Psalm 102 “A Journey of Prayer”
Mark Sanders Dec. 17, 2017
Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
This morning I want us to go on a journey together in prayer. When a child of God speaks with their heavenly Father, they might not physically go anywhere, but in prayer, the Lord is often leading us on a spiritual journey, if we will follow His lead. Your perspective on life when you hit your knees might start at one place, but when you rise again to your feet after communing with the Lord, He often takes you to a very place from where you started. Your point of departure may be despair, shame, guilt, and weakness. But your destination can be hope, a clear conscience, strength, and honor.
In the book of Psalms, we are given many examples of journeys that the Psalmists go on with the Lord in prayer. Psalm 23 perhaps most clearly shows this journey. David starts his journey in green pastures, beside quiet waters. He follows a path of righteousness as His good Shepherd leads him. But that path goes to difficult places, even through the valley of the shadow of death. And yet even at the lowest, scariest, most dangerous point of David’s journey, he fears no evil, he is comforted by His shepherd’s protection and presence. And as he survives the Valley of the shadow of death, he is eventually led home, where a table is prepared before him in the presence of his enemies. And these enemies no longer present any threat, for he has conquered them all, and for all the rest of the days of his life, he dwells in the house of the Lord.
Does your prayer life ever reflect a journey that you have embarked on with the Lord? Do you sit with the Lord long enough to go somewhere with Him? Do you use His word as a map on your journey of prayer, giving you directions for the truths and promises that light your path. My hope this morning is that the Spirit will be pleased to create in us greater depths of prayer that take us where God wants us to go.
And this morning we’re going to go on a journey using Psalm 102. We begin our journey this morning in a foreign land. But this land is not a resort island, or a wonderful backpacking adventure through the Alps. No this is an enemy foreign land, where the Psalmist has been taken into captivity. Psalm 102 is found in book 4 of the Psalter, which is a collection of Psalms written by the people of Israel while in exile. But as O Palmer Robertson points out, these Psalms are Psalms of maturation. The initial shock and horror of the devastation of Jerusalem and being carried off to Babylon has settled in, and the question now in the hearts of God’s people is, “Where will we find a permanent home now?”
And in Psalm 102, the Psalmist is going to go on a journey from His present circumstances to the very ends of eternity.
And we’re going to read through the majority Psalm, but we’re going to take it in sections. So I’ll read first from first 1-11 of Psalm 102. This is God’s word:
A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.
102 Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to you!
2 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!
3 For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.
4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread.
5 Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh.
6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl[a] of the waste places;
7 I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
8 All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse.
9 For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink,
10 because of your indignation and anger; for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.
Presently, this prayer begins in the Valley of the shadow of death. This scene is likely taking place on a deathbed. But this deathbed is not in a place designed to make you as comfortable as possible. He is in captivity, perhaps not even dying in a bed, but on the streets of Babylon, where his enemies daily surround him and taunt him and remind him that he is far from home.
And notice first the superscript of this Psalm: “A prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.” There is a right way to express our pains and sufferings to God. He invites us to talk with him about the hard things in our lives. Asking questions, seeking change in our circumstances is not inherently a wrong posture before the Lord. But the way, the heart posture we have as we do this, is critical. Because there is a way to complain that is not only sinful, but a way of talking to God that ignites his fury and wrath. We see this in Numbers 11, when the people complain about Manna in the wilderness. They are sick of Manna, and they long for the days back in Egypt when they had a variety of leeks, cucumbers, melons, onions, and garlic. And God does give them quail in response to their complaint, but initially that quail had a plague that killed the very people who ate it. So sinful complaining is a capital offense. And that is because faithless grumbling and complaining is an attack on the very character of God. It is a false indictment of God’s goodness, his care, his provision, his wisdom. This is a serious offense from a heart of unbelief.
