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April
30
2017

"How Long, O Lord"

“How Long O Lord?”

Psalm 13 

Read Psalm 13:1-4. Can we get real? My heart is heavy…and it’s not just about one thing; it’s a lot of things. It usually is, isn’t it?  A lot has happened recently that has my heart troubled Can I just unload on you for just a second and tell you some stuff that weighs me down right now?

  • Polly and Brett Wardlaw are facing some horrific circumstances related to her pregnancy. The doctor says the baby is dying and will not survive.
  • Our friend, Mike Warren, is suffering with congestive heart failure at Methodist Olive Branch
  • Joyce Snider’s husband, B.J. is in the hospital with stage 4 lung cancer.
  • Our friends, Don and Michelle Herin, are going through some difficult times and need to hear clearly from God on what to do next.
  • Stephanie Bowen (from 11 am service) was laid off last week.
  • Others in our community are dealing with serious health issues, like Vic Crain, Kevin Moody, and Bruce McCoy, to name a few.
  • Cassie and I are facing our own personal struggles, as I’m sure many of you are.
  • The denomination I’ve known and loved all my life is fractured and facing a very uncertain future
  • Our nation faces possible wars on several fronts—N. Korea, Syria, & Russia.  More than ever, there is the real possibility of World War III in our lifetimes.

 

In the midst of all of these issues, sometimes it seems that God is silent.  He’s not answering when we call.  Or, we pray for things to change, and for some it gets worse!  Can anyone relate, or is this message just for me? {it’s okay if it is…God still wants me to speak it AND hear it!}

 

We talk a lot about prayer at Byhalia Church. At the beginning of Lent, we opened up a community prayer room where the people of God can gather any time, 24-7, in a sacred space.  [I encourage you to take advantage of the 24-7 prayer room. Yes, we can pray at home, work, etc., but there’s something special…supernatural…by using a consecrated space to enter the throne room of God.]

 

Every year, I try to give several weeks out of the year to focus on the activity of prayer…talking and listening to God.  Not long ago we used what is commonly called, “The Lord’s Prayer,” as our launching pad. 

A few years ago, I preached another series in which we talked about how we should pray regularly, whole-heartedly, sincerely, and specifically.  In that series we talked about those difficult times when we don’t hear from God?  When God is silent, what do we do?  What happens when our prayers don’t get answered?  This morning I want to circle back to that question, “How Long, O Lord?”

 

Have you ever prayed for something and nothing happened? Sure you have…

  • You asked God to give you direction…but no direction seem to come?
  • Maybe you prayed to have a child, and a child never came…
  • Or you prayed that your friend’s marriage to be reconciled, but it didn’t…
  • You needed an answer about a job opportunity, but no answer came.

 

To me, the hardest part of my prayer life is unanswered prayers.

  • I once prayed fervently for a godly woman with cancer, and she died anyway
  • I prayed for my home church to reconcile with a former pastor, but it never did
  • I’ve currently been praying Byhalia UMC in very specific ways, and still I have not seen God move and/or have not heard an answer.

 

What are we to make of a “Silent God”? I don’t have all the answers for you this morning.  We can’t talk this out for a few minutes and reach a tidy conclusion. But I hope that after we examine a few areas of Scripture and allow God to minister to our hearts, we can leave this place ready and willing for God to be God, even when God doesn’t “seem” to be at work at all.

 

King David seemingly had it all.  Little shepherd boy---seventh son of Jesse of Bethlehem turned King of Israel.  David was promised that through him a king would reign forever.  What problems could he possibly have?  Well, he had plenty.  When you’re on top, you’re an easy target to your enemies. People wanted him dead, including his predecessor, King Saul, and even his own son Absalom, who murdered one of David’s other sons, Amnon, for raping their sister Tamar.

 

It seems that even David felt alone and abandoned by God. “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?”  David was a praying man.  It wasn’t as though he occasionally threw up a pray to “the man upstairs” and went about living his life on his terms.  No!  David meditated on the word of God day and night.  He loved to go into the Temple to worship.  This was a very “religious” man.  And STILL David had times where he felt God was far removed from his circumstances.

Here’s what can happen when bad things happen.  Our situation can go from bad to worse and it can stay that way for so long that depression sets in.  We get alone with our thoughts and imagine no way out of the situation.  Every possible outcome is bad.  This is how David put it: “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart.”  In another psalm of lament David says this: I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.  Have you ever felt like David?  I surely have.

 

We come to a place where we imagine that no one has any answers and even their advice seems like salt in our wounds.  We don’t WANT their advice!  We don’t want to hear about their own struggles!  We just want the pain to be gone!  We just want the wrongs to be righted!  It can seem like everybody is against us (even when they are not).

 

Job of the Old Testament had that problem.  In one of the most horrific stories of loss you will read in the Bible—when God tests Job by allowing him to lose his children, his business, and even his health.  Job maintained his innocence at causing such tragedy to occur on him, but his friends insisted that he must have done something to displease God.  Basically, they thought if he confessed his sins, then God would restore fortune to Job.  But Job didn’t want to hear their advice.  He just wanted answers.  He wanted to know WHY does bad things happen to good people?

 

Isn’t that the question we still ask?  Why would an innocent baby not even be given a chance to make it?  Why does famine and disease kill millions every year when there’s enough food and medicine to prevent it?  Why do dictators gas his own people?  Why do good people lose their jobs?  Why does a healthy person get cancer?  Why do hurricanes, tornados, floods, and earthquakes suddenly destroy lives and property?  Why?

