
- Your bills are piled up like mountains on your desk
- You’ve had an accident that has altered the trajectory of your life
- You’ve just received some health news that is not very promising
- Maybe your childhood was filled with more abuse than affirmation
- Perhaps a close relationship has ruptured
What do you do when you’re faced with an avalanche of agony and you feel like God is playing “hide and seek” with you? I’d like to suggest this morning that it’s OK to declare your questions. Some of you think that Christians shouldn’t question God and so you keep your concerns bottled up. Friend, it’s much better to ask God where He’s been than it is to wear your spiritual smiles and act like everything’s going well when you know it isn’t. Follow the prayer paradigm of the psalmists. You have permission to be honest.
He can take it!
Let me make an observation from verse 1. This question is expressed directly to God and is amplified in the New Living Translation: “O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?” The implication is that he doesn’t complain to anyone else. Job did a similar thing in Job 13:24 when he cried out directly to God: “Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?” As believers, we have an avenue for unloading the hidden turmoil of our hearts. We don’t have to dump on friends and family because we can go directly to God with our questions. If you’re wondering what’s happening or why things are unfolding the way they are, ask God about it. He can take it!
There was once a man named Tertullian who loved to ask questions. He had an inquiring mind. Before he became a Christian, he tried to find the meaning of life in a lot of different philosophies. And each time, he kept asking, “Why? Why? Why?” Eventually the answers gave out, and he wandered on, a disappointed man. And then one day he met a man whose answers made sense. He didn’t pretend to know everything. But he did know God. Tertullian committed his life to Christ that very day.
The word question has as its root the word “quest.” If you’re on a quest to understand, if you’re serious about seeking answers, then don’t hesitate to declare your doubts. If you don’t ask, you might miss out on some surprising answers and ultimately short-circuit some growth that God wants to accomplish in your life.
[Do you have any “why” questions you’d like to ask God? Is there a bothersome question you’ve never verbalized to Him? If so, do so right now as we take a moment of silence]
Describe Your Complaint
After declaring your questions to God, the next step is to describe your complaint. That reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. They’re walking through the snow and Calvin says: “Some people complain all the time! They complain about the least little thing! [He holds his head and grimaces] If something bugs them, they never let go of it! They just go on and on, long after anyone else is interested! It’s just complain, complain, complain! People who gripe all the time really drive me nuts! You’d think they’d change the subject after a while, but they never do! They just keep griping until you start to wonder, ‘What’s wrong with this idiot?’ But they go on complaining and repeating what they’ve already said!”
Hobbes, rolls his eyes and says: “Maybe they’re not very self-aware.” To which Calvin responds: “Boy, that’s ANOTHER thing that gets on my nerves!”
Friend, when you’re talking to God, don’t worry about repeating what you’ve already said. Spell it out. Describe your concerns in detail. After declaring his heartfelt questions, the psalmist next lists a litany of problems that he sees. Specifically, he can’t understand why the poor are persecuted by the proud. In verses 2-11, we find a cluster of words used to describe people in need: the weak, the innocent, the victim, and the helpless. God has always had a special place in his heart for the oppressed and the writer wants to know why He’s not coming to the aid of the afflicted by wiping out the wicked.
The psalmist describes those who take advantage of others in some pretty strong terms as he catalogs their sins.
- They are arrogant (2)
- They hunt down the weak (2)
- They’re controlled by their own evil desires (3)
- They bless the greedy (3)
- They revile the Lord (3)
- They have no room for God in their life (4)
- They lead prosperous lives (5)
- They sniff at the laws of God (5)
- They think things will always go their way (6)
- They curse and lie (7)
- They ambush the innocent (8)
- They look for more victims (9)
- They crush the helpless (10)
- They think God does not see what they’re doing (11)
As I read this list, I can’t help but think of the terrorists on September 11th who ambushed the innocent and crushed the helpless. This tragedy caused many people to echo the psalmist’s cry: “Where was God in all this? Why didn’t He stop this?” Over half of all Americans believe that another terrorist attack is coming. Our country breathed a collective sigh of relief when nothing happened on July 4th. Verse 9 describes the image many of us have of the terrorist: “He lies in wait like a lion in cover; he lies in wait to catch the helpless…”
God, are you there? Are you paying attention? Why are you hiding when we need you the most?