But now as we look at Psalm 102, we see that while God rightly punishes unbelief, He welcomes faith-driven requests, questions, and pleas for mercy. There is a way to complain to God that not only is welcomed, but actually brings Him glory and honor. And that is what we are seeking after this morning.
In verses 1-2, we see the poetic repetition of the same plea 5 times in two verses. It is the Psalmist’s cry, “Oh God, hear my prayer to you!” Often we begin our prayers with appropriate praise and adoration to our God. We begin with worship, and leave supplications till later in our prayer. And that is often right and appropriate. But this Psalm doesn’t start with any worship or adoration. And it doesn’t mean that the Psalmist doesn’t want to worship, but he instead is in such pain and agony, that desperate pleas for mercy are all that he can start with. That is where his journey begins. And God is pleased when the sick, the needy, the downcast come to him broken and in need. Time and time again, in Jesus’ earthly ministry, the leapers, the lame, the sick, the blind, threw themselves onto Jesus in desperation. Blind Bartimaeus shouted out, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” And Jesus so often healed them because he saw faith in their desperation. He saw belief. Their cries, their complaints, all affirmed who Christ was.
In a similar way, the Psalmist crying out to God to listen to him, is an affirmation that life is only found in God. If God is not going to help him, the Psalmist is doomed. His 5 times pleading with God to hear him, is saying, “God if you are not going to hear me, there is nowhere else where I can turn, you alone can save!”
And then from verses 3-11, the Psalmist explains to God his sad, desperate condition. He has physical ailments. His bones burn like a furnace, which could mean he is experiencing a great fever. He’s also not eating so his bones are now clinging to his flesh. While his body wastes away, his appetite remains absent. And this lack of appetite and weakness is due to his loud groaning and sorrow. He mingles tears with any drink he has, and his food is ashes. This is not only physical pain, he is suffering with great sorrow and depression. And God has made us ensouled bodies in such a way that physical suffering and spiritual suffering impact one another. There is an extent of emotional turmoil that leads to physical harm. Thus what is the leading cause of many physical ailments, it is stress? Accompanying this a lack of sleep as well. The Psalmist lies awake in his pain and thoughts. And he lies awake alone. Suffering is often magnified in solitude. And on top of all of that, his only companions are his enemies. They are not there to console and heal, but to irritate and agitate. They taunt him, use his name as a curse. Both the immediate context of the Psalm and its placement in book 4 make very strong connections between Judah’s captivity in Babylon and what the Psalmist speaks of here. So his enemies are his captors, who not only took everything that he held dear, but then love to remind him of what he has lost.
Physical, emotional, spiritual, relational suffering. He brought all of this before the throne of God. And he said, “God, this is where I’m at. This is my plight.” Brothers and sisters, do you tell God where you’re at when you’re suffering? Do you explain to him not only what is happening to you, but also how you’re feeling about it? God has made us to be creatures of expression. That no matter how you feel, you were made to express that. When we are overcome with joy and delight, we express that in worship, in telling others, in singing praises. And when we are overwhelmed with sorrow and pain, we cry, we lament, we hope that someone will listen to our struggles. And we all know the healing can come to our hearts, when someone just sits with us and listens to the pain we have in our lives. One of the most loving things you can do for someone suffering is simply to listen to them. And God loves us deeply by listening to our hurts, our sufferings, our difficulties.