 

The prophet Habakkuk wanted to know.  In fact, he gets rather frustrated when he asked God this question: How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. Habakkuk 1:2. There’s a conflict in Habakkuk’s mind: Injustice in Israel and God’s response or lack thereof

  • First: How can the people of Israel get away with evil and God not do anything about it?
  • Second: When God says he will use the Babylonians to destroy Judah, Habakkuk can’t reconcile using a more evil, pagan nation to do God’s bidding.

 

 

Basically, Habakkuk questions God over the perverted sense of justice in Judah.  In the case of Habakkuk, God replies with a REVELATION, not an explanation:

  • That’s what we need in times of doubt…we need a NEW VIEW OF GOD
  • God doesn’t OWE us an explanation…but He is gracious to reveal Himself (his character/nature) and His work to those who truly seek Him.

God tells Habakkuk He is sending Babylonians to destroy Judah for their sinfulness.  Habakkuk then wants to know why God would use a “greater evil” like Babylon to destroy a lesser evil like Judah. God then assures Habakkuk that the evil will be brought to justice, but not soon.

 This vision is for a future time.  It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.  If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place.  It will not be delayed.

 

And this is often our problem…WAITING!

  • Impulsive…impetuous…impatient…this can define many of us.
  • We live micro-wave, 5-second sound bite lives.  We have a need, we can get it met with the click of a mouse!
  • Trouble is, God doesn’t use broadband to answer our prayers…He doesn’t try to solve our problems in 60 minutes or less, like a TV series.
  • God has ALL the time in the world!  God’s clock has more digits…His calendar has more months and years…and it’s up to us to get in step with His time, not vice versa

 

Let me affirm in YOU what God says to Habakkuk: If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place.  There’s no “magic pill” for patience.  Active waiting is hard.  It’s sometimes lonely.  It’s frustrating.  But it may be the very thing that is needed to see real change in our lives.

 

If you are seeking God’s will and believe God’s Word is true for your life, then He WILL bring it to pass.

  • Isaiah prophesied of Judah’s destruction over 100 years before it happened
  • Then he prophesied the coming of Christ 650 years before he was born in Bethlehem!
  • EXAMPLE: Asbury College Revival (Feb. 3, 1970)…two women prayed daily for years…revival then went on for weeks!
  • God DOES want you to be free from that sinful behavior…God DOES want you to be in the center of His activity in the world…God DOES love Christ-centered relationships and blesses them

 

So, what do you do if God has not yet revealed an answer or direction? Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church suggests there are at least 3 reasons God seems silent:

  1. NO!  For whatever reason God has, the answer you are seeking is “NO”.  It could be…
  2. Because what you are asking is not in YOUR best interest. 
  3. Because your prayer is not in keeping with His will.  “Your kingdom come,” remember?
  4. Because your prayer will hinder someone else’s relationship with God.  When Cassie was seeking a job and got turned down at a few places, it was easy to think, “Why me, Lord?”  But could it be that God was needing to bless other candidates, and He knew Cassie could endure awhile longer.

 

  1. 2.     SLOW. When our request is ill-timed, God may have us wait.  Other things may need to occur first. God can see what we cannot.
  2. a.     God answers Habakkuk in Chapter 2, verse 4à  “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked.  But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.”

                       i.      Paul uses that turn of phrase in Rom 1:17 & Gal. 3:11, and so does the writer of Hebrews (10:38)

                     ii.      It takes FAITH to TRUST in God even when He seems to be silent.

 

  1. GROW! There are times when we need to be in a different space with God, with others, and even with ourselves before God will give us the desires of our heart.
  2. Moses ran from Egypt after murdering a task master.  He was in no condition to lead 1 million slaves out of captivity. It took 40 more years!
  3. God is MORE interested in WHO we BECOME than what we do.
  4. Ask God, “What do I need to learn from this situation?”

                       i.      Ask God reveal more of his character, his purposes, and his ways.

                     ii.      Ask him to reveal more of your own sin-nature and blind spots.  Where do I need to grow spiritually before I can move forward?

 

Listen to what David says in the last two verses of Psalm 13: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”  David has not received relief from his situation.  He still has enemies.  He still has worries and doubts.  He still feels God has not answered him.  AND YET….David trusts…David rejoices…David sings….David worships the Lord for his unfailing love and goodness.  This is a place of GROWTH!

 

At the end of Habakkuk (3:17-18), the prophet offers what I believe to be the greatest hymn of faith in the OT: Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord!  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!”

 

Do you see it?  Our attitude toward God cannot be dependent upon our circumstances.  Bad things happen to ALL people.  Life is hard…uncertain… unfair… unpredictable.  We cannot allow our circumstances to change our posture toward God.  Why?  Because we have a hope in the one who holds our future.  This place is NOT our home.  The scales of justice may seem tilted against us now, but God will NOT forsake us nor leave his people!  And Church, we ARE his people!

 

Romans 8:31-39 gives voice to this truth. [READ FROM BIBLE]

 

CONCLUSIONWe GROW when we learn to wait, watch, and worship! When our motives are correct; when God’s timing is right, and when God believes we are ready, THEN we may hear from God, “GO! Accomplish that dream. Fulfill that purpose. Make that career change. Marry that person. Adopt that child.”  The antidote for Impatience: FAITH.  The Bible repeatedly tells us that the righteous will live by faith. Q: How long, O Lord, must I call for help? A: If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place.

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