Just as I finished the last blog entry the light bulb went on. I realized that the complaining psalmist struggling with diffidence was actually in intercession mode, if I can call it that. Yes, he was complaining. He had a lot of questions, as I do myself.
Will the Lord cast off forever? Will he be favourable no more? Is His mercy clean gone forever? Doth His promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies?
But was he nursing these questions as a charge against God? I don’t think so. He was crying out his questions in intercession to God.
This kind of cry of intercession is all over the Bible.
O God, why hast Thou cast us off forever? Why doth Thine anger smoke against the sheep of Thy pasture? (Ps. 74.1).
Is the psalmist doubting God? The danger to doubt is always there, of course, in times when God is silent, in times when He has hidden His face. But such times are also an opportunity to come before God in intercession.
O LORD God of hosts, how long wilt Thou be angry against the prayer of Thy people?
Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure.
Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves (Ps. 80.5).
Is the psalmist actually charging God with being angry with our prayers? Not at all. He’s seeking to provoke God… to stir Him to action. For there is no way God is angry with the prayers of His people. Exactly the opposite. And when we remember that it is God Himself who inspired this psalm we realize that He is actually encouraging us here to continue to come before Him in prayer and intercession when things seem very dismal and desolate!
Many there are who are more or less content with things these days in spite of the fact that we (the church, I mean) have terribly failed to stem the tide of darkness that has come in upon us. Not so this psalmist. He is alarmed at the state of things! He can’t take it any longer. He cries out. He sees the true condition of things. And he boldly cries out his questions to the Lord.
His cry is the cry of the watchman. We who in this hour have upon us the calling of the watchman must gird ourselves with all the spiritual strength we can lay hold of to be faithful and not buckle under in the face of what we see. It is overwhelming, the onslaught of darkness of this hour. But we must not give in to doubt, to mistrust, to lack of confidence—to diffidence. Our agony for God… the darkness that presses hard upon us… our awareness of the true condition of a church that sees herself rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing when she is actually poor and wretched and blind and miserable and naked… we can go under because of all these things. And do go under at times. We must do fierce combat with diffidence because of them. How can we engage this combat? By recognizing that it is GOD Himself who has called us to the difficult calling of the watchman! It is God Himself who has pressed this burden upon us, and we must be faithful to carry it before Him till He answers the cry of the watchman.
And if He has called us in this calling, He will sustain us in it as well.
Look at Psalm 89, the psalm of another watchman. It’s written by Ethan the Ezrahite. It begins with a declaration of the faithfulness of the Lord.
I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations.
Seven times Ethan speaks of the faithfulness of the Lord, of His mercy and truth, of His Covenant. He fills his psalm with great promises all prophetic, I believe, of the ascension of Christ to the right hand of the Throne of God.
For I have said, Mercy shall be built up forever: Thy faithfulness shalt Thou establish in the very heavens.
I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David My servant, Thy seed will I establish forever, and build up thy throne to all generations…
I have loved this psalm for years, have read it often. But more and more of late I come to the “Selah” at the end of Verse 37, and don’t want to read any further. In fact at times I have had to close my Bible. It’s been too hard to read the next ten or so verses—gut wrenching, in fact. I read it and am frightened. For, in the first part of the psalm he has spoken of God’s great unfailing faithfulness. But now?
Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground.
In the first part he says, “I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him” (vs. 22). And then in the latter part, “Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; Thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice” (vs. 42).
Again in the first part, “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips” (vs. 34). But later in verse 39, “Thou hast made void the covenant of Thy servant: Thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.”
And so in the face of this great, this grievous contradiction, Ethan cries out, “How long, LORD? Wilt Thou hide Thyself forever? Shall Thy wrath burn like fire?”
This is the burden the watchman carries—to see the utter failure of the promises of God, to see total contradiction… and carry that contradiction in intercession before the Lord.
For thirty-seven verses God declares over and over again His great faithfulness. I’ll set my faithfulness in the very Heavens, He says. I will put David’s throne THERE: “It shall be established forever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven” (vs. 37). Over and over again God declares it: His faithfulness will not fail.
And then what? Utterly the opposite! His faithfulness seems to fail! You said, Lord, “My covenant will I not break…” But what’s this? “Thou hast made void the covenant of Thy servant.”
Is not this the way things seem to have turned out in this hour? Where is God’s promised faithfulness?
But let’s keep reading. When this is our experience we must betake ourselves to the last verses of this psalm.
Remember, Lord, the reproach of Thy servants…”
Here is where we discover the sustaining power in this very hard state of things. “The reproach of Thy servants,” Ethan says. We are serving our God in carrying this reproach. It is His own reproach, actually. We carry this burden with Him— that the days of the right hand of the Most High seem to have failed. And we let that reproach do in us what God intended it to do: to try us by fire, to break us, to humble us… and to prepare us for the glory that is about to be revealed. It’s precious to discover that those who carry this kind of burden are doing so not because they are out of touch with God, or have somehow lost their way. The reproach has come upon them because they are obedient. They are walking in the footsteps of His Anointed One.
Remember, Lord, the reproach of Thy servants, how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O LORD, wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of Thine Anointed.
So… it’s a very powerful psalm. We’re given a powerful promise of God’s faithfulness… followed by a picture in which the bottom has dropped right out of things. God would warn us, and by warning us, seek to prepare us. He says there comes a time in His purposes when His purposes—and His faithfulness—will seem to have failed. We must gird on our armour for this brothers and sisters—and stay awake! It is a time of great difficulty, great perplexity. But the faithful God is still at work. There is great purpose in this time, and we must trust Him in it.
For, it is the prelude to a mighty display of His power and unfailing faithfulness. Many will cry out then, as we ourselves will, “Great is Thy faithfulness.” Let us do so even now. Blessed are those who continue to trust Him in this time, and watch faithfully in their watch—and stay in intercession mode.