The Prayer Of An Afflicted Man

“A prayer of an afflicted man.  When he is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord.”

                “Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry for help come to you.  Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress.  Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.”

                                                                                                                                Psalm 102: Title and first two verses

                 A number of years ago while on vacation I was able to spend some time with my Grandchildren.  I have had this opportunity several times in recent years.  It is always wonderful, but exhausting.  That particular vacation enabled me to observe and reflect upon a number of things.   As I observed the young families around us I was struck by just how much life has slowed down for my wife and me.  As I tried to keep up with my own Grandchildren I found myself deeply thankful for that reality.  There is a lesson to be learnt there which will become apparent as we begin to explore Psalm 102.

                Before we do that however I need to reflect upon one other event from that vacation.  I was able to spend some time reading Ron Gleason’s wonderful biography of the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, some of whose works I have read and found to be immensely helpful.  Bavinck was a man who wrote pastorally.  His purpose was to clearly expound the scriptures so that Christians could receive real help in living the Christian life.  His struggles in life formed the background to his writings in that they gave context to all that he was attempting to communicate. 

Gleason’s biography helped me while on vacation in a couple of ways.  First it gave me opportunities to be a witness for the Lord.  Several people took the time to ask me what it was that I was reading leading to some fruitful conversations about the Lord Jesus Christ.  Second, reading the biography of another person always gives me a strong dose of reality about my own life.  It is here that I want to connect with Psalm 102.

This wonderful Psalm is a pastoral reflection on the way that a godly person responds to affliction and deep distress in their life.  The title of the Psalm tells us that it is the prayer of a person who is overwhelmed with affliction.  Their response is to prayerfully come before God and pour out their complaint to him.  Step one is to acknowledge the reality of affliction.  So often we assume that trials should never touch the life of a believer.  We face a difficult circumstance in our life and we cry out “Why Me!”  The Psalmist assumes that afflictions will come and at times they will seem to be overwhelming.  There is a biblical way to respond in such situations.  The Psalmist leads us through the process as he pours out his heart to the Lord.  His first step is to acknowledge that he is at the point of fainting under the strain of the circumstances he is facing.  The Apostle Paul expresses exactly the same thought when he writes in 2 Corinthians, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8b-9)  Here Paul seems to be pointing back to passages such as Psalm 102 as he reflects upon his own experience of affliction and the fruit it bore in his life.    Secondly the Psalmist goes before the Lord in prayer.  His prayer however is a confession of the biblical reality that he is discovering in his trial.  As Paul wrote, “That we might not rely upon ourselves.”  The Psalmist has discovered that he is a limited human being whose life is vanishing away.  It is a precious gift that God gives to us when He draws back the curtain on our lives in order to show us that we are frail mortals whose lives vanish away like smoke. 

There is another lesson here and that is found in the prophetic portion of the Psalm (vs.12-28).  “But you, O Lord, sit enthroned forever” (Psalm 102:12).  We may wither away like smoke, but the Lord does not.  He is eternal.   His plans and purposes will be worked out because He is constantly alive and at work.  He does not grow weary.  He does not fail.  His purpose is to reveal His own glory in all of creation because this alone accomplishes that which is for our good.  As the psalmist prays he begins to reflect upon the message of God’s Word.  God has spoken.  We must listen.  There is one more thing here however.  As the Psalmist reflects prophetical on the circumstances of his life he is brought to understand something which is woven into the message of God’s Word.  This is the message of resurrection.  The reflection of the Psalmist looks ahead to one who will come as the eternal redeemer.  God will cut short His life, but He will live on because He will be raised.  Because He is raised the Godly, those who are in Him will share in His resurrection.  This is our ultimate hope even in the most severe of affliction.  We worship the One who raises the dead.