Oftentimes it is hard to pray.
Sometimes, I just don’t feel like it and have a weak desire. I want to pray, but my burdens discourage it. My thoughts lack clarity, and it can be difficult to organize them to make sense. Circumstances encircle me. I feel stuck and unable to speak to God.
These are the times I let the Psalms pray for me.
Psalm 77 is a prayer for the devastated, helping us discover how to penetrate the darkness.
In difficult times
The Psalmist, Asaph, describes himself as being in a “day of trouble” (verse 2). He tries to seek God, crying aloud to Him. But his soul refuses comfort, hardened to any alleviation of mental suffering. Spiritual things, too, are difficult. In thinking about God, he moans, and in trying to meditate, he fails (verse 3). He is unsettled and troubled to the point where he cannot bring himself to speak (verse 4).
In the pressing darkness, he begins to ask question after question:
Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favourable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up compassion?” (Psalm 77:7-9)
Has God forgotten me? Has His love been discontinued? Are His promises reliable? Has his kindness been rescinded? Is He fickle? Has He changed?
These are questions we have all, I suspect, asked at one point or another. When despondency feels more real than God’s presence, and as the weight of circumstances grows heavier—job rejections, family illnesses, disappointments, discouragements, tragedies—the foundations of faith—God’s love, compassion and kindness—can be questioned.
Yet in the midst of his present questioning, Asaph appeals to past wonders. He begins to pursue the memory of God’s former actions.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work and meditate on your mighty deeds. (Psalm 77:11-12)
This is not the first time that he has sought God. In verse 2, we see him seeking, yet finding no repose. But he does not desist; 9 verses later, he tries again. I have found that it is sometimes easy to give up when circumstances engulf me, and when God seems silent. Sleeping, scrolling through Facebook, immersing myself in studies, and watching countless episodes of Gilmore Girls serve as good distraction techniques, but they are a poor substitute for the rest to be found in Christ. Asaph, rather than simply attempting to distract himself from the problem, persists to find peace.
What God is great like ours?
He remembers. And with remembering, comes a change. He exclaims,
Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? (Psalm 77:13)
Breakthrough! Though circumstances still hang heavy, Asaph now speaks with confidence of the present holiness and greatness of God. He begins to recall the story of the redemption of the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptian slavery. He cannot deny the past. The memory of real time events and God’s work within them brings comfort to the soul that earlier refused it.
Your way was through the sea, Your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock. (Psalm 77:19-20)
He remembers. God made a way through the tumult and the rising sea. Unseen, yet still the tender shepherd, He led His battered and weary people on a safe path. It is perhaps no coincidence that Asaph recalls a story of salvation—of God’s faithfulness, love and grace in rescuing the Israelites from seemingly impossible circumstances. Indeed, in my own wrestling, I find there is no greater event that brings comfort and assurance than the theme of salvation—of God making a way for us through the sacrifice of Christ, taking us from the slavery of sin to the safety of sonship (and “daughtership”).
Head to heart
However, sometimes it can seem that these are just…facts. Events that happened. Like the War of the Roses or the Fall of Rome, they are simply confined to the annals of history.
How then do we move them to our hearts?
Perhaps the answer can be found in the Psalmist’s threefold commitment to thinking. In an age of distraction, we can neglect to take the time to ponder for more than the second it takes to scroll past a post on our newsfeed. However, with great intentionality, Asaph states that he will “remember” (verse 11), “ponder” (verse 12) and “meditate” (verse 12). He commits to purposeful and prolonged thought, in particular on the “deeds of the Lord” (verse 11) and “wonders of old” (verse 11).
Scripture is the record of just that—the deeds of the Lord—and so one particular way we can follow in the Psalmist’s footsteps is by regularly reading and reflecting on it. Yet even still our reading can be based simply on the mechanics of what happened. Jesus died. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. I am sure I am not alone in reading the Bible and sometimes coming away unmoved and unchanged.
But asking questions of the text such as, “What does this mean for me?,” “How does this impact my life?,” and “What can I learn from this for my present experience?” can move a head full of facts to a heart full of peace.
When devastation hits and when prayer is hard
Pray this psalm as your own. Let Asaph’s words be yours.
Recall the past mighty and wondrous deeds of God, both in Scripture and your own life.
Ruminate and reflect on them for long periods of time. Join them with your present experience.
And in seeing His mighty workings in the past connected with your present, find, with Asaph, the bright joy that awaits beyond the darkness.