I pray to you, Lord God,
and I beg you to listen.
In days filled with trouble,
I search for you.
And at night I tirelessly
lift my hands in prayer,
Our Lord, I will remember
the things you have done,
your miracles of long ago.
I will think about each one
of your mighty deeds.
Everything you do is right,
and no other god
compares with you.
You alone work miracles,
and you have let nations
see your mighty power.
With your own arm you rescued
your people, the descendants
of Jacob and Joseph.
The ocean looked at you, God,
and it trembled deep down
Water flowed from the clouds.
Thunder was heard above
as your arrows of lightning
Your thunder roared
like chariot wheels.
The world was made bright
and all the earth trembled.
You walked through the water
of the mighty sea,
but your footprints
were never seen.
You guided your people
like a flock of sheep,
and you chose Moses and Aaron
to be their leaders. (Contemporary English Version)
We all have experienced what it means to be in distress. Whether it is physical pain, financial stress, mental agony, spiritual duress, or emotional overwhelm, the feeling of being distressed is inevitably a part of the human condition.
Questions abound whenever we are in throes of distress: What do I do? How do I cope? From where does my help come? Is there hope? Will this ever go away? Why is this happening?
We don’t know what the psalmist’s distress was, but he was in trouble up to his eyeballs and as anxious as can be. His feeling of being trapped and caught between a rock and hard place was palpable. So, he looked for deliverance.
In 1937, the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber wrote an insightful book entitled “I and Thou.” Buber postulated how people exist in the world and how they actualize that existence. We engage the world through both monologue and dialogue. For Buber, “all real living is meeting.” In other words, to exist, to live, is to encounter another and relate to a “Thou.” We only have meaning in relationships. We only have our being in God.
The psalmist acknowledges there is a “Thou” besides his distressed “I” – that this Thou will hear, make a difference, and open a way of deliverance. There are four actions the psalmist decides to do in his distress, actions which put him in a vital dialogue with the divine “Thou.”
Prayer, at its heart, is a dialogue with God. From the place of our spiritual poverty and bankruptcy, we beg; and God gives us the kingdom. To be a spiritual beggar, pleading for our needs to be met, knowing we have no way to repay, is a posture which God delights in.
Great blessings belong to those who know they are spiritually in need. God’s kingdom belongs to them. (Matthew 5:3, ERV)
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matthew 5:3, MSG)
In the I and Thou relationship, the search works both ways.
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways….
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:1-2, 23-24, NIV)
Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8, NRSV)
The psalmist intentionally sought to recall the mighty works of God, especially in delivering the people from slavery and bringing them to the Promised Land. In our forgetfulness, we get lost in our troubles and our perspective becomes skewed. We cannot see beyond the end of our nose. Remembering, however, grants us a fuller picture of what is happening in light of the past. It brings us out of the lonely “I” and into the relationship of “I and Thou.”
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering.
Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:32-36, NIV)
Pondering and thinking upon God’s deeds enables praise to arise from us. It fosters the I and Thou relationship, bolstering and buoying our faith through life-events which produce our distress.
I lie awake thinking of you,
meditating on you through the night.
Because you are my helper,
I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 63:6-7, NLT)
Thou Art Worthy
The psalm ends with no resolution to the personal distress of the psalmist.
Whether there is a happy ending, or not, isn’t the point. It’s the process, the journey of moving through our troubles and discovering lessons from both the presence and the absence of God, which makes all the difference. We learn to pray, search, remember, and meditate because of and despite our troubles. We learn to relate to God and proclaim that Thou art worthy.
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Revelation 4:11, KJV)