May 6, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture Reading: Psalm 61:1-3 (NRSV)
Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I;
for you are my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
In Psalm 61 the psalm writer cries out to God “when my heart is faint” (61:2). The use of “faint” in this context is acceptable, though I worry that some readers might think that the psalmist is “fainthearted.” In English, a person who is fainthearted is timid or lacking courage. But that is not what the Hebrew of verse 2 means.
“Faint” in the NRSV translates the Hebrew verb ‘ātaf, which means “to be feeble, faint, grow weak.” It has nothing to do with timidity or fear. This verb shows up in Lamentations 2, in a description of children who are starving: “infants and babes faint in the streets of the city . . . . [T]hey faint like the wounded in the streets of the city as their life is poured out on their mothers’ bosom” (Lamentations 2:11-12). Similarly, Jonah, while praying to God from the belly of a fish, uses the verb ‘ātaf to speak of his life “ebbing away” (Jonah 2:7).
Where the NRSV uses “faith” in Psalm 61:2, the NLT prefers “overwhelmed” while the CEB uses “weak.” The Message gets the sense just right with “down to my last gasp.” I have tried to represent the sense of ‘ātaf in the title of this devotion: “When Your Energy Has Run Out.”
Sometimes the pressures and demands of work can be overwhelming. We don’t know if we can go on. To use biblical language, our hearts are faint, weak, and exhausted. In such times we cry out to God, asking him to lift us up, to lead us to a place of safety and restoration.
O God, ask you to hear my cry for mercy. I need to know that you’re listening as I pray.
Sometimes, Lord, it feels as if I’m a million miles away from you, trapped far beyond the ends of the earth. I wonder if I can go on. I feel spent, Lord, as my energy drains away.
Nevertheless, I call to you even in my exhaustion. I call to you even when I can’t feel your presence. I call to you with whatever strength I can muster. I need your help right now.
I can’t make it on my own, Lord. I’m not strong enough, big enough, or wise enough. Please carry me out of the mire in which I am languishing. Lead me up to a place of safety. Lead me to where you are, because you are my refuge. You are my strong fortress. I need to be with you most of all. Amen.
Ponder Throughout the Day
When you feel completely spent, God is there for you. Call out to him for help.
For Further Reflection
You may wish to read all of Psalm 61.
Also, Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish might give you words to cry out to God. See Jonah 2:1-10.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Lead Me to the Rock
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.