How Long, Lord?
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Psalm 13:1-2 (NIV)
Anxiety engulfed me. Sitting up in bed, I fought to breathe.
This time it centered around our move to North Carolina. How would we move Mom there? What about her hospital bed? How could we load it into the moving truck and still have a place for her to sleep? What about our son who remained behind?
Ever feel like that?
That’s what I thought.
Where does anxiety come from and why do I struggle so much with it?
It helps to know that King David suffered from anxiety. Seems like he had a better reason—people were constantly trying to kill him. Usually, I’m just worried about what others think of me, or if we will finally be able to take a vacation.
Many times, I worry about my adult children. Those are the thoughts I struggle with the most.
A pastor I enjoy says all sin stems from unbelief. The more I’ve chewed on that, the more I’m convinced.
Do I really believe the Lord has my best in mind? Do I really believe He is sovereign? Can He protect my children? Does He really love me in spite of myself—my sin?
The Bible shouts a resounding “Yes!” to all of the above.
Still, I doubt. And worry.
What is the antidote? Thank God, He has given us His answer. It is found in Philippians 4:6-7,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
Prayer brings me to the heart of God and the truth about myself. The more I understand God, His Word, and the priceless message of salvation, the more I comprehend my unworthiness. This brings me to my knees in much-needed humility and lifts God up to His rightful place of worship.
As my anxious heart prays to a forgiving, loving, faithful God, I begin to taste His peace.
Beth Moore said once that she began to thank God for His answers before He answered. And the verses above command us to pray with thanksgiving.
I’ve begun to do that in my prayer life. I have prayer cards with Scripture verses for each of my family members. As I pray the verse back to the Lord, I thank Him for how He will answer.
I look back on the awesome ways He has answered in the past—ways I could not have imagined—above all I could ask or even think.
Funny thing, as I pray, peace comes. It did for King David, too.
And it will for you.
How Long, O Lord?
“How long will my enemy triumph over me?“ Psalm 13:2b (NIV)
When I reached my 30s, I remember praying “How long, Lord?” as I filled out yet another change of address form.
During several years of job and life transitions, I’d filled out my share of these. I needed to have a list of my previous addresses nearby just to remember them all, and it drove me insane when the gas station pumps began requiring zip codes to make a transaction. My biological family had painfully broken apart years ago, and now everywhere I turned, I was reminded I had no place to call home.
Why, God, am I still living out of a suitcase? How long is this going to be my life?
These were honest prayers, raw prayers, and I had to go on a journey with God to learn it was OK to pray them at all.
For much of my life, I thought to question God was to doubt Him. I had learned to trust in His sovereignty, and desired God’s will for my life over my own. But somewhere along the path of obedience, my questioning ceased, and so did my laments.
Lament is a passionate expression of grief where God meets us in our time of sorrow. Lamenting prayers are prayers where we express our honest emotions before God. God wants to hear us, even on our bad days, and He is always open to our honest prayers.
One example of a lament found in Scripture is when the Psalmist cries out to God, asking: How long?
“How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1, NIV)
Have you ever lamented how long to God? How long must you be in angst? How long before you see your children come to the Lord? How long must you stay in a job that doesn’t satisfy you?
David’s how long lament shows we will sometimes feel forgotten, and even forsaken by God. Notice that this lament isn’t silenced by a happy-go-lucky song in church, or dismissed by an uncomprehending friend. David’s lament is taken directly to God in the form of prayer. In Scripture God permits us to lament, and as we cry out to him in lament, He answers.
The Psalmist continued, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2a)
God gives us permission to present our honest questions before Him. He knows we will have anxious thoughts and troubling circumstances. It is what we do in these lamenting times that matter.
Unfortunately, I am guilty of often gossiping about God instead of taking my honest laments before Him in prayer. As a child of God, we can take our questions directly to God, even while our hearts are still filled with pain.
Why is she getting married, and I am still single?
Why is her life blessed, and I am still struggling?
Why is my sorrow unending, with no change in sight?
What are your how long prayers right now? Do you have permission to express them in the context of a Christian community, and have you given yourself permission to lament them directly to God?
We are all blessed with good things in life, and many of us are simultaneously struggling. As God’s people, we can experience multiple emotions at once. In a later Psalm, David laments as a form of confession, while at the same time asking God’s help to give Him praise.
“Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.” (Psalm 51:15, NIV)
There is no “fake it ‘til you make it” in Scripture. Lamenting gives our honest cries to God and gives Him the opportunity to comfort us when everything is not fine. Being “fine” is never to be our goal with God, however, intimacy and transparency are.
As we take our laments directly to God, He will meet us right where we are … not where we pretend to be. Keeping our laments inside will cause us to shut down, displace emotions, isolate ourselves or stop praying altogether. What a generous God who has invited us to lament “how long” and modeled this language to us directly.
Peter tells us that “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness” (2 Peter 3:9). At some point, each of us joins the “some” group. We reach places where it’s painfully clear that our sense of time-urgency must be different than God’s. And it is. We prefer to measure time in minutes, rather than months. But the Ancient of Days measures time by millennia (2 Peter 3:8).
God knows that he sometimes appears slow to us, which is one merciful reason he gave us the Bible. This book, which God took millennia to assemble, shows us that God is not slow, but patient in working out his redemptive purposes in the best ways (2 Peter 3:9). And it shows that he is compassionate toward us when we wait for him for what seems like a long time.
Not as Some Count Slowness
Abraham and Sarah were not only the parents of all of God’s faith-children (Romans 4:16); their lives are perhaps the most famous picture of God’s redemptive purposes in what seems like his painfully slow pace.
Abram (as he was first called) was already 75 years old when God promised to make him a great nation that would bless all the families of the earth and to give his offspring the land of the Canaanites (Genesis 12:1–3).
However, there was a problem: Abram had no offspring. His wife, Sarai (as she was first called), was barren (Genesis 11:30).
Years passed. Still no child. So Abram prudently planned to make his servant Eliezer to be his heir. But God said, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir” (Genesis 15:4). Then he took Abram out and showed him the night sky and told him that his offspring would be so numerous it would be like counting stars.
But years later, it was still just Abram and Sarai in the tent.
Sarai became desperate and gave up on waiting. She decided that her maidservant, Hagar, could be a surrogate child-bearer for her. This sounded humanly reasonable to 86-year-old Abram, but he did not consult God and the solution backfired, big time.
Thirteen more years went by before God finally told the 99-year-old Abram that 89-year-old Sarai would bear a son, and he changed their names to Abraham (father of a multitude) and Sarah (princess). A year later Isaac is born.
It was 25 years of waiting, while any earthly reason to hope for a child went from highly unlikely to impossible. Their only hope was God’s promise, which was precisely God’s purpose in the long, confusing wait.
No unbelief made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:20–21)
God determined that all of his true children would be born again through faith to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) and then live by faith (the faith of Abraham, Galatians 3:7) in his promises alone (Romans 1:17). So he took patient pains to cultivate it in Abraham and Sarah, and he does the same for us.
How Long, O Lord?
One of the most profoundly comforting things about Scripture is how it reveals God’s compassion for us impatient waiters. He knows that he can appear slow to us. He knows that at times we are going to feel like he’s forgotten us and is hiding his face from us. He knows that as he patiently works out his purposes, we will experience circumstances so difficult and confusing that we cry out in bewildered pain.
And so he not only gives us stories like Abraham and Sarah to help us see that we are not alone; he also gives us songs like Psalm 13 to sing.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)
The canonical songbook is full of raw poetry — more raw and blunt than many of us are, even when confiding our pain to a trusted friend. And these were congregational songs! The people of Israel were to sing them together.
And from this, we are to hear from God that he knows our waiting for him can be hard. He knows it can feel to us like he is taking too long. He gives us permission to ask him, “How long is this going to last?” He reminds us that when we feel like he’s forgotten us, it is an experience common to all his faith-children — common enough to warrant congregational singing about it.
And as we pray or sing such psalms, they remind us that God, in fact, has not forgotten us, that what we feel isn’t always real, and that God’s promises are truer than our perceptions.
Renewed Strength Is Coming
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
God’s chosen pace, as well as his chosen place for us — that bewildering, confusing, painful place where we feel like we’re stuck — is redemptive. More than we know. There is more at stake than we can see and more going on than meets our eyes.
But here are two gracious promises God gives to us when we are waiting long:
From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29–31)
Like Abraham and Sarah, God is working for you as you wait for him, and he will bring renewal to your weary heart.
So “be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” (Psalm 31:24). He is able to do what he has promised.