This passage also makes me think of the millions of innocent victims that have been ambushed by abortion. When we were in Washington D.C. a couple weeks ago, we had the privilege of walking by the Vietnam Memorial. It was very touching to see over 50,000 names etched in granite. Every one of those individuals gave their lives for this country and we will never forget their sacrifice. Now, let me put this in perspective. Did you know that if we would construct a memorial wall of all the names of children who have been aborted, that there would be over 700 times as many names on it as the Vietnam Memorial?
God, why do you stand so far away? Why haven’t you done something to turn this around? How can you let all these innocent lives be snuffed out?
Friend, if you are going through a tough time right now, declare your questions to God and then describe your complaint. What is it exactly that’s bothering you? What makes you mad? Tell God about it. Write it down. Get it out. Put it into a prayer.
[Let’s pause here. Take a minute right now and describe your complaint to God. Tell him what you think. Put into words all the things that don’t seem fair.]
Deepen Your Commitment to God
I love the faith progression that takes place in this psalm. The hurting follower begins with two bold “why” questions and then spells out his complaints in specific detail. When we come to verse 12, we see that, as a result of being honest with God, his commitment to the Lord now goes to the next level. We can learn from this same process. If you have questions and complaints, don’t stop there. Express them and then turn again to the Lord. The psalmist boldly calls for intervention: “Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless.”
The psalmist remembers two things about God. First, he calls to mind God’s personality in verse 14: “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand.” The Almighty is not distant and He’s not hiding. He’s a personal God, who knows our trouble and sees our tears. The phrase “take it in hand” refers to God’s personal involvement and capacity to judge people according to what they have done.
Because of God’s personality, according to the last half of this verse, we can “commit” ourselves to Him. He is the helper of the fatherless. He takes special interest in those who are in deep need according to Psalm 34:15-16: “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.”
This is very similar to the process Jeremiah went through in the Book of Lamentations. He was filled with “why” questions and he listed his grievances to God. When he got through, it’s as if he forced himself to think about what is true. Listen to what he wrote in Lamentations 3:19-23:“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Jeremiah was down but he determined to deepen his commitment to God.
Second, the psalmist focuses on God’s power in verse 16: “The Lord is King for ever and ever.” When we’re whacked out by our “why” questions and swimming in a sea of concerns, we need to come back to God’s perspective. Yet this I call to mind: God sees what I’m going through and because He is King, He can choose to do something about it, if it’s in accord with his sweet purposes for my life. Psalm 93:1: “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength.”
God understands our deep desires and the agonizing aches of our hearts
Because of His personality and His power, verses 17-18 tell us that God not only sees, He also acts: “You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed…” The word, “hear” means to give “diligent attention” to someone. God is leaning His ear toward us, eagerly anticipating what we’re going to say. The word “desire” can also refer to our longings. God understands our deep desires and the agonizing aches of our hearts.
Whatever life tragedy you are facing right now, you must come back to the personality and power of God and commit yourself to His ways. Psalm 112:7: “He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”
Praying the Psalm
[I’d like you to take a minute or so right now and affirm the awesomeness of the Almighty. He is king and He cares about you. He is majestic and He’s merciful. Tell God what you think about His personality and His power]
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a brilliant young pastor and seminary teacher who opposed Adolph Hitler’s policies. In 1943, the Germans arrested Bonhoeffer and put him in prison. He went through a time when he declared his questions, he described his complaints, and as a result, he deepened his commitment to God. After being in prison for two years the Nazis executed him, hanging him on the gallows just days before the Allies swept in to liberate Germany.
About ten weeks after his arrest, Bonhoeffer sent this letter to his parents: “It is Monday, and I was just sitting down to a dinner of turnips and potatoes when a parcel you sent me arrived. Such things give me greater joy than I can say. Although I am utterly convinced that nothing can break the bonds between us, I seem to need some outward token or sign to reassure me. In this way, material things become the vehicles of spiritual realities. I suppose it is rather like the felt need in our religion for sacraments.”
Bonhoeffer knew his parents loved him. Yet he still hungered for that love to be reaffirmed. He needed to be reminded of their love in a tangible way. His package from home served that purpose, and Bonhoeffer saw the Lord’s Supper doing the same. Come, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us partake. A package from home has arrived. Let us eat and drink and be reminded of God’s awesome love for his children. In the midst of our questions and complaints, we can deepen our commitment to Christ because “He hears the desire of the afflicted, He encourages us, and He listens to our cry.”
Communion is God’s package from home to remind us that He cares. When we’re filled with questions and overwhelmed with complaints, we can deepen our commitment to Him because “forever God is faithful, forever God is strong, and forever God is with us.”