Gloom, despair, and agony on me.
Deep, Dark depression, excessive misery!
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all!
Gloom, despair, and agony on me.

This farcical song of lament was popular on the television show Hee Haw while I was a kid in the 1970s. It reflects, however, the element of lament that is the most popular form of literature in the book of Psalms. There are times we cry out to God in desperation. Psalm 13 is one such passage.

The psalmist is dejected and confused in his time of despair. “How long?” he asks God four times. When will this end? As humans, we all have external struggles and troubles of life that begin to cause internal doubts as we wrestle with conflicting thoughts and eventually prompt spiritual concern about the presence of God and his lack of response to our prayers. The psalmist focuses on all three issues (external, internal, spiritual), but he inverts them and begins first and foremost with a prayerful address to God. His prayer is about his dread of God’s absence, his anxiety created by conflicting thoughts and emotions, and his fear of his enemy’s triumph. In our minds we can package these into nice little groupings of “external,” “internal,” and “spiritual,” but in reality, we are human. These fears and concerns are all intertwined and build upon and incite one another.

Second, the psalmist desperately cries out to God. It would be easy to claim God has abandoned us. If he is all loving, why does he allow my suffering? If he is just, why does he allow my enemy to overpower me? But we live in a broken and fallen world, not the fantasy of a thirty minute sitcom. Some struggles and problems are not quickly resolved. But the psalmist prays in the midst of his darkness. “How long?” he asks. “Look at me!” he demands. “Respond to me!” he pleads. He will not give up on God. He will not deny God but confesses his dependence of the Lord. Whether he overcomes his enemy or is destroyed, God has been and will remain, “my God!”

Finally, the psalmist is determined to be committed. There is a shift in the psalm to an emphasis on trusting God in the midst of the storm. He will trust in God’s steadfast love–the love evidenced time and again through the history of the Israelite people. He will rejoice in God’s salvation even when he doesn’t presently see it. He will sing of the bounty God has blessed him with even when it isn’t in all the fullness he would wish.

Because of God’s faithfulness in the past, the psalmist refuses to accept a present apart from God or imagine the future apart from God’s salvation. Martin Luther said of Psalm 13 that it is “the state in which hope despairs, and yet despair hopes at the same time; and all that lives is ‘the groaning that cannot be uttered’ wherewith the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us, brooding over the waters shrouded in darkness.” Or, as the man in desperation cried out to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24, NIV). In the midst of desperation, we have hope because Christ. On the cross he felt abandoned by God yet he entrusted his spirit to his Father; he felt betrayed by the humans he had come to save but asked his Father to forgive them. And he trusted his Father would raise him back to life even when all hope seemed lost. So our hope in in Christ. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Cor 4:11, NIV).

19th Century preacher Charles Spurgeon and a friend, walking through the English countryside, came across a barn and stood looking at the weather vane on top. It read “God is Love.” Spurgeon said he did not think it was appropriate to put such a statement on a weather vane, for the vane is quite changeable but God’s love is unchanging. His friend, however, told him he misunderstood the meaning of the farmer. The weather vane stated a truth: no matter which way the wind might blow, God . . . IS . . . love! It doesn’t matter if a cool breeze indicates a good season or happy time, or hot winds bring desolation or a dry period, or a ferocious gale points toward a chaotic and stormy period in your life. God is love, and Christ is our guide pointing the way through.

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Sermon link
Psalm 13 “In the Darkness of Despair”

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