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 cry is authentic when you see the word "faint" following that of "afflicted." Weakness, not strength, describes the person lashed with adversity. In such a season you really can't start your prayer with high praise. A cry for help is much more appropriate (v. 1). If there were immediate answers for your desperate dilemma, you wouldn't be distraught as you begin your prayer.
The Cry for Help
You hope God hasn't turned His back on you and that He will answer quickly (v. 2).
When you hurt badly, time drags. The Greeks had two words for time: 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 is a season. It can be so enjoyable you lose track of chronos time altogether. When you are in emotional pain, there's no kairos—your life is so burdened that each second seems as an hour, each minute a day, each day a month, and each month a year. That's why the psalmist asks God to do something quickly—chronos time is a terrible burden and tedium.
The psalmist, like Hannah in the sting of her broken circumstances (1 Sam. 1:15), pours out the anguish of his soul to God (vv. 3–11). Have you felt similar pain?
A sense of accomplishing nothing: "Days vanish like smoke."
Deep bodily aches from the trauma: "My bones burn like glowing embers." A Sahara-desert condition in your emotions, intellect, and will: "my heart is blighted and withered like grass."
No appetite, followed by weight loss: "I forget to eat ... I am reduced to skin and bones."
Sleeplessness alongside a sense of desolation: "an owl among the ruins ... a bird alone."
Acute sense of hurt over what someone else has done to you: "Enemies taunt me ... rail against me."
Meals are tasteless and the dinner table is depressing: "I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears."
Feeling even God has turned against you: "because of your great wrath ... you have ... thrown me aside."
Gloom and personal darkness: "my days are like the evening shadow; I wither away."
How awful to be in such desolation of soul and brokenness in spirit!
You must not end your prayer at verse 11 when you hurt. Look at the next segment of this psalm (vv. 12-22). Your pain is real, but so is God's power; your time is short, but God reigns eternal (v. 12). He's not unfeeling toward you (vv. 13-14). Surely He who holds power over the nations (v. 15) and rebuilds Zion (v. 16) will also respond to your personal need (v. 17).
Take a long look down the road. What will the final chapters of your life say? That God failed you? Oh, no. Decades later your biography will contain the testimony of how God kept and delivered you in this time of profound vulnerability (vv. 18–22).
Faith allows you to skip ahead and see that glorious day when you are no longer in the tunnel.
Dealing with the Relapses
From his expression of strong confidence in God, the Psalmist plunges straight back into the pit of depression. Don't be surprised about your vacillating feelings when you hurt. Pain will keep slicing into praise. You may even blame God for what happened to you (v. 23).
Learn from the psalmist. In those moments of despair, keep talking to the Lord. You'll be absolutely amazed at the words of powerful faith the Holy Spirit puts in your heart immediately following your own statement of hopelessness. The feeling of being "cut off" (v. 24) actually springboards the psalmist into making one of the most memorable statements of God's eternity ever expressed (vv. 25-27).
Sometimes false counsel is given to believers who are struggling with hurts. You may have been told to repress your pain or deny it: "Just praise God and everything will be all right." But there are days when that advice seems glib and superficial. Are you therefore condemned because you don't have enough faith?
Not at all. This psalm shows you that God permits you to be human. You are free to tell Him how badly you really feel. You can also tell Him your doubts. He'll even let You blame Him for your problems. As you continue to talk with Him, He'll be talking with you. The Holy Spirit will intersect your words of despair with the language of faith and hope.
Ultimately, He will bring you to a final position of confidence. The psalmist closes not with the thought of days "cut short" (v. 23), but of an enduring posterity (v. 28). The last bounce of the ball is up.
George O. Wood is the General Superintendent of The Assemblies of God.
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