But there is a danger, particularly in our day and age, to escape any difficult feelings we come up against. We face the temptation to medicate and numb what feels bad. This does not mean that Tylenol is a bad thing. This does not mean that we should not seek relief from suffering. But if quick relief is all we are after, then we are missing out on a vital means of God’s grace in our lives. One example, for many people, loneliness and boredom is a daily form of suffering in their lives. And the CEO of Netflix recently said in a conference, that “Fundamentally, Netflix is about eliminating loneliness and boredom.” For just 10 dollars a month, we can prescribe you medicine that will relieve all symptoms of boredom and loneliness from your life. And so hundreds of thousands of people, with a host of sorrows and struggles in their lives, are now numbing their lives away with entertainment, never really dealing with the ongoing struggles and hardships in their lives. I need to be careful of this myself. Entertainment, food, hobbies are not bad things, and can be received with thankfulness to God. But they can easily become ways to live life apart from God, because they can make me feel like I don’t need Him. And we wonder why we find it hard to pray. Because prayer often presses us into pain, not avoiding it. Working at Harvest USA, one of the biggest things I try to instill in men, is a life of bringing their sorrows before the Lord, instead of bringing their sorrows the altar of sexuality. So much of the sin we struggle with in our hearts and lives, is a result of not talking to God about what hurts in our lives. And when we don’t talk to God, and only seek comfort and escape in other things, not only do our hearts grow distant from God, but we are robbing ourselves of the greatest comfort we could ever know. Jesus says blessed are those who mourn. BLESSED are you when you mourn! Why, so that you can receive the comfort of God. Then in John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. (And then a very helpful distinction, he says) “Not as the world gives do I give to you.” We are so accustomed in America to seek peace and comfort only in the way the world gives it to us. And Jesus says, you’re not going to find my peace that way. Christ’s peace isn’t the immediate, instant gratification the world offers. Jesus isn’t going to be Netflix for you. Jesus might not give the immediate rush that food can or sex can. But what he does offer is something so much more satisfying and life-giving, but what he offers we need to receive by Faith! And this why we struggle to receive God’s comfort. Because it takes no faith to find comfort in this world. But without faith it is impossible to please God. When you pray in faith, bringing your unmedicated sorrows before the Lord, you please Him, and he loves to respond to us with His comfort in those acts of prayerful obedience!
Now we’ve talked about much suffering in this Psalm, but there is another form of suffering we haven’t looked at yet which is perhaps the most excruciating, which is in verse 10. And that is the pain of feeling that your suffering is a consequence of your sin. The Psalmist says that this is because of God’s indignation and anger. That God took him up and then cast him down. It is one thing to bear up under suffering that we feel is not a direct consequence of any sinful or wrong action. But to suffer and know we have brought this on ourselves because of our sin, this is almost unbearable. Again, at Harvest, I work with men who are suffering greatly because of their sin. For many who are married, they are reminded of that sin every single time they see their wife’s face. And that can last for years. They’ve lost jobs, they’ve lost their family, and they’ve lost their health.
But this is the beauty of this Psalm. That in the midst of all of that, no matter what the cause of our suffering, we are given invitation to bring that suffering to the throne of God’s grace. The Gospel makes it clear that not one of us comes to the Father innocent. But praise be to God, that the only one worthy to stand before our holy, righteous God, has clothed us in his righteous robes, so that we can say with confidence, that in Jesus Christ, God is 100% for us in every circumstance of our lives, including circumstances brought about by our own sin. So it is because of the Gospel, that especially in our suffering that is a consequence of our sin, that we turn to the Lord for help, and we fight to believe and trust that He is still for us, even when he disciplines us in painful ways.
So we come now to the turning point of this Psalm, in verse 12. Let me read for you verses 12-22:
But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations.
13 You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come.
14 For your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust.
15 Nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.
16 For the Lord builds up Zion; he appears in his glory;
17 he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.
18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord:
19 that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die,
21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord, and in Jerusalem his praise,
22 when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.
There are often clear turning points in a Psalm’s journey, where a shift in perspective takes a dramatic turn. In the midst of the very real, present, tangible suffering in this Psalmist’s circumstances, he now turns His gaze to a different set of circumstances. If the microscope was on each aspect of his suffering, he now takes out his telescope, to gaze upon the throne room of the creator and sustainer of all things.
The Psalmist takes comfort in the reality that God is both King overall, but also that his kingship knows no end. The Psalmist’s life is as a vapor in the wind, but God is enthroned forever. Man is finite, God is infinite. It is helpful in the midst of overwhelming circumstances which are far greater than any power we can muster to overcome, to set our minds and hopes on God who controls all things at all times. But it is not enough to only know there is a God out there who is mighty, powerful, and eternal. Because we must also believe that this King over all things is for us, is working for our good.
