Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"How long will You forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O Lord my God. Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed against him!"; and those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me."
The Lord did not really forget David — no, not for a moment. It was only the downcast heart of the Psalmist which made him think himself forgotten. God never forgets us. In our darkest moments, when our spirit is overwhelmed within us, when we feel most lonely, helpless, and forlorn — we are not forgotten by God. Even then our gracious God is remembering us — His all-seeing eye is upon us, and those very feelings are known and regarded and cared for by Him.
David was in deep despondency, a despondency that had lasted some time; for he says, "How long will You forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?" So long had he been without the comforting sense of God's presence, that it seemed as if he never would enjoy it again: "How long will You forget me, O Lord? Forever?" God does sometimes try His servants so. Not with a mere momentary gloom, but with gloom long continued, day after day. It seems long indeed to them, for they have learned to seek their comfort in God alone, and without Him they can find none.
At such times God does not forget them — yet the light of His countenance is hidden. He is not changed — but they can see Him no longer. It was so with David when he wrote this psalm. It is so still at times with those who love God. God lets it be so.
Who the enemy was of whom David speaks, we do not know. But we have an enemy too — a spiritual enemy, the enemy of our souls. And one of his great objects is to rob us of the comfort of God's presence and to make us think that God forgets us and turns away His face from us. David thought of his enemy in his despondency; but we do not always think of ours. It would be well if we did. For then we would often be able to see that it was he who put these desponding and unbelieving thoughts into our hearts and made us think that God was forgetting us.
Alas! We often believe our enemy — more than our
friend. When God speaks comfort — we are slow to believe; when Satan
tempts to unbelief and despondency — how readily we listen! If we knew the
voice to be his and remembered what he is and what is his object — then
surely we should resist and not give way.
Long and sad were David's thoughts. "How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?" It is right to think at such times — to take counsel with our own hearts. It may be that we shall find something to account for our lack of comfort in God — some sin indulged, some carelessness, something wrong. It is right to "search and try our ways," but it is neither right nor wise to sit brooding over our sorrows.
We do not know exactly what David's thoughts were while he thus sorrowfully took counsel in his heart; most likely they were right thoughts. But this we see plainly — that it was not until he addressed himself to God that comfort came. He begins in great despondency, in a tone almost of complaint — yet he does address himself to God, and soon his tone changes. From complaint — he goes on to prayer.
His first petition is merely that God will attend to him: "Consider and hear me, O Lord my God." But even this was much. Just now he thought that God had forgotten him — but now he begs that He will remember him; there was some hope the moment he turned his thoughts toward God. The hope grows; the prayer becomes more like a prayer still.
Now he prays for a special blessing: "Enlighten my eyes —
lest I sleep the sleep of death." Here he lays before God his peculiar
trouble, the absence of God from his soul, the hiding of His face:
"Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death." Agreeing much with
that other prayer of his in the 28th Psalm, "Be not silent to me — lest if
You be silent to me, I become like those who go down into the pit." And
lastly, he prays directly and plainly about that which was, as it seems, the
chief source of his trouble and despondency, and beseeches God that his
enemy might not be able to boast that he had prevailed against him.
Thus we see a kind of progress in prayer, a going on step-by-step from the first cry to God — to a full petition for help and relief. And so it is in general. Prayer teaches prayer. Even while praying — we learn how to pray. Turn your desponding thoughts upward; no longer brood over your sorrows — speak of them to God in Christ, and at once a great step is gained. You have gone to God. You have approached the mercy-seat. You have placed yourself in the eternal presence. The very act has wrought a change.
Now you pray more. Your wants, your distresses, your
fears, your sorrows, take the form of prayer. You lay them before God. You
are able now to name them one by one. You ask God to relieve and help you.
You ask for the special blessings you stand in need of. While you looked
down on yourself and your sorrows — you were in gloom; now that you look up
— you can pray again, and a little light begins to appear.
Nay, more than a little. See how it was with David. How speedy, how almost sudden, the change in his tone! He desponds and he complains — then he looks up and he prays; and now at once we find him trusting, rejoicing, praising. "But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me." What was this but the answer to his prayer? God had not forgotten him — he knew it now. God's face was no longer hidden from him — it had only seemed to be so before.
Ah! Let us learn, in moments of despondency — to turn at once to God. Often it is one of the temptations of the evil one, to try to make us think that God will not hear us. But let us not listen to that father of lies. God will hear. For Jesus Christ's sake, who died for us, lives for us, pleads for us — God will hear us.
Yes, it is true, we are unworthy to pray; the enemy whispers it to us, and it is true. But shall we for that keep back from prayer? Never! Does not God invite the unworthy? Did not Jesus die for the unworthy? Has He not made open the way for them to the throne of grace, and does He not plead for them there? Yes, we are unworthy, and Satan would have our unworthiness keep us from prayer.
Rather let our unworthiness lead us to pray. If we need so much, if we need all — then let us pray the more. Let us go, all unworthy as we are, all sad and downcast — to God in prayer. Let us go in the Name of Jesus Christ, pleading His Name, resting on His merits — and truly we shall be heard. In all gloom, in all despondency, arising from whatever cause, it must be right; it is right, to pray. God is not offended even when we can but mourn and complain before Him, "How long, O Lord! How long?" He will surely hear us, when we pray to Him in truth: "Consider and hear me, O Lord my God."
We must pray for faith. We must seek to be able to say, "But I have trusted in Your mercy." In most cases, it is lack of faith which causes gloom. We must earnestly pray for faith, as a special gift of God, the work of the Holy Spirit. And then, in His own good time — joy and praise will follow. When we can trust — then we shall rejoice; and when we rejoice — we shall praise. For all is of God, His free and gracious gift to us in Christ Jesus — the light of His countenance, comfort in trouble, pardon and peace, happy thoughts returning, the humble assurance of His love — all is of His undeserved mercy! To Him be all the praise! "My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me."