Woe, Despair And Agony On End
Delivered on January 29, 2006
The Rev. Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal. You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from you. May those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me, O Lord, the LORD Almighty; may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me, O God of Israel. For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face. I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me. When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn; when I put on sackcloth, people make sport of me. Those who sit at the gate mock me, and I am the song of the drunkards. But I pray to you, O LORD, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me.
The LORD hears the needy and does not despise his captive people. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them, for God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. Then people will settle there and possess it; the children of his servants will inherit it, and those who love his name will dwell there.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are studying the Book of Psalms lately.
Psalms are a wonderful resource to use in your own life.
You can find resources for praising God, thanking God, and confessing to God.
Fortunately, you can also find resources for complaining to God.
We don’t often know how to complain to God very well. In fact, the mere thought of it seems like heresy to many of us. Complain to God? What sort of Christian would do such a thing?
Well, you don’t have to look far.
In West Virginia family and friends gather in a church in a coal mining community. Word comes that by some miracle all miners have been found alive. People rejoice to God.
Then the joy turns to sadness when another messenger arrives to give the news that only one person has been found alive. The rest are dead.
The songs of praise become angry and bitter. “How could God do this to us,” people ask. “We trusted God and he failed us.”
A nation watched the twin towers of World Trade Center hit by jet liners piloted by terrorists. Survivors trapped on higher floors have to decide to die by fire, or by jumping to the ground below. Finally the buildings collapse into dust. “Where was God,” was asked over and over.
A family gathers around a grave of a child. Through their tears they ask, “Why did God desert us?”
Your family is torn apart by strife. You lose your job. Your teacher gives you a failing grade. Your children rebel. Your parents suffer a loss of memory.
And your prayers no longer begin with a happy and joyous, “Praise God!”
It begins with a sigh of sadness, “O God.”
Many times we like to come into this Sanctuary and hear uplifting music and hear a positive message.
But there are times when that is simply not where we are.
We find ourselves angry at God. Confused by God. Overwhelmed and depressed, it is not a prayer of praise we need, but a lament.
Whenever we are angry or bitter at God, most of us feel as if it is unchristian to admit those feelings to God.
But in the Bible, we can become witnesses to the lives of others and find that many angry people expressed their feelings to God.
Job was angry with God. He lost his family, his wealth, his property, his health, and pretty much everything else.
20 "I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me.
21 You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me.
22 You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm.
For Job, as confused as he was about what God was doing, he still found that going to God in an angry prayer was the natural thing to do.
Hey – it’s not like you can hide your feelings from God.
If you are angry, God will know it.
So you might as well admit your anger, bitterness or confusion to God and start dealing with it.
The Psalms offer several wonderful examples of prayers we can use at such times, and they are called prayers or songs of lament.
These lament prayers are easy to find.
All you have to do is to look for the words “O God.”
Some people, when they suddenly find themselves in a troubling situation, might say, “O Boy.”
Or they might say, “O no.”
Or they might say, “O --- something else. Profanity perhaps.
The Psalmist is a man of God. What does he say?
O GOD... or O LORD...
There are 150 Psalms. 60 of them have in the opening line, the words, "O God” or “O Lord.” Of those 60, only 8 are not Lament Psalms.
So when you feel like lamenting to God, look for the words, "O God, or O Lord in the opening words.
Psalm 16 opens with the words, “Keep me safe, O God.”
Psalm 43 opens with “Vindicate me, O God.”
Psalm 55 opens with “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea …”
These are prayers of hurting people.
These are songs that sad people sing.
These are words that sometimes become our words.
Our Old Testament lesson is an example of one such Psalm of Lament.
These are not happy words.
These are words of agony and pain – and sometimes that is exactly the way we feel when we pray to God.
Listen again to these words:
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.
Can’t you hear the pain in that person’s words?
Haven’t you been there?
You feel overwhelmed. Up to your neck in work or trouble or grief. There’s no foothold and you feel like you are in danger.
The Lament Psalms always open with that sort of direct address to God. These Psalmists are not just going around gripping and complaining, and mumbling to themselves. They are going straight to God with their complaints.
Isn’t it wonderful that we have a relationship with God in which we can be real. We don’t have to pretend. We don’t have to dance around the topic. We don’t have to hem and haw but we can dive right in and come straight out with it.
Most of us cannot be totally honest in all of our relationships.
If your wife asks, “Honey, does this dress make me look fat” you suddenly have to ask yourself just how honest you want to be.
Likewise, at lunch on Sundays when I ask my wife, “Honey, how was the sermon today,” I’m not sure I’m really looking for an honest answer!
But with God we have no secrets at all. So there is no reason at all to pretend with God.
Psalm 139 says, “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.”
So if we cannot hide our feelings to God, why not admit them to God so that we can work through our anger or confusion.
This is a common element in all Psalms of Lament – this direct address to God.
A second element is the actual Lament. Or the problem. You can’t have a lament psalm without a lament. There are several laments, or problems in Psalm 69.
“I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.
These are rather GENERAL laments. But there are also some specific laments in the Psalms.
4 Those who hate me without reason out number the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal.
8 I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons;
10 I must endure scorn;
11 people make sport of me.
Sounds like someone who is hated and despised, who is unjustly accused, and who is in physical danger. Here is a person whose family ties are strained.
Now these may or may not be your words. You may or may not feel hated or despised.
Your family ties may or may not be strained.
But what is your complaint about life?
What is it that has you so confused or bitter.
Well, right now you may not have any problem at all. Maybe things are going great, at least for right now.
But when your life is NOT going well, you should not only express your outrage to God – you should bring the specific concerns to God in prayer.
This is one of the consistent teachings of the Psalms. In all of the prayers of Lament, none of them simply complain to God – they present specifics about what is disturbing in that individual’s life at that particular time.
A third element in a Lament Psalm is the PETITION.
What good is it to Lament if you’re not going to do something about it? The Psalmist does do something. He not only complains to God, he asks God for help.
And this is a missing element from many of the prayers we pray when we are angry or in despair.
IF we have the courage to express our feelings to God, we may well turn it into a complaining session and nothing more. But the pattern the psalmist provides is that we need to go one step further and make our petitions to God.
Returning again to our Old Testament Lesson, we find this pattern in Psalm 69:
13 But I pray to you, O LORD, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation.
14 Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters.
15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me.
16 Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
And this brings us to another element of successful laments -- the last element of the Lament Psalm: Confidence in God.
There is always some confidence in God reflected in these Psalms. And this is a glimmer of the growth one can experience through stress situations.
Going back to Psalm 69, we see this confidence in verses 30-36.
30 I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.
32 The poor will see and be glad-- you who seek God, may your hearts live!
33 The LORD hears the needy and does not despise his captive people.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them,
That is the formula for a successful problem.
At any time we feel depressed or oppressed by problems, we should take our complaint to God, express our feelings honestly to God in a lament, ask for his help, and above all, have confidence that he will hear and help us.
This is what makes our lamentations as Christians different from the complaints of others. It is our hope.
You sense that kind of hope in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Copyright 2006, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
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