Summary: This text is a prayer of desperation! It is the prayer of people who were once used to having God’s presence and God’s power – that power being long absent and sorely missed. It is the prayer of one out of touch with God.
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Psalm 80:1 -7; 17 - 19 (NRSVA)
This morning’s text is a prayer of desperation! It is the prayer of people who were once used to having God’s presence and God’s power – that power being long absent and sorely missed. It is the prayer of one out of touch with God.
A tourist came too close to the edge of the Grand Canyon, lost his footing and plunged over the side, clawing and scratching to save himself. After he went out of sight and just before he fell into space, he encountered a scrubby bush which he desperately grabbed with both hands. Filled with terror, he called out toward heaven, "Is there anyone up there?" A calm, powerful voice came out of the sky, "Yes, there is." The tourist pleaded, "Can you help me? Can you help me?" The calm voice replied, "Yes, I probably can. What is your problem?" "I fell over the cliff and am dangling in space holding to a bush that is about to let go. Please help me." "The voice from above said, "I’ll try. Do you believe?" "Yes, yes, I believe."’ "Do you have faith?" "Yes, yes. I have strong faith."
The calm voice said, "Well, in that case, simply let loose of the bush and everything will turn out fine." There was a tense pause, then the tourist yelled, "Is there anyone else up there?" (1)
In World War II they called it a “foxhole prayer” – the kind which is prayed by someone who is afraid, uncertain and not on the best of terms with God. “Oh, Lord, help me; get me out of this fix alive and I’ll be good. I’ll go to church, I’ll serve on the Trustees, I’ll tithe…man, I’ll be a missionary if that’s what it takes. God help me!”
Now, I’m not against praying in a crisis; my first participation in public prayer was when I was six and in crisis. I was misbehaving, making a lot of noise in church, so my father hoisted me over his shoulder to take me out for a woodshed experience; I addressed the congregation as I disappeared through the sanctuary doors, “Y’all pray for me now.”
Anyone who has ever prayed like that knows that the desire to be relieved of the pain is what that kind of prayer is all about – not genuine repentance or restoring the relationship and service of one who has sinned.