It’s a question that gets asked every now and then in our lifetimes. Sometimes it’s during those lighter times of life about things that aren’t so important. For instance, “How long,” Chicago Cubs fans ask, “Ôtill we get to see a World Series at Wrigley Field?” Vikings fans ask, “How long Ôtill the Vikings win a Super Bowl?” The little girl asks her mother in the middle of a long, long sermon, “How long is this sermon going to go on?”
The question also gets asked during some of the more serious moments of life. “How long must I remain unemployed?” “How long must we watch our mother suffer like this in this hospital?” “How long must I live with this chronic pain?” “How long must I exist in this dark cave called depression that I can’t seem to shake?” “How long,” the couple asks, “until we can have a child?”
Sometimes as God’s children who have had a taste of His grace in our lives, we find ourselves asking those questions with our faces turned upward to God.
King David wrote a song, Psalm 13, that asks that same question. It has three verses. Listening to the words of this song, you realize that it could be attributed to just about anyone. Perhaps someone who believes in God but has a lot of questions about what is going on in his life. This guy has got the low-down blues as he cries out about three things that are bothering him.
“How long, God?” he cries out as he feels abandoned and so alone. “You are not there for me.” Instead of singing the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness, O God my, Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee,” he felt more like singing Hank Williams’ song, “I’m so lonesome I could cry.” He was feeling left behind and forgotten like Kevin in the movie, “Home Alone.” He’s been wrestling with his thoughts, has got sorrow in his heart, and is depressed. He is a wreck, inside and out, and he wonders if the Lord really cares.
As a pastor, I have had moments like that when I felt disappointed, stranded, and alone. Recently I was praying for a friend of mine who was very sick with cancer. He was surrounded by people who had a lot of doubts about God, and I just was sure that God was going to heal him and use this to really glorify Himself.
Well, my friend suffered and then finally died. I remember leaving his parents’ house the day he died, so upset. As I sat in my car, I pounded on the steering wheel and asked God, “Where were you in all of this? Why didn’t you step in? This was your chance.”
In the second verse, King David, not liking what’s going on, looked up and cried out to God, “Look at me! Answer me! You are my God! Make your face to shine on me and brighten my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death and my enemies rejoice in my falling down.”
An amazing thing happens in the last verse of this psalm. While we find no answer from God that this will soon be over, the tone turns from a minor key into a major key.
The hinge word is but. “But I trust in your steadfast love. My heart rejoices in your salvation for what he has given me in my life. I will sing praises to God, who has dealt bountifully with me.”
Much more upbeat, isn’t it? No answers. The complaining has been done. It’s almost as if it turns into, “But I’m not giving up. I’m going to hang on to your steadfast love, God.”
That steadfast love was as precious a possession to the people in the Old Testament as it is to us. When they thought of steadfast love, it was the covenant God made to be their God and never desert them. They trusted that God would always take care of them and be there for them. Their history showed God’s faithfulness to that promise. Steadfast love meant commitment.
When we think of steadfast love, its kind of like a couple standing at the altar on the wedding day as they face each other and make a vow, a covenant. “I will be there for you. I will take care of you. I will support you. I will serve you.”
Likewise, we find that relationship in this psalm between the writer and God. I’m hanging on to that vow, to that covenant, God. The promises that you have made me. And I am going to rejoice in the help that you have given me. And I know that someday I will sing praises that God has dealt bountifully with me. No answers here, simply an I’m hanging on to your steadfast love.
Martin Luther wrote of this particular psalm, “In it, hope despairs and despair hopes.” This songwriter is hanging on. As he despairs, he asks for help and entrusts himself totally to God’s care.
When we think of the steadfast love of God, we look at the cross. We think of the Son of God hanging there saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He experienced that abandonment so that you and I would not have to. God gave his only Son to die on a cross to pay for our sins so that we could become children of God as we place our trust in Jesus Christ. This is the steadfast love that God has shown us. He is for us; he’s not against us. When you are struggling with the outlook, keep looking up to that steadfast love.
A song like Psalm 13 helps remind us that, as children of God, we are not immune to life’s hurts. There are days when darkness comes. Everybody hurts at one time or another. However, we find encouragement in this song. Hang on, as we are pointed to that steadfast love.
It’s called faith. The song ends with a faith that is hanging on to the steadfast love of God. It is the steadfast love that perhaps you’ve experienced as you look at the cross of Jesus Christ and trust in him. There are days when it is difficult to see Jesus in the dark, but the Gospel is this: Even when we can’t see Jesus in the dark, trust in this: He can see you. Hang on! Hang on!
In 1873, Horatio Stafford put his wife and four children on a ship to Europe while he stayed behind to tie up some business matters. In the middle of November on that ship, as they were crossing the Atlantic, there was an awful noise in the middle of the night. It had been hit by another ship and water was rushing into it like Niagra Falls. Mrs. Stafford watched three of her children get swept away into the sea before the sea suddenly rose and she watched it snatch the baby away as well. That last thing she remembered was reaching to find those children, only to wake up later in an infirmary on a rescue ship.
When Horatio Stafford was contacted about what had happened, he boarded a ship immediately to join his wife. On the way over, the captain of the ship he was on pointed to the place where they believe his wife’s ship went down. He watched the sea a bit, went back to his cabin and wrote a song (or poem) that later became a song. It’s become a great hymn of comfort for many people along the way. It went like this:
♬ When peace like a river `attendeth my way.
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should profit, though trials should come.
Let this blest assurance control.
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
and has shed his own blood for my soul.
It is well, it is well.
With my soul, with my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul. ♪
Hang on. He loves you, and His steadfast love is there for you.