July 7, 2017 • Life for Leaders
Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
At the beginning of Psalm 77, the psalm writer is in a major funk. He is in the middle of some terrible personal crisis and he is crying out to God for help (77:1). Yet, even when he prays for a whole night, he is not comforted (77:2). I expect most of us can relate to this discouraging experience. If you’re not there right now, you’ve been there, or you will experience it someday.
When we feel discouraged, when God feels distant, when we run out of prayers, what should we do? Psalm 77 answers this question, but not in a way we might expect.
In the midst of his disappointment, the psalmist thinks of “the good old days” when his nights were filled with joyful singing rather than desperate praying (77:5-6). Yet this memory only enhances his sorrow. The comparison between past and present makes the writer wonder, “Will the Lord reject me forever?” (77:7). In this case, the psalmist’s memory of his own happy past accentuates his suffering in the present.
As the psalm progresses, however, the writer stretches his memory beyond his own experience. He remembers God’s “miracles of long ago” (77:11). He fixes his mind on the things God did in the past, especially God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (77:15-20).
As we share in the psalm writer’s memories, we expect a turn from despair to confidence and praise. We see the beginning of this change in verse 14: “You are the God who performs miracles.” Yet, Psalm 77 ends, not with celebration of God’s faithfulness or with a statement of confidence in him, but simply with a statement of remembrance: “You led your people like a flock, by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (77:20). That’s it. No praise. No rejoicing. Just a statement of what God did in the past.
This seems like a song without an ending. We know something else is coming, but we don’t get to enjoy it. As much as I would like to hear the happy ending of the psalmist’s story, I am nevertheless grateful that this psalm feels incomplete. It speaks to those of us who are in process with God. We’re not fully resolved in our relationship with our Lord. We live in the tension between confident faith and our own fears and disappointments. Psalm 77 gives us permission to be honest with God, to struggle, and to doubt. It also encourages us to remember, not just our own past, but also the long history of God’s saving works.
Most of all, when we wonder if God is there for us, we remember what he did in Jesus Christ. The more we remember the life, teaching, work, death, and resurrection of Christ, the more we will be able to exult with the psalmist, “You are the God who performs miracles.”
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you think of times in your life when you felt despair rather like that of the writer of Psalm 77?
Are you in such a time right now?
How does remembering the past help you to have confidence in God?
What enables you to recall the grace of God in Jesus Christ?
Gracious God, how I thank you for the gutsy honesty of the psalms. I can relate to the despair in Psalm 77. I can relate to its unresolved character. Like the psalmist, I am indeed a person in process, in process with you.
Help me, O Lord, to be honest with you, to say what is true to you. Keep me from pretending and spouting empty words. Yet, even as I am truthful with you, help me also to remember your wondrous deeds from the past. Most of all, may my life be shaped by the consistent remembrance of your grace in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: Has God Forgotten to Be Gracious?
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.