Tuesday, January 10, 2023

2023.01.10 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 77

Read Psalm 77

Questions from the Scripture text: Into whose hands was this Psalm committed (superscript)? With what instruction? By whom? What had the psalmist done to Whom (Psalm 77:1)? With what? What did He do? When did the psalmist do what (Psalm 77:2a)? How does verse 2b describe the urgency and importunity? What else will comfort he psalmist (verse 2c)? What does he do in Psalm 77:3a, but with what result? What is he doing, and in what condition (verse 3b)? In what personal way does he describe his sleeplessness (Psalm 77:4a)? Why isn’t he able to pray in this situation (verse 4b)? What has he thought about (Psalm 77:5)? How carefully is he thinking about this (Psalm 77:6)? But what does it seem to him is happening (Psalm 77:7-9)? What does he set over-against these circumstances (Psalm 77:10-12)? With Whom does he interact over these memories in Psalm 77:13-15? What does he specifically remember in Psalm 77:16-19 (cf. Exodus 14:21–22)? What did the Lord do then, in the hardest of circumstances, that encourages the psalmist now (Psalm 77:20)?

What can a believer do when everything in his circumstances suggests that God has abandoned him? Psalm 77 looks forward to the opening portion of morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these twenty verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that when circumstances seem to suggest that God has abandoned us, we can meditate upon the holy, great, powerful, saving character of our God, and how He has consistently demonstrated it in the history of His dealings with His people. 

Urgency in prayer is often shown by using our voice (Psalm 77:1a), while we still can (Psalm 77:4b).

If God gives us difficulty to turn our hearts—and our voices!—to Him, let us learn not to paper it over easily (Psalm 77:2c). There are many things that we should be disturbed about. 

When we can’t sense His presence. Sometimes, the Lord sustains us (cf. Psalm 3:5). But sometimes, He withholds the sense of His presence, and this is a providential call to be uncomfortable and yearn for Him persistently and urgently (Psalm 77:1-4)—even sleeplessly (Psalm 77:2b, Psalm 77:4a). 

In the midst of this withholding of the sense of His presence, remembering Him can even be painful (Psalm 77:3a). He doesn’t seem to be doing us good, as He has done to others before (Psalm 77:5), or even as when sleepless nights still had that presence of His that made us sing (Psalm 77:6a).

When the moment is too great for us to bear. Sometimes, instead of seeing the parallels between our lives and His previous work, it can seem in the moment like the answer to the flood of questions in Psalm 77:7-9 is “yes.” Yes, He has cast me off. Yes, I am no longer under grace. Yes, His mercy is gone. Yes, His promise isn’t coming true for me. Yes, His compassions have run out. It can seem that way in the moment.

When the moment seems that way, it is a Spirit-provoked mandate to remember that though our troubles in this world—and ourselves (!) in this world (cf. Psalm 39:4–5; Psalm 90:9–12)—are momentary, God is NOT momentary (Psalm 77:10-11)! How can time-bound creatures weigh the actions of a timeless God?

When God’s ways are too great for us to evaluate. Even more, how can creatures bound to creatureliness  analyze all the works (Psalm 77:12) of Him Whose way is shrouded in holiness (Psalm 77:13a) behind which it is unimaginably immense (verse 13b)? The painfulness of the impossibility of the task can become the way forward to the remedy: the task is not impossible because there is no answer; the task is impossible because the answer is greater than we can imagine (Psalm 77:14a)!

It is at this point that the Psalmist begins to remember that God’s deliverances (Psalm 77:15) have been dreadful to all creatures (Psalm 77:16-18). There is a mixture here of references to the great storm that split the Red Sea and how the fury that was displayed at Sinai recalled the flood itself. At both instances, Israel were terrified! Now, the analysis is not “God isn’t delivering me, as He has delivered them before” but rather “God is terrifying me, as He terrified them before.”

But how did the terror end? Straight through the sea (Psalm 77:19a)! They could not see the path that God had laid out (verse 19b–c), because He lays out paths that simply cannot be seen. Sometimes, the answer to “Why is God taking me through agony, terrifying me, and withholding the sense of His presence from me?” is simply this: because this is sometimes how He leads His sheep (Psalm 77:20).

When the only thing that we perceive of Him are His means (especially prayer and the Word). We aren’t to live by bread alone. We also mustn’t live by the sense of His presence. Sometimes, we are simply to cry out in agony and be sure from His Word of those things that there isn’t a hint of a way to know from our circumstances or our feelings.

When have you had not only horrible circumstances, but no sense of the presence of God? If you haven’t, yet, then how will you act on this Psalm’s reminder that believers ought to expect it?

Sample prayer:  O Lord, Your ways are hidden from us in Your holiness. And if we could see them, we would only know that we cannot understand them. Sometimes, You not only give Your people agonizing circumstances, but even withhold from us the sense of Your presence. Even then, You have given to us to cry out to You with our voices, and to remember from Your Word that You have done this before. But we ask that You would not do this with us now—that You would not withhold the sense of Your presence. But make us to know Your favor now. Make us to know Your mercy now. Make us to see the fulfillment of Your promises. Make us to know Your grace know. By Your Spirit, make us to know the pouring out of Your tender mercies in Christ, giving us the full sense of Your presence in Him, in Whose Name we ask it, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP77A “My Voice to God, Aloud I Plead” or TPH76 “I Cried Aloud to God for Help”

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