Crying to God from the Depths: learning to pray with Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
(Psalm 130:1-2)

The word translated in Psalm 130:1 as ‘depths’ refers literally to the deep places of the sea. In Isaiah 51:10, for example, the prophet asks the Lord: “Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over?”

Metaphorically, the use of ‘depths’ signifies a place of serious need and vulnerability. In English, we speak of being in deep trouble. Or we say that we’re drowning when we feel buried by the demands of life.

Thus we can easily relate to the cry of the psalmist as he prays ‘out of the depths.’

Think of Jonah’s story, where his descent into the depths of the water – and eventually into the depths of the belly of the great fish – symbolize the depths of his trouble because he disobeyed God. And so he prays:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
    and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
    and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
    into the very heart of the seas,
    and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers swept over me.
(Jonah 2:2-3)

There are times when we bring the depths on ourselves and there are times when others bring it upon us or circumstances beyond our control in a fallen world bring us into the depths.

God mercifully hears us with his ‘ears’.

The beauty of this psalm is that is shows us that are experience of the depths is not too deep for God. As it says in Psalm 139, verse 12, “even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

We can cry out to God from the depths. If rebellious Jonah can do it, then certainly we can turn to God in the depths of our rebellion and be heard. If adulterous David can do it, then certainly we can cry from the depths of our sin and be heard by God. If rejected Ruth can do it, then certainly we can cry out in rejection and God will hear us. If the enslaved Israelites can call out in Egypt, then certainly we can call to God from the depths of what binds us and God will hear us. I do not have enough breath to gather all the stories of men and women calling to God from the depths and finding God’s ears open to their cry. 

So, too, God hears our cry from the depths. And in hearing, He validates our cries and our suffering. His hearing tells us that our suffering within the depths is not meaningless. God has open ears to us and that is a sign of His great mercy. As one writer says: “The experience of God’s mercy leads one to a greater sense of God.”

So call out from the depths and let your prayers open the floodgates of God’s mercy of into the shallows of suffering.

Finding Encouragement within Suffering: a reflection on Hebrews 12

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Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7)

Be encouraged: God disciplines His children because He loves them. Do not lose heart amidst your suffering. Instead, endure it sustained by the truth that God is lovingly at work even here.

We can fight against our suffering, and it may have some good effect, particularly if we face unjust suffering from external forces. However, fighting against our circumstances is different than fighting against God. We must internally and spiritually submit ourselves to God for training in righteousness, even if we legitimately wrestle with our circumstances.

We could give up in the face of our suffering, simply throwing in the towel by passively surrendering to what is happening. This most often happens when we feel we are powerless to change our circumstances. Still, this powerlessness to outside circumstances is different than our inner spiritual submission to God amidst our circumstances. Even if apparently powerless, we still have power to yield our lives to God so that He might grow us amidst our suffering. Although sometimes powerless to change our situation, God still releases His power in us as we surrender to Him, changing us to become more like Christ.

At other times, we are powerless to change our circumstances but do have power to remove ourselves from those circumstances. This takes great discernment because we must constantly yield to God so that He might have His way in us. Sometimes choosing to change our circumstances is best for our safety or our growth. At other times leaving our circumstances may actually circumvent what God wants to develop in our lives through challenging circumstances or suffering.

In our suffering-averse culture we do well to thoroughly consider whether we are listening more to God than we are listening to ourselves when considering leaving tough circumstances. We do not want to miss out on His best work in our lives. As James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

It isn’t easy to discern when we should choose fight or flight. However, amidst it all we should always choose spiritually to yield to God so that He might have His way in growing us to full maturity in Christ, even through suffering and trials. We will not grow in Christ without facing hardships and challenges. We will not gain wisdom apart from navigating tough and trying experiences which take us beyond what we already know and understand. Still, w will not make our way through these challenges well with Christ if we do not daily remember God’s love for us as a good father even in the midst of suffering.

A Prayer inspired by the prophet Zephaniah

Sovereign LORD,
we know that a time is coming,
the great day of the LORD,
when You will stretch out Your hand
to judge the nations of the earth
and sweep away everything
from the face of the earth.

We tremble before You, LORD,
for who can truly stand in that day?
We seek You, LORD our God,
we seek righteousness and we seek humility
that You might shelter us on that day,
and save a remnant for Your name.

In this present day, we also tremble
over the distress that has come upon us.
Our strength is demolished
and the streets are deserted.

But You, LORD our God, are with us;
a Mighty Warrior who saves us.
Show forth Your great delight in us,
and in Your love rejoice over us with singing.
Remove from us the grief of our losses
and restore our fortunes before our very eyes.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ,
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be all honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

Turning to God in Troubling Times: a five-week study on Habakkuk

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This past weekend, I continued our series “God in the Ruins: The Message of the Minor Prophets” at Eastbrook Church by looking at the prophet Habakkuk. You can watch the message here.

I also wanted to share a five-week series I did on the book of Habakkuk in 2015 entitled “Turning to God in Troubling Times.” Each of these messages dives into topics of fear, faith, trouble, worship, and what it looks like to be a person of God in the midst of distress. I am loading the video links for each message of this series below.

Part 1 – Crying Out When God Seems Absent


Part 2 – Suffering and the Surprising Plans of God


Part 3 – Talking with God When Pain Looms Large


Part 4 – Faithfulness in a Confusing World


Part 5 – Singing the Songs of God’s Salvation

A Prayer for Distressing Times inspired by the prophet Habakkuk

LORD God, you are our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in times of trouble.
In these days, we are deeply aware
of just how greatly we need Your help.

We see the pestilence that stalks at night
and the plague that destroys at midday.
Like Habakkuk, we say to you,
“How long, Lord, must we call for help?”

Be our refuge in the gathering trouble;
be our strength amidst feeble bodies.
Teach us to dwell in the shelter of Your presence,
and to rest in the shadow of Your might.

And even if the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vine,
grant us, God our Savior, great joy in You
as we tread upon the heights by Your power at work within us.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ,
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be all honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.