Does it seem as though this world could not get any more debauched than it is already? Do you feel as though God is not watching? that He does not care? I can assure you that He is, and He does. But perhaps He is waiting for His people to cry out to Him in humble prayer.
Asaph felt the same way. The enemy was having a heyday, making a mockery of the God of Israel and destroying everything in their path, leaving nothing but pain and misery in their wake. Asaph did the one thing he could do—he cried out to the God of the universe, the Maker of heaven and earth, summer and winter, to defend Himself in the presence of the enemy.
from Psalm 74
Maschil of Asaph
O God, why have You cast us off forever?
Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?
Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old;
the rod of Your inheritance, which You have redeemed;
this mount Zion, wherein You have dwelt.
Asaph felt lonely and alone. God was silent, and He had been silent for quite some time. Have you ever felt that way? What did you do? Asaph remembered the days of old, when God redeemed Israel from out of the hand of the enemy in Egypt, and brought them to Canaan, and gave them the land for an inheritance, and established His name in their midst. Asaph longed to return to the days when the people were free to worship God in the temple and exercise that freedom out of a heart of gratitude.
Lift up Your feet unto the perpetual desolations;
even all that the enemy has done wickedly in the sanctuary.
They have cast fire into Your sanctuary,
they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of Your name to the ground.
They said in their hearts, “Let us destroy them together;”
they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.
Just now temple worship was out of the question, for there was no temple. It had been destroyed by the enemy, along with all the synagogues throughout the land. The enemy had attempted to wipe out the religion of the Israelites by destroying their places of worship, when in reality the Israelites had long since destroyed worship themselves by allowing their love to grow cold. This may not have been true of Asaph in particular, or of a remnant of the people, but the prevailing attitude was one of coldness and indifference to God. That is why He sent the enemy to shake things up. That is why He was silent. This attitude of indifference did not come in a day, nor could it be eradicated in a night. It would take time to turn around the hearts of His people.
We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet:
neither is there among us any that knows how long.
O God, how long shall the adversary reproach?
shall the enemy blaspheme Your name forever?
“O God, how long?” How many times have I prayed that same prayer while waiting for God to work on my behalf. We cannot see His hand nor understand His ways, but we can trust Him to know when enough is enough. God is never early, and He is never late; He is always right on time. He is not limited by our calendar or clock. His purposes are ever so much bigger than anything we can imagine. I do not think it’s wrong to pray, “O God, how long?” as long as we understand by faith that God knows what is best. We must trust Him to work out His plan in His time and in His way. And while we wait, we must also allow Him to chip away the parts of us that do not bring glory to Him, building patience in our hearts and conforming us ever more into the likeness of His dear Son.
For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.
You divided the sea by Your strength:
You broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
You broke the heads of leviathan in pieces,
and gave him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
You did cleave the fountain and the flood:
You dried up mighty rivers.
The day is Yours,
the night also is Yours:
You have prepared the light and the sun.
You have set all the borders of the earth:
You have made summer and winter.
I love this passage! In fact, I love every passage in Genesis and beyond that affirms God as the Creator of the universe. There are people who cannot accept the Genesis account of creation. But if they do not accept Genesis, then they cannot accept any of the Bible as true. Either it is all true, or it is all false. The Bible is not a smorgasbord from which one may select a few truths to accept and ignore the rest. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and everything that lives and grows within it. Period. Why is this important? Because the God Who created summer and winter, who divided the sea and bifurcated the mountains by the power of His hand surely has both the authority and the power to reign over the affairs of men. He gives us a free will, true, but at the same time He sets a hedge about us, so that our free will can only affect our neighbor but just so much. God had sent the enemy into Israel to judge them for their infidelity. But judgment never lasts forever. There would come a deliverance, and to this end Asaph prayed.
Remember this, that the enemy has reproached, O LORD,
and that the foolish people have blasphemed Your name.
O deliver not the soul of Your turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked:
forget not the congregation of Your poor forever.
Have respect unto the covenant:
for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.
O let not the oppressed return ashamed:
let the poor and needy praise Your name.
Arise, O God, plead Your own cause.
Yes, that’s right. Asaph did not ask God to defend His people, but His own holy and righteous name. He wanted deliverance, not for his own sake, or for the sake of his countrymen, but for the testimony of the God of mercy and grace. Asaph wanted the name of God to be preserved holy and blameless in the eyes of the enemy, so that they—the enemy—would not forget that God is still in control in the affairs of men.
The elements of Asaph’s prayer in this psalm should be present in all of our prayers. In fact, it could be likened to the Model Prayer that Jesus taught His disciples. Let’s compare Psalm 74 to the Model Prayer as recorded in Matthew 6:9-13.
Our Father who are in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
For God is my King of old… (v. 12a).
Thy kingdom come.
…working salvation in the midst of the earth (v. 12b)
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme Your name forever? Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand? pluck it out of Your bosom (vv. 10-11).
Give us this day our daily bread.
You broke the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gave him to be food to the people inhabiting the wilderness (v. 14).
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
O God, why have You cast us off forever? why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture? Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old; the tribe of Your inheritance, which You have redeemed; this mount Zion, where You have dwelt (vv. 1-2).
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
O deliver not the soul of Your turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked: forget not the congregation of Your poor forever (v. 19).
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
You divided the sea by Your strength: You broke the heads of the serpents in the waters. You broke the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gave him to be food to the people inhabiting the wilderness. You broke open the fountain and the flood: You dried up mighty rivers. The day is Yours, the night also is Yours: You have prepared the light and the sun. You have set all the borders of the earth: You have made summer and winter (vv. 13-17).
O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and needy praise Your name. Arise, O God, plead Your own cause: remember how the foolish man reproaches You daily. Forget not the voice of Your enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against You increases continually (vv. 21-23).
When You Pray
When you pray, do not be afraid to let God know how you feel. He already knows anyway, but He appreciates the honesty. Praise Him for who He is, pray for His will to be done, pray for provision and forgiveness, pray for deliverance from the trial that is facing you, and then wrap it all up with more praise.
But before you pray, make sure you are one of His children. Notice that the Model Prayer begins with these two words: “Our Father.” If He is not your Father, then you have no right to ask Him for anything apart from forgiveness. If He is not your Father, now is the perfect time to be freed from your sin and adopted into His family. The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Trust Christ today to give you a new heart, a new life, and a new family. Then boldly make your requests known to Him, praising His name and trusting Him for the answer in His time.
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Photo taken in Suffolk, VA, 2012