Hear my prayer, O Lord,And let my cry for help come to You! Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress!Incline Your ear to me;In the day when I call, answer me quickly. For my days have vanished in smoke,And my bones have been scorched like a hearth. My heart has been struck like grass and withered,Indeed, [absorbed by my heartache] I forget to eat my food. Because of the sound of my groaning [in suffering and trouble]My bones cling to my flesh. I am like a [mournful] vulture of the wilderness;I am like a [desolate] owl of the wasteland. I am sleepless and lie awake [mourning],I have become like a lonely bird on a housetop. My enemies taunt me all day long;Those who ridicule me use my name as a curse. For I have eaten ashes like bread,And have mingled my drink with tears Because of Your indignation and Your wrath,For You have lifted me up and thrown me away. My days are like an evening shadow that lengthens and vanishes [with the sun];And as for me, I wither away like grass. But You, O Lord, are enthroned forever [ruling eternally as sovereign];And [the fame and glory of] Your name [endures] to all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion,For it is time to be gracious and show favor to her;Yes, the appointed time [the moment designated] has come. For Your servants find [melancholy] pleasure in the stones [of her ruins]And feel pity for her dust. So the nations will fear the name of the Lord,And all the kings of the earth [will recognize] Your glory. For the Lord has built up Zion;He has appeared in His glory and brilliance; He has regarded the prayer of the destitute,And has not despised their prayer. Let this be recorded for the generation to come,That a people yet to be created will praise the Lord. For He looked down from His holy height [of His sanctuary],From heaven the Lord gazed on the earth, To hear the sighing of the prisoner,To set free those who were doomed to death, So that people may declare the name of the Lord in ZionAnd His praise in Jerusalem, When the peoples are gathered together,And the kingdoms, to serve the Lord. He has exhausted my strength [humbling me with sorrow] in the way;He has shortened my days. I said, “O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days;Your years are [eternal] throughout all generations. “At the beginning You founded the earth;The heavens are the work of Your hands. “Even they will perish, but You endure;Yes, all of them will wear out like a garment.Like clothing You will change them and they shall be changed. “But You remain the same,And Your years will never end. “The children of Your servants will continue,And their descendants will be established before You.”
The superscription to Psalm 102 identifies it as the “prayer of an afflicted man when he is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord.” No other psalm has such a heading.
You know the cru is authentic when you see the word “faint” following that of “affliction.” Weakness, not strength, describes the person lashed with adversity. In such a season you can’t really start your prayer with high praise. A cry for help is much more appropriate.(verse 1). If there were immediate answers for your desperate dilemma, you wouldn’t be distraught as you begin your prayer.
The opening cry of Psalm 102 for help includes a hope that God hasn’t turned His back on us and that He will quickly answer. We we hurt badly, time drags on. There are two words for time the Greeks had: chronos and kairos. Chronos time is the endless tick-tick-tick of the clock, chronological progression, the long wait for something wonderful or dreadful.
But kairos time, on the other hand, is a season. In it we can enjoy so much that we lose track of chronos time altogether. When, however, we are in emotional pain, there’s no kairos for our lives are so burdened down that each second feels like hours, each day months and every month decades. This is why the psalmist cries out, “answer me quickly”- chronos time is a terrible place and burden.
The story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 mirrors Psalm 102 as both she and the psalmist pour out the anguish of their souls. Perhaps we have felt similar pain?
The symptoms of such a place include the following:
A sense of nothing accomplished: “days vanish like smoke.”
Deep bodily aches from the trauma: “my bones burn like glowing embers.”
A intense desert-like condition in emotion, intellect, and will: “my heart is blighted and withered like grass. “
No appetite accompanied by weight loss: “I forget to eat….I am reduced to skins and bones. “
A sense of desolation alongside sleeplessness: “an owl among the ruins….a bird alone.”
Acute sense of hurt from the treatment of others: “enemies taunt me…rail against me.”
Food is tasteless and the dinner table depressing: “I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears.”
The feeling that even God has turned away from us: “because of your great wealth…you have….thrown me aside.”
Experiencing gloom and personal darkness: “my days are like the evening shadow; I wither away.”
What an awful description of such a place of soul desolation and brokenness in spirit!
But we must not end our prayer here at verse eleven. We must continue on to the next segment of Psalm 102:12-22. Our pain and struggle is real but God’s power is more real; our time may be short but God reigns eternal(verse 12). He isn’t uncaring or unfeeling toward us(verses 13-14) and surely the One who holds power over the nations(verse 15) and rebuilds Zion(verse 16) will also respond to our personal needs.(verse 17).
When we take a long look down the road, what does the final chapters of our lives say? That God has failed us? Absolutely not! Decades later our biographies will declare the testimonies of how God has delivered and kept us in our times of profound vulnerabilities(verses 18-22). Faith allows us to skip ahead to see that glorious day when we are no longer in the dark tunnel.
Sounds like a success story or an old movie where everything turns out right in the end. But just as we shouldn’t stop at verse eleven, nether should we stop at verse 22. In verse 23 the psalmist relapses straight back into the pit of despair and depression. We too, shouldn’t be surprised when we vacillate in our feelings of hurt. Pain will somehow keep slipping into our praise. We may even blame God for what has happened to us(verse 23). But we can learn from the psalmist. In the moments of despair, we need to keep talking to the Lord. In doing so we will be absolutely amazed at the powerful words of faith the Holy Spirit puts into our hearts immediately following our words of hopelessness. It is out of the feeling of being “cut off” that springboards the psalmist into making one of the most memorable expressions of God’s eternity ever expressed-“you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain….(verse 25).
Sometimes false advice is given to us when we are struggling with hurts. We may be told to express our pain or to deny it: “Just praise God and everything will be all right.” But some days, in the midst of pain those words of advice may seem glib and superficial. They may even to feeling condemned because we don’t feel like we have enough faith.
But this isn’t correct. Psalm 102 shows us that God permits us to be human. We are free to tell Him how badly we really feel. We can tell Him our doubts. He’ll even let us blame Him for our problems, but if we continue talking to Him, He’ll talk with us. During those times the Holy Spirit will intersect our words of despair with the language of hope and faith.
Ultimately, He will bring us to a final position of confidence. Psalm 102 closes not with the thought of days “cut short”(verse 23), but of an enduring posterity(verse 28). The last bounce is up!
Dr. John Thompson