November 3, 2017 • Life for Leaders
But I cry to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
Chances are you won’t hear this psalm in church this weekend. (If you do, let me know!) Psalm 88 is one of those psalms—and, indeed, there are many—that leave us perplexed. It is one long lament, with little by way of hope. It ends with this cheery thought: “You have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend” (88:18). Thus, this psalm tends to be ignored (except in churches that work systematically through the entire Psalter or that have the courage to tackle the biblical laments).
What should we do with Psalm 88? We don’t know exactly what Heman the Ezrahite, who wrote this psalm, was facing, but we know it was overwhelming to him. His life was “overwhelmed with troubles” (88:3). His friends abandoned him (88:8) and his loved ones were taken away (88:18). Heman sees the hand of God in his suffering. “You have put me in the lowest pit,” he accuses the Lord (88:6).
Yet Heman keeps on praying. Sometimes he cries out for mercy. At other times, he challenges God to consider God’s own loss should Heman die: “Is your love declared in the grave?” (88:11). No matter what happens to him, Heman stays in relationship with a God he doesn’t understand, a God whose actions seem wrong: “But I cry to you for help, LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you” (88:13). No matter what, Heman begins each day in relationship with God through prayer.
Thus, Psalm 88 offers us an invitation to hang in there with God, even when we don’t understand what he’s doing, even when it seems that God is being unfair, even when we are exhausted and discouraged. Perhaps if we read this psalm more often—yes, even in church—we’d be better prepared when the dark days come in our own lives.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you respond to Psalm 88?
Have you ever felt like Heman?
Have you ever prayed like Heman?
Do you need his invitation to hang in there with God today?
Gracious God, there are times when it seems as if your grace has disappeared, replaced by your anger, or perhaps by your distance from us. In these valleys of the shadow of death, we wonder if you still care, or even if you’re still there. In despair, we may even think that there’s no point hanging in there with you.
Thank you for Psalm 88, which invites us to stay in relationship with you even in times of darkness. Thank you for the blunt honesty of this psalm. Heman doesn’t pretend as if all is fine. Rather, he lays his soul before you without holding back his discouragement.
Help me, Lord, to hang in there with you, both in times of delight and times of sorrow. When I’m tempted to let go of you, don’t let go of me. May I remain in relationship with you, like Heman, pleading to you day by day.
Today, I’m reminded to pray for those in my life who are in a place like that of Heman. Help them to persist in prayer. Reveal to them your love and grace. Hear their prayers and deliver them. Most of all, let them know your peace, the peace that comes through intimate relationship with you. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: A Prayer of Dark Despair
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.