November 13, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Psalm 77:1-9 (NRSV)
I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah
You keep my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old
and remember the years of long ago.
I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and search my spirit:
“Will the Lord spurn forever
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love ceased forever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
Psalm 77 is one of the most intensively reflective of all the psalms. It is also stunningly honest in expressing the psalm writer’s pain, doubt, and lament. This psalm reminds us that honest reflection will sometimes take us to unsettling places. But, as we’ll see tomorrow, it doesn’t leave us there. Still, the example of Psalm 77 encourages us to reflect honestly about all of life, even the difficult parts.
This devotion is part of the series: A Biblical Guide to Reflection
Psalm 77 features a striking collection of “reflection verbs.” In only four short verses, the psalm writer thinks, meditates, feels troubled, considers, remembers, communes with his heart, meditates, and searches his spirit (77:3-6). We don’t know exactly what precipitated this intensive reflection, though in verse 2 the psalmist refers to “the day of my trouble.” Something in his life has gone terribly wrong so he cannot sleep (77:2,4).
I expect you may have experienced something like this in your life. I know I have, more times than I’d like to remember. Yes, my seasons of despair have usually had to do with difficult things happening outside of me and my control. But my tendency to engage in anxious rumination doesn’t help. I can work myself into a tizzy when I not only reflect on what’s gone wrong but also imagine all that might go wrong in the future.
The example of Psalm 77 shows me a healthy way forward. The writer does not do what I so often try to do yet without success, stuffing my feelings down into my soul in an effort to squelch them. What we see in Psalm 77 is the opposite of denial or pretending. Rather, the psalmist speaks openly of his troubles, fears, and doubts, without holding back.
Remarkably, the writer even goes so far as to admit his doubts concerning God’s love and grace: “Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (77:8-9). This is a marvelous illustration of what John Calvin wrote about the Psalms. In yesterday’s devotion, I quoted from the introduction to Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms in which he observed, “The Holy Spirit has here [in the Psalms] drawn to life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions” that plague our minds” (Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, “Author’s Preface,” trans. James Anderson). The fact that all of these exist in the Psalms indicates that they are a normal, acceptable part of a faithful and prayerful relationship with God.
In tomorrow’s devotion, we’ll look at how the psalm writer’s reflections focus in a different direction so as to replace his desperate fears with trusting reassurance. For now, however, I want to acknowledge that in our current human condition reflection can sometimes be painful and discouraging. One response to this reality would be to refrain from reflection altogether. Another response would be to reflect only on what’s good in life. The example of the Psalms, including Psalm 77, suggests another response, however, one that does not deny or avoid what is hard in life and in our own hearts. The Psalms give us permission to reflect on all that is real in our lives, even sharing everything with the Lord.
As you read Psalm 77:1-9, can you relate to the experience of the psalm writer? Can you think of a time (or times) when you could have prayed with these same words?
When you’re going through a difficult time, are you able to deal openly with what’s happening both outside of you and inside?
What helps you to be honest with yourself and with God about the hard things in life?
If you’re in a difficult place right now, let the words of Psalm 77 help you to speak openly with God. If you’re in a good place, pray Psalm 77 on behalf of someone you know who is struggling.
Gracious God, thank you for Psalm 77. I don’t mean to ignore whatever had caused such despair for the psalm writer. But his struggle motivated him to pen the words of this psalm, and those words can be so helpful to us. They enable us to see that we don’t have to pretend as if life is all good when we reflect. We can be honest with ourselves . . . and with you, Lord. Thank you for this extraordinary invitation. Amen.
Banner image by Joshua Rawson Harris on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Has God Forgotten to Be Gracious?.
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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.