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Psalm 102
Comfort in Prayer

1 Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee.
2 Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily.
3 For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth.
4 My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread.
5 By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin.
6 I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.
7 I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top.
8 Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me.
9 For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.
10 Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down.
11 My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass.
12 But thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.
13 Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.
14 For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof.
15 So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory.
16 When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.
17 He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.
18 This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord.
19 For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth;
20 To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death.
21 To declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem.
22 When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the Lord.
23 He weakened my strength in the way; he shortened my days.
24 I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations.
25 Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
26 They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.
28 The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee.

This Psalm is titled, “A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.” As was noted in another chapter, while the titles of the Psalms are uninspired, they nonetheless provide insight into at least some Bible readers’ views of the gist of a Psalm. That this is a prayer is evident from the first verse. That this is a prayer pouring forth from an afflicted, overwhelmed heart is apparent from ensuing verses.

The misery being experienced by this Psalmist is seen in his assessment of his condition. Emotionally, he despairs of life (verse 3), his heart has taken a beating (verse 4) and he is lonely (verse 7). Physically, his anguish is so great that he can neither eat (verse 4) nor sleep (verse 7). His tears are many (verse 9).

If this is a captivity Psalm as some suggest, then the picture here is of one who is missing his homeland and is saddened by the actions that brought about his current state. He is discouraged by the apparent power of the enemies of God and perhaps even their arrogance. He looks forward in hope to restoration but in the meantime is pleading for God’s comfort and care.

Throughout the Psalm there is a marvelous contrast between the brevity of the writer’s life and the eternal nature of God. “For my days are consumed like smoke…” (verse 3). “My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. But thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.” (verses 11-12). Verses 24-27 draw out the contrast between the eternal God and His temporal creation. Verses 25 through 27 are quoted in the New Testament in Hebrews 1:10-12.

There is a beautiful formula to be found in Psalm 102. Take a person in distress, add that person’s recognition of his own frailty, then add his realization of God’s eternality, and finally add the hope that comes from a heart that trusts in God’s care and the end result is fervent prayer.

Who can successfully deny the power of acceptable prayer as a source of comfort for the faithful child of God? Isn’t prayer one of the first acts in which we engage when a trial comes upon us? Immediately we pray for relief from and removal of the difficulty. Often this initial prayer is little more than a silent utterance of “Lord, help me.” When we meet life’s challenges, we know we need to do something in response. Most likely the vast majority of the time that response is prayer.

One of the reasons that prayer brings comfort is because it allows us to speak our minds. In the field of psychiatry this could be termed a catharsis, a “purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions.” Of course, perhaps the same could be said for shouting at a wall or standing on the beach and screaming at the ocean at the top of one’s lungs. Either of those would provide a release, but neither effort has any definite direction. In prayer, we can “purge emotions,” but faith that comes from the Word of God informs us that we are casting these emotions upon the Lord (I Peter 5:7). Long-term comfort comes from knowing that God is listening to the prayer of the broken-hearted Christian and, not only is He listening, He is answering. James wrote, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16).

For what do Christians pray when in distress? Again, in sorrow’s early stages we pray for things to change. We don’t want to die or we don’t want a loved one to die or we don’t want to suffer. We want things to change. The apostle Paul wanted his thorn in the flesh to be removed (II Corinthians 12:8). Numerous prayers are found not only in the Psalms but in other works of inspired writers of the Old Testament where they were pleading for a release from their circumstances.

As we progress through the difficulty, we may still ask for things to change but we may also begin asking for the ability to accept the situation as it is and handle it more effectively. As Christians, we are concerned about our influence. We are also concerned about growing weaker in faith and allowing Satan to get an upper hand in our lives. Like Paul we could say, “Lest Satan get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (II Corinthians 2:11). We don’t want him to use tragedy to deter us in our walk with God to heaven.

Also in prayer we might just want to pour out our hearts to the Lord. That seems to be what the author of this Psalm is doing. We don’t see him asking for anything other than an attentive ear and a speedy reply from God. He is just telling God what is on his mind. He’s telling Him of his physical and emotional condition and speaking to Him of the daily persecution he faces from those who despise him.

Looking at this Psalm, we see one in trouble who devotes a portion of his prayer to praising God for his loving concern and precious promises. He expresses confidence in God’s presence and protection.

To sum up this discussion of subjects for which a Christian might pray when in distress, we know that in prayer we can ask for a change in our situation, we can express a desire to be able to handle the circumstances so that they will not get the best of us spiritually, we can tell the Lord whatever is on our mind and we can offer Him praise from a heart filled with assurance of His power and love. Basically, we can talk to God about anything and everything. Since the prayers of faithful Christians are to God as “golden vials full of odours” (Revelation 5:8), we can “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16). The question now is: Why would we NOT take ‘everything to God in prayer’? Why would we continue to carry burdens on our own shoulders rather than take them to God? With the power of prayer at the disposal of every faithful Christian, there is no good reason to keep any of our heartache bottled up inside. 

There is a significant point to be made here regarding prayer. Just like the Psalmist’s prayer was directed to the one true God and according to His will, so must our prayers be offered in this same manner. John wrote, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.” (I John 5:14). Our prayers must be directed to God the Father (John 16:23) through our Mediator, Jesus Christ (I Timothy 2:5).

When we pray as God instructed in His Word, are we guaranteed that we’ll always get the result for which we ask? Of course we know that we will not. In this Psalm the writer recognizes the superiority of God. He writes with an understanding that God’s will is greater than his. It’s that faith that leads us to say as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, “not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42). That truly is one of the great points of comfort in prayer. We admit to the Lord that we don’t know what to do, that we don’t understand, that we are weak and infirm and we take comfort in the knowledge that we are speaking to the One who knows what to do, who understands and who is strong.

Sometimes we sing the words, “where could I go but to the Lord?” The theme of the song is that there is no other source than God for real strength, hope and comfort. An implied lesson that is just as powerful is the fact that while those outside of Christ have nowhere to turn in their search for comfort, Christians do have the Lord to whom we can go in prayer. Indeed, where else can we go when trouble strikes? Turning to God should be our first thought, not an afterthought.

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