What do you do when things go wrong?

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We don’t handle trials well.

(OK, I mean that I don’t handle trials well).

When something goes wrong, I give a kneejerk reaction. Anger, retaliation or a Mr Fixit mode mostly. That sort of thing.  Prayer comes a poor fourth.

So I need the lesson of how to “take it to the Lord in prayer,” again and again.And here’s Psalm 143, the morning reading from Bible Gateway, jogging me with that very point.

It’s a life-example of how to pray. Every trial is God saying “We need to talk. Seriously.”

But first, remember that this psalm only “works” for those who, like David, can say, “You are my God” (v. 10) and “I am your servant” (v. 12; cf. v. 2). That is to say, prayer is not a method or technique that just anybody can use to manipulate God to get what he wants. It’s a conversation.It’s a two-way relationship.

So David was in a spot, and he needed God to answer. Sound familiar?  And so he comes to talk about it. But the interesting thing is how he does it. That is to say, the relationship  between David and God forms the whole agenda for the prayer.

We all have “situations” that crop up from time to time, some more serious than others.   Whether your trial is a life-threatening disease, the need for a job, a difficult person, a powerful sin that keeps defeating you, or whatever, consider this point:

The very fact that you are praying about this issue means that God has got your attention. Don’t waste the moment thinking only about yourself! We are to face every trial with God.  Don’t just seek relief from the trial, but also to know God better.

The psalm falls into two halves, divided by the musical notation, “Selah” (v. 6). Instrumental break for effect?

In the first half (1-6), David lays out his problem to the Lord, crying out to Him to hear and answer. In the second half (7-12), he presents his prayer, repeatedly crying out to God to answer him and to teach him to do His will

First:no matter who you are, you going to face trials.Jesius said (John 16) “ In this world you will have troubles.” 

And David is desperate: He says (vv. 3-4), “For the enemy has persecuted my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead. Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart is appalled within me.” 

Every phrase here is dark with heaviness, that no sufferer need feel unique in what he experiences. And the similarity of these terms to those that describe our Lord’s emotions (cf.Mt. 26:37 ff.; Heb. 4:15 ff.) remind us that none need feel himself alone, or less than fully understood. 

God uses trials so that we may share His holiness (Heb. 12:5-11). The apostle Paul shares (2 Cor. 1:8-9),

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”

He goes on (2 Cor. 4:7-10) to explain that we have the treasure of the gospel…“… in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”

Jesus warned us (John 15:20), “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” And Peter warned (1 Pet. 4:12), “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.

So the question is not “Will trials come?” (Or “How can I avoid them!?”) but “What do I do next?”

I pray.

And David shows us how.

He prays out of his heart.  It begins (v. 1), “Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness!” In verse 6 he cries, “I stretch out my hands to You; my soul longs for You, as a parched land.” He continues, “answer me” (v. 7), “let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning” (v. 8), “deliver me” (v. 9), and, “cut off my enemies and destroy all those who afflict my soul” (v. 12). He’s a desperate man, crying out for deliverance.

While we may rarely be in such life-threatening situations, David’s prayer teaches us that we will not pray as we ought unless we recognize our weakness and need and, therefore, our total dependence. Many  go to their graves without the Lord because they are oblivious to the peril of judgment by a holy, all-knowing God, who will judge them by His perfect standard. They think, “I’m a pretty good person. I’ve never deliberately hurt or killed anyone. I’m not a child molester. So I should be good enough for heaven.”

Even as believers, we often do not realize our own inadequacy, and so we do not depend on the Lord in prayer. We assume that we can handle things on our own, unless we get into a huge problem. So the Lord allows trials so that we finallly give up on ourselves.

David’s passion registers that fact.

But though he is passionate, he is appropriately humble. He stakes a claim on a God he knows well.  David asks God, in effect, to  “Answer me according to Your faithful promises to your people and in accordance with Your way of exonerating the righteous and punishing the wicked.” But no sooner are the words out of his mouth than he is caught up short. He realizes, “But I’m not completely innocent, either.” So he quickly adds (v. 2), “And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous.

Here, David is painfully aware of his own sins. So he asks God not to bring him to the bar of His absolute righteousness. Rather, he appeals to God’s lovingkindness (v. 8), which is His loyal covenant love.  In other words, he appeals to the attributes of God (His name) and to His covenant love for His people. That’s why we pray “in Jesus’ name,” which means, “on the basis of all that He is and His covenant promises to us.” We don’t pray on the basis of our merits or good deeds.

And third, he prays believing that God will act (v. 8). He bases his prayer on God’s faithfulness and righteousness. He can always be trusted to be faithful and righteous. There is faith behind David’s confession, “You are my God” (v. 10). If we come to God in prayer, we must come in faith that He is able to answer us (Mark 11:22-24; Heb. 11:6; James 1:5-6). Prayer must be heartfelt, humble, and believing.

And last,  it must flow from a heart that is ready to do God’s will. We cannot pray and expect God to answer if we are unwilling to follow Him.

Thus David here prays that he might know and do God’s will. He asks (v. 8), “Teach me the way in which I should walk.” Then he goes a step further and asks (v. 10a), “Teach me to do Your will.” He’s asking not just that he will know God’s way or will, but also that he will know how todo it.” He doesn’t want to be just a hearer of the word, but also a doer (James 1:22). He adds (v. 10b), “Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” This is similar to the request in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13a), “do not lead us into temptation.”

Now the three requests for guidance (vv. 8-10) each has its own nuance. The first (“Teach me the way in which I should walk,” 8b) has an individual flavour, showing that each of us is uniquely placed and called.

The second (“Teach me to do Your will,” 10a), settles the priorities, making the goal not self-fulfillment but pleasing God and finishing His work.

The third (“Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground,” 10b), speaks with the humility of one who knows his need of shepherding, not merely of having the right way pointed out to him.

The request for level ground implies the admission that I’m prone not merely to stray but also to stumble. 

The trouble is, that all too often, in times of crisis, our prayer is “Lord,get me out of this and make it snappy!” And that’s what v7 looks like. “Answer me quickly, Lord.” But David knows there’s more to it than that, as we’ll see.

But it’s worth saying that there is nothing wrong with praying for relief from the trial.

David prayed that the child which he conceived with Bathsheba not die, but God did not grant his request (2 Sam. 12:15-20). King Hezekiah prayed that God would heal him of what Isaiah had said would be a fatal illness, and God granted him 15 more years of life (2 Kings 20:1-7). The apostle Paul asked God three times to take away the thorn in his flesh, whatever it was (2 Cor. 12:8). But when God told Paul (12:9), “My grace is sufficient for you,” Paul submitted to God’s purpose in the trial. Even Jesus prayed in the Garden (Matt. 26:39), “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” So it is not wrong to pray that God would remove the trial, as long as we submit to His  will.

But there’s more. Every trial forms a moment when God is teaching us about himself and about His world.Don’t miss the point.

And inthe psalm, David does not just cry out for God to save him from his enemies. He also cries out for God Himself. He meditated on God’s doings and on the work of His hands (v. 5). In other words, he went back and rehearsed how God has acted on behalf of His people in the past. He thought about how God has delivered His people. He meditated on God’s work in creation, which displays His power and His infinite understanding. He wanted to know God and His ways more deeply.

Also, David stretched out his hands to God (v. 6), as a little child reaches up for his parent to pick him up. He wants that intimate contact. He adds (v. 6), “My soul longs for You, as a parched land” (see Ps. 63:1). He asks God not to hide His face from him (v. 7). He wants to hear God’s lovingkindness in the morning (v. 8). He lifts up his soul to God (v. 8). He takes refuge in God Himself (v. 9). He prays for God to revive him (v. 11). In all of this, his repeated prayer is “to You.” He was seeking God Himself, not just relief from his enemy.

It is very easy in a time of trial just to focus on the need for relief, rather than to use the trial to get to know God better.

Often, we only ask, “Lord, why is this happening to me?” and not “Lord, how can I get to know You better through this trial? Lord, give me a teachable heart, so that I come to know You better. Lord, don’t let me miss the lessons that You want me to learn!”

As John Piper prayed when he was diagnosed with cancer, “Lord, don’t waste this cancer on me!” He wanted to learn what God was trying to teach him.

Lord, let me learn. Teach me to listen.Speak through this situation. You have my attention.

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