March 23, 2018 • Life for Leaders
Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
These days, when we ask a question or share a concern with someone, we expect a quick response, almost an instant response. Long gone is the time when we would write a letter and wait patiently for days or even weeks for a return letter. If you’re under thirty, you might not even remember that kind of waiting at all. Technology has fed our hunger for instantaneous communication. In fact, we call one popular form of this “instant messaging” or “texting” for short. But even those of us who settle for the older forms of digital interaction, such as email, nevertheless expect quick feedback. It’s not uncommon these days for someone to send an email and then a text to make sure the recipient got the email. If there isn’t a quick response to either of these, a cell phone call is not far behind. We want answers and we want them now, thank you very much.
We can also be like this in our communication with God. We pray. We ask for something we need. And we want God to answer right away. But our desire for God to respond quickly to our prayers isn’t simply a product of a technological age. In Psalm 102, for example, we read the prayer of an individual who badly needs God’s help. Verse 2 reads, “Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly” (102:2). Desperate circumstances call forth desperate prayers, both in our day as well as thousands of years ago.
The psalmist’s cry for God to answer and be quick about it impresses me in two ways. First, I’m struck by the boldness of this prayer. The writer doesn’t limit his language in ways I’d be inclined to do: “Who am I to tell God to act quickly? God’s ways are not my ways. God’s timing is not my timing. I have no right to demand an instant response from God.” As we see throughout the Psalms, there is no restraint here, no meticulous polishing of the words, no pretending about what’s in our heart. The psalmist tells God exactly what he wants: Answer me… now!
Yet my second impression is that God had not been acting according to the psalm writer’s timetable. It is true that God’s ways are not my ways and God’s timing is not my timing. Though it can be terribly hard to wait on God, and though we should feel free to tell God to hurry up, nevertheless, often God moves in ways that seem to us to be very slow—painfully slow. (And, then again, sometimes God moves so quickly it takes our breath away!)
A friend of mine is looking for work. He knows what he feels called to do professionally, yet the opportunities for him in this area are few. He can easily become discouraged, wondering why God is taking so long. Psalm 102 encourages my friend to be honest with God, asking for a speedy response. And, at the same time, this psalm reminds my friend—and all of us—that God’s timing is not our own. Thus, we live in the tension between telling God to act quickly and asking for the patience to trust that God’s ways and times are always the best.
Something to Think About:
Have you ever asked God to answer your prayers quickly? If so, how did this feel?
Are there things you’d like God to do in your life or in our world right now? Have you told him this?
How do you respond when God is slow to act on your prayers? Or when God simply says “no”?
Something to Do:
If you are wanting God to act quickly in response to your prayers, go ahead and tell him how you feel. Don’t hide who you really are as you approach God’s throne of grace. Be honest, just like the Psalms.
Gracious God, we are amazed once again by the boldness—one might even say the audaciousness—of the Psalms. Thank you for the example of Psalm 102, which encourages us to speak honestly with you, even asking you to respond to our prayers quickly, according to our timetable.
Lord, as I think about it, there are many actions I’d like you to do right now. I remember friends who are struggling with difficult illnesses. Heal them quickly, Lord! I think of those who are out of work. Help them find the right job, soon! I think of families that are fraught with conflict. Bring peace and reconciliation, sooner than later! I think of millions of people across the globe who won’t have enough to eat today. Feed them, Lord, now! I think of those who are victims of injustice, who are caught in systems that deny their humanity or threaten their lives. Let your justice roll down like water, Lord. Let it happen soon!
Teach me to be bold in my prayers. And teach me to be patient as I wait for you. Help me to trust that your ways and your timing are always the best. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Hurry Up and Wait
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.