Summary: "When God Seems Far Away" is an exposition of Psalm 61, which teaches that you can never be so far away that God cannot hear you when you call.
WHEN GOD SEEMS FAR AWAY
A certain little boy greatly missed his father, who was separated from the family for the long time by military duty. But the boy was comforted by a picture of his dad that sat in a frame on his nightstand. When he was frightened at night, he would state at the picture and imagine his daddy was watching over him. It did not work one night. His mother, hearing his weeping, came into his room and asked what was wrong. Through tears, he answered, “I want daddy to come out of the frame.”
Has this ever been your experience? You know the heavenly Father is real. You know he is good. You know he loves you. Yet there are times when God seems to be in a frame. It feels that God does not hear your call, see your need, or feel your pain. God seems far away. This brief but beautiful psalm is tailored to teach us what to do when God seems far away.
Psalm 61 is ascribed to David. But we do not know when he wrote it. Verse 2 says: “from the end of the earth I call to you.” Verse 4 says: “Let me dwell in your tent forever!” These statements suggest that David is exiled from Jerusalem and the tabernacle. Commentators assume David wrote this psalm when he fled from Absalom his son. It has also been considered a song David wrote as he returned home from exile. We do not know. It is not meant for us to know. The point of the psalm is not found in the historical circumstances David faced. It is found in the spiritual condition David experienced.
Whatever his geography, David was at a place where God seemed far away. He wanted more than a return to Jerusalem or another opportunity to worship in the tabernacle. He longed for a greater sense of God’s loving presence, protective care, and strengthening grace. So he prayed that distance would be transformed into intimacy. In so doing, David shows us what to do when God seems far away. In a word, pray. YOU CAN NEVER BE SO FAR AWAY THAT GOD CANNOT HEAR YOU WHEN YOU CALL. “Wherever we are,” wrote MATTHEW HENRY, “we have liberty to draw near to God, and may find a way open to the throne of grace.” How should you pray when God seems far away? Psalm 61 gives two answers.
I. PRAY WITH CONFIDENCE IN WHAT THE LORD HAS DONE.
The book of Psalms was the hymnal of the Jews. But as you read the psalms, it is obvious that this hymnbook was also a prayer book. It not only taught them how to worship. It also taught them how to pray. More specifically, by singing these psalms, the Jews gave expression to the prayers of the heart for which they could not find words. Psalm 61 is a great example of how private need can be communicated to God through corporate worship. Verses 1-4 teach us to pray with confidence that God will hear and help.
A. ASK GOD TO HEAR YOU.
The psalm begins with words of lamentation. Verse 1 says, “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer.” These opening words teach an important lesson about the nature of true prayer. David cried to God. The word “cry” refers to a loud, piercing scream. The word was most often used to describe a cry of joy. But here is expresses agony, not ecstasy. It is an urgent, desperate cry – a SOS distress signal. Why did David cry to God in prayer? Verse 1 answers with two words: “hear” and “listen.” David is not going through an empty ritual of “saying his prayers.” Venting does not satisfy. Getting it off his chest does not help. He needs God to hear his cry. He needs God to listen to his prayer. He needed God to pay attention and take heed to what he heard. This is what prayer is about. It is not about saying the right words. It is about getting to the right ear.
GOD CAN HEAR YOU WHEN FROM THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. David says, “From the ends of the earth I call to you.” What is “the ends of the earth”? Some think it is a poetic statement of the fact that David was exiled from Jerusalem. Others think it refers to Sheol, the grave, or the place of the dead. It would thus be a way a saying that David was near death. But I would argue that the reference is spiritual, not physical. David felt distanced from God. And de describes this spiritual reality in geographic terms. He says it is as if he has found himself at the most remote part of planet earth. Yet from the ends of the earth, David called on the Lord.