A Prayer of One Afflicted

Psalm 102 is introduced in the Hebrew text by the superscription: “A prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.”  Whether one feels weakened by old age, illness, or persecution, there is a point of connection with this prayer, for all of these struggles are represented in it.  You may want to read the psalm before continuing.

It’s true of every day, that, “This is the day that he Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24a), but at least in our experience, some days are better than others.  There are times when we feel full of life, spacious and satisfied, with plenteous joy and peace.  Then we may wake one day to find that we’re weighed down, discouraged, restless, or fed up.  Days seem long, and nights longer.  You lie awake in loneliness or feel too depressed even to eat.  You watch as the days pass like a shadow in the evening and your life seems to wither away like grass.

The first half of this psalm is dominated by this meditation on the brevity and frailty of life.  But then there is a sudden shift: “But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; your name endures to all generations.”  Now the temporal and weak nature of our lives are set against the eternal and strong reign of God.  This shift in the psalm reveals the importance of faith convictions in the face of painful circumstances.  When what we experience doesn’t line up with what we believe we can find orientation and strength by naming, by confessing, what we believe about God.

What’s more, this eternal God “will regard the prayer of the destitute” and “hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die.”  In prayer, God’s eternality meets our mortality with grace and salvation.  In your loneliness and pain, God hears your cry, even the faintest whisper of a groan or a tired sigh.  God regards, that is, he compassionately pays attention to your life, and he will not dismiss your prayers.  There is a touching example of this in relation to the plight of the people of Israel when enslaved in Egypt (Exod. 2:23-25, ESV):

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

That’s what it means for God to “regard” our prayers.  God sees.  And God knows.  And as the exodus story bears out, God acts.

There are two points of good news that emerge from this psalm.  First, God’s eternal nature and kingdom become the foundation of our life’s hope.  Our weakness is set in the context of God’s power; our brief life in the context of his eternal kingdom.  And in Christ’s death and resurrection, God shares this eternal kingdom and life with us! Moreover, by the Holy Spirit, we have God’s own life living in us – right now!

Secondly, there is an enduring influence that gives purpose to your life even when, like this psalmist, you feel old, sick, persecuted, abandoned, lonely…whatever.  “Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord.”  Your testimony to who God is, to what he has done for you, leaves a touchstone of faith for future generations.  Your influence can extend to younger generations, even those you’ve never met, even those who have yet to be born.  Your faithfulness to the end gives them material from which to develop a robust faith of their own.

So may you cry out to the Lord your God in your time of need.  May you know that he hears you, sees you, knows you, and loves you, right where you are.  May you find the strength to speak his praises, to tell of his goodness and steadfast love, to set a witness for future generations that will lead them, with you, into God’s kingdom.  And may you know the strength and peace of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

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