We’ve all noticed that we’re living in troubling times. The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted fear and anxiety. For some of us it has created painful loss. Like a student I had last semester, whose hospital worker Dad caught the virus in early Spring and died a month later. She’s not just struggling with stress and isolation but grief and sorrow. On top of that, the lockdown has caused massive economic upheaval and instability. Of course, beyond this, there’s the racial protests caused by the tragic death of George Floyd, the violence and anarchy in our city streets, and the political tension which is greater than any other time in my lifetime. And some of us can add personal problems to this list: health challenges, family upheaval, and personal depression and loneliness. It’s no wonder that many of us have troubled hearts.
A friend of mine pointed out Psalm 77 to me. It’s a psalm for troubled hearts. When I read it, it felt as if I’ve never seen it before but it gave me terrific encouragement. So for this week and next, I thought we should take a look at it together—to see what hope we have in these troubling times.
Psalm 77 was written by Asaph, who served as a musician in the courts of both King David (1 Chron 15:19; 16:5) and King Solomon (2 Chron 5:12). It’s unclear what difficulties were distressing him, but he gives us a great model of how to respond to trying times.
First, we need to express our prayers to God when our hearts are troubled. This is found in the first six verses of the Psalm.
1 I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and He will hear me.
2 I sought the Lord in my day of trouble.
My hands were continually lifted up all night long;
I refused to be comforted.
3 I think of God; I groan; I meditate; my spirit becomes weak. Selah
4 You have kept me from closing my eyes; I am troubled and cannot speak.
5 I consider days of old, years long past.
6 At night I remember my music; I meditate in my heart, and my spirit ponders.
Take a look at all the words about prayer: “I cry aloud” (v. 1); “I sought the Lord” (v. 2); “I think of God” and “I meditate” (v. 3). Too often when we become distressed and downcast, the last thing we want to do is to pray. It feels as if no one is listening and we’re just talking to the ceiling. So we quit. But Asaph’s example is that the worse we feel, the more we need to pray.
And not only does he give us a model of persistent prayer but he reminds us to be honest with God in prayer. Look at the psalmist’s transparency before the Lord. In verse 2 he says he sought God but he “refused to be comforted.” He says that when he thinks of God, he “groan[s]” and his “spirit becomes weak” (v. 3). He says he is “troubled and cannot speak” (v. 4). And then he expresses all his doubts in verses 7-10:
7 “Will the Lord reject forever and never again show favor?
8 Has His faithful love ceased forever?
Is His promise at an end for all generations?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has He in anger withheld His compassion?”Selah
10 So I say, “I am grieved that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
Maybe we neglect prayer when we’re troubled because we fear that God is not strong enough to hear of our pain and struggles. Perhaps we don’t want to offend Him by describing our difficulties and our doubts. This psalmist knew better. He knew that God was powerful and loving and longing to hear His children call to Him with complete honesty about their true feelings and struggles.
Besides praying, we’re reminded also to review God’s tremendous works. Listen to verses 11-12:
11 I will remember the Lord’s works; yes, I will remember Your ancient wonders.
12 I will reflect on all You have done and meditate on Your actions.
Look at those verbs: “remember,” “reflect,” and “meditate” on God’s great deeds. Asaph goes on to review the Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea. It struck me that Asaph lived 400 years after the Exodus. The only way he could remember, reflect and meditate was by reading the book of Exodus. When we’re troubled and want to understand God’s true character of love and compassion, like Asaph, we need to go back to the Scriptures so we can learn what He’s really like. The amazing part of this is that, besides prayer, the second practice we most commonly abandon when we have troubled hearts is reading the Word. That’s the exact opposite of what we need to do. Reading the Bible gives us a reality check and reminds us of what is true. It drives us from our feelings to the true facts.
Asaph spent time in the Word and made five discoveries about God’s nature. We’ll talk about them next week. In fact, why not consider spending this week reading Psalm 77 daily and meditating on it. But until next week, if you’re like me, and you’re struggling with a troubled heart these days, let’s make two commitments: To pray to God consistently and honestly and to read the Bible thoughtfully and regularly. These two action steps are the true source of hope to all of us with troubled hearts.