And this Psalms shows us that God shows pity and compassion on His people. God looks down and sees a desolated Jerusalem, with little left but dust and ashes. And there are people left in this destroyed city, still weeping, clinging to the stones and dust of a palace and temple in ruins. And I love verse 17, that God regards the prayer of the destitute, and does not despise their prayer. God is not annoyed with us when we come to Him with our problems. He gives special attention to those who are in dire situations, and cry out to Him in faith.
And the Psalmist here is teaching us a godly way to bring our petitions and requests to God. We learn something amazing in verse 15 about the character of God. That God is glorified in the earth, and nations and kings will fear him, when he restores His people. Do you ever feel unqualified to ask God to help you? That you can only see him begrudgingly helping you out of a situation you’re in, particularly if your sin has brought you there? I love Isaiah 30:18, because in Isaiah 30, God is dealing with a rebellious, hard-hearted people who have completely disqualified themselves from receiving any help from the Lord. But then verse 18 says,
“The Lord waits to be gracious to you, and there he exalts himself to show mercy to you.” The Lord glorifies himself in showing sinners mercy. This is the only reason any of us are in this room this morning. And so we can pray with confidence, for God’s glory to be exalted in showing us mercy.
And then another turn in the Psalmist’s journey happens in verse 18, where his vision expands into the future. His hope starts to become more and more grounded in what God will do. And true worshippers of the Lord, are never satisfied with only hearing their own voices praise the Lord. So the Psalmist prays in expectation for future generations of God’s people! He’s not only thinking about his own welfare. He cares deeply that future generations will see God’s compassion, mercy, power to deliver, and give him praise.
And brothers and sisters, if you are praising God this morning in Spirit and in Truth, you are God’s answer to this Psalmists’ prayer. We are proof that God heard his prayer. And verse 20 I think is a powerful example of God’s heart towards lost sinners. In the New Testament, the Bible often refers to unbelievers as prisoners or slaves of sin, and even says that apart from Christ we are dead in our sin. And no matter who it is, no matter how comfortable life may seem, if that is your state, this is a state of great misery. Sin is both something we choose to engage in, but it is also a curse that we have been struck with. And when verse 20 says that God hears the groans of the prisoners, I think that is both literal groanings of people who are literally in prison. But he also hears the groans of those who are also imprisoned in sin. And He sent his Son to this earth to set free those doomed to die. Jesus himself explains his purpose in coming to earth very clearly in Luke 4:18-19,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
God answers the prayer of Psalm 102 in sending Jesus Christ to this earth. If you know that you are groaning this morning as a prisoner of sin, Jesus came to set you free. God is looking down from his holy height right now on you, and is offering you life instead of death. He is saying, my favor towards you is freely given in Christ, but it is only in Christ, no other. God waits to be gracious to you, he exalts his name to show you mercy.
And why did the Psalmist want God to move in these powerful ways? Why listen to the groans of prisoners and set free those doomed to die? What does that ultimately accomplish? And we see in verses 18 and 21-22,that the Psalmist has a vision for God’s redemption that went far beyond his years of life. He knew he was dealing with an eternal God, whose purposes span far beyond our time on earth. The Psalmist’s journey plunges forward into the future, with great expectation of how God’s mercy to His people, will not only be for their present benefit, but for the worship and praise of not only future generations, but also future Kingdoms. He implored for God to act on their behalf. His heart delighted at the thought of nations gathering together to worship the Lord. And what a joy it is to see many nations represented here this morning at Maple Glen. Do we pray for God to act in our lives not only for our sake, but for the mutual blessing of people that we might not even know at this point? Do you implore God to move in the hearts of nations to turn many people away from idols, into the worship of the true and living God. I love how John Piper explains missions work, he says missions exists, because worship doesn’t. May we as a church pray in such a way that we are looking both outward to the nations to come and worship Jesus, but also looking forward, into the future, for how God can even use our congregation so that a generation yet to come may praise our God!
