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God is faithful (July 14, 2024)

Letarshia C. Robinson writes about having faith admidst difficutly.

Psalm 71:12-21

It is easy to praise God and remember God’s faithfulness when life is on an upswing. When everything falls into place and all the lights are green, finding something to complain about seems trite. When life is difficult, it’s easy to fall into despair, seeing the problems more clearly than the promises of God. In times of despair, we are often left wondering: is there abiding hope in God’s faithfulness?

Psalm 71 is a song of lament from a person who has seen many years, including the joy and pain that come with maturity. The troubles in the psalmist’s life could have led him to despair. However, we see the psalmist uttering aloud to God in the rhythmic pattern of petition, trust and praise. The poetic repetition parallels the rhythm of life: we fall, we cry out for help, we receive help, we give praise. Repeat.

The psalmist describes being attacked (v. 4) and conspired against (v. 10-11); however, his calamities notwithstanding, the psalmist resounds with consistent declaration of God’s praises and recounting of God’s faithfulness. Throughout the psalm, the psalmist continually draws strength from God’s faithful acts in the past. As God has acted in the past, God will act again. “You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again,” declares the psalmist (v.20). From the lowest points of life, the psalmist reminds himself, and God, that God “will bring me up again” (v. 20).

Troubles can loom large and seem to last for an age. We spend a lot of time focusing on what is wrong in our lives. Acknowledging a problem is the first step in moving forward; however, let us look to the psalmist’s song as a model. The psalmist’s recognition of his troubles pales in comparison with his recognition of how great God is! Can you imagine considering God’s acts of goodness pulling you up from despair?

In “I Smile,” Kirk Franklin’s choir sings, “I smile, even though I hurt see I smile/ I know God is working so I smile/ Even though I’ve been here for a while/ I smile, smile…”

On the surface, this “smile” might sound like a façade. Why are we doing all this smiling when our lives are falling apart? Why are we smiling when our loved ones have died, when our bodies are in pain, when we have lost our jobs, when life is filled with uncertainty? Then, like the psalmist, we remember that God has done marvelous work in our lives in the past and the smile comes up as a response to God’s abiding joy. The memories sustain us. The memories shout, “If God did it before, God can do it again!”

In the church where my faith was initially formed, there was a time for people to give testimony during every worship service. Someone would stand before the congregation and tell us about the trouble they experienced that week or in their present life, and we’d all listen waiting to either jump off into despair or jump up with ecstatic joy. Inevitably, the person would lead us down a dark road, then abruptly change course with, “But when I think of the goodness of the Lord and all God has done for me, my soul cries out ‘Hallelujah!’ I thank God for saving me!” The band would erupt with music, the congregation would shout with loud praises to God and shout with the dance. Everyone from the youngest to the oldest would remember and give praise to the Lord our God. God is faithful.

The psalmist petitions God to be near him (v. 12). He knows God’s nearness is for his own good. God’s presence alone can turn our hearts towards peace. Then, the psalmist intensifies his petition by asking God to “make haste to help [him]” (v. 12). He wants to see tangible evidence of God’s help, so he asks the Lord to “let [his] accusers be put to shame and consumed” (v. 13).  Shame in this verse does not carry the same connotation as it does in our modern context. Here, the psalmist is simply, yet boldly, praying that God will stop the plans of his enemies.

“But…” the psalmist prays next, and we are invited to pay attention. Even if God does not grant the psalmist’s request, he is prepared to  “hope continually” and “praise [God] yet more and more” (v. 14). He also has set his intention to “tell of [God’s] righteous acts, of [God’s] deeds of salvation all day long,” deeds that are far too many to recount (v. 15). The psalmist will “come praising the might deeds of the Lord God” and “praise [God’s] righteousness, [God’s] alone” (v. 16). Will we set our own intentions in the same way?

Questions for discussion

  1. Why do we find it difficult to recount God’s faithful acts in times of trouble? How can we be more intentional about remembering God’s faithfulness?
  2. When have you or others around you experienced God’s faithfulness? How have you remembered this experience?

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