Best of Daily Reflections: A Psalm for Those of Us Who Are in Process
But then I recall all you have done, O LORD; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
At the beginning of Psalm 77, the psalm writer is in a major funk. He is in the middle of some terrible personal crisis, and he is crying out to God for help (77:1). Yet, even when he prays for a whole night, he is not comforted (77:2). I expect most of us can relate to this discouraging experience. If you're not there right now, you've been there, or you will be someday.
When we feel discouraged, when God feels distant, when we run out of prayers, what should we do? Psalm 77 answers this question, but not in a way we might expect.
In the midst of his disappointment, the psalmist thinks of "the good old days" when his nights were filled with joyful singing rather than desperate praying (77:5-6). Yet this memory only enhances his sorrow. The comparison between past and present makes the writer wonder, "Has the Lord rejected me forever?" In this case, the memory of his own happy past accentuates his suffering in the present.
Yet, as the psalm progresses, the psalmist stretches his memory beyond his own experience. He remembers God's "wonderful deeds of long ago" (77:11). He fixes his mind on the things God did in the past, especially God's deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (77:15-20).
As we share in the psalm writer's memories, we expect a turn from despair to confidence and praise. We see the beginning of this change in verse 14: "You are the God of great wonders!" Yet, Psalm 77 ends, not with celebration of God's faithfulness or with a statement of confidence in him, but simply with a statement of remembrance: "You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep, with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds" (77:2).
This reminds me of a song without an ending. We know something else is coming, but we don't get to enjoy it. As much as I would like to hear the happy ending of the psalmist's story, I am nevertheless grateful that this psalm feels incomplete. It speaks to those of us who are in process. We're not fully resolved in our relationship with God. We live in the tension between confident faith and our own fears and disappointments. Psalm 77 gives us permission to be honest with God, to struggle, and to doubt. It also encourages us to remember, not just our own past, but the older history of God's saving works.
Most of all, when we wonder if God is there for us, we remember what he did in Jesus Christ. The more we remember the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the more we will be able to exult with the psalmist, "You are the God of great wonders!"
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Can you think of times in your life when you felt despair rather like that of the writer of Psalm 77? Are you in such a time right now? How does remembering the past help you to have confidence in God? What enables you to recall the grace of God in Jesus Christ?
PRAYER: Gracious God, how I thank you for the gutsy honesty of the psalms. I can relate to the despair in Psalm 77. I can relate to its unresolved character. Like the psalmist, I am indeed a person in process, in process with you.
Help me, O Lord, to be honest with you, to say what is true to you. Keep me from pretending and spouting empty words. Yet, even as I am truthful with you, help me also to remember your wondrous deeds from the past. Most of all, may my life be shaped by the consistent remembrance of your grace in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.