One last stop in our journey in the Psalm this morning. And this point in our journey takes us to the far ends of time itself, to the very beginning, and the very end, the alpha and the omega.
Look at verse 25
Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.
He considers God laying the foundations of the earth, creating the heavens themselves. The very beginning of all created things. But then, he immediately goes to the end of them all:
26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, 27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
here is nothing in this world that we can taste, see, touch, or smell that is not subject to decay. There is ultimately nothing eternally secure in all of creation. But God, he will remain. When all things change, he remains unchanged, and his years have no end.
And this is why as we look towards Christmas, the incarnation of Jesus Christ should never become a reality that is boring or familiar to us. For the Son of God, who existed from all eternity past, took on the form of a limited, fragile, man. Verses 25-26 of Psalm 102 are quoted in the New Testament in the book of Hebrews 1:10-12. And here in Hebrews, the author is saying that God himself attributes the creation of all things, to His Son Jesus Christ. And He says that it is Jesus who will remain and not perish, and that he will change all things like a garment. And I want to make 2 brief points about the significance that the Psalm ends in this way speaking about Jesus.
- First, we have such a compassionate, gracious, empathetic God, that the one who is before and after all things, willingly subjected himself to life in a fallen world as a man. And one reason he did this, was so that people like the Psalmist in Psalm 102, people who are sick, people who are scoffed at and scorned by others, people who weep painfully because of loss and sorrow, people who know the pain of their bodies being broken down unto death, Jesus came so that as our sympathetic high priest, he could look us in the eyes, and say, I know what you’re going through. I know what this feels like. The creator and sustainer of all things, walked in our shoes. And he invites us today, to run to him, because he understands better than anyone else ever could. And not only does he understand, but he delights to be gracious to us, and he promises each of us, that His victory over Satan, Sin, and Death itself, he promises that we are partakers with him in that victory, by faith!
- Secondly, this idea of changing creation like the changing of a garment I believe we can, in light of the New Testament, say that this is referring to the purging of creation for the purpose of the renewal of creation. That Christ is both the creator, and the re-creator of all things. And this act of recreating all things, did not come about by our creator Jesus staying in the heavens. This began when he came down as a man. This is one reason why we see the gospels flooded with the miracles of Jesus. Yes they were performed to substantiate his ministry and his identity, but they also are pointing to his mission, that he came to make all things new. I’ve it heard described in this way, and this is speaking metaphorically, not literally, that when Jesus walked the earth, every step he took on the ground, in the footprint that he left behind, life sprang up from the dirt where he stood. He left a trail of recreation behind wherever he went. And then in going to the cross, in dying for our sins, and rising from the dead, he secured for all of his children life eternal. And not only life eternal, but also an eternal home that he is preparing for us.
And this the final destination of Psalm 102. It actually ends in the same place Psalm 23 ends. It ends with us sitting with Jesus securely in the place he has prepared for us. Listen to verse 28:
The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.
The Psalmist not only trusts and believes that God will stay faithful to him in the midst of such terrible circumstances. But he believes God’s promise to Abraham as well, that God’s steadfast love extends to a thousand generations.
Where is your ultimate security this morning? Are you placing your hope in your health, or your medical insurance? Are you seeking security in a bank account, or the stock market? Or are you looking to Jesus, who laid the foundations of the earth, who stays the same forever, whose years have no end. And are you dwelling secure this morning, because you have been united to our eternal King by faith and faith alone.
My hope is that you can see prayer as a way of going on a journey with God. And that like this Psalm, your journey may start in a very hard, difficult place. And often we use those difficult circumstances as reason to give up enduring in prayer. But I challenge you this morning to persevere in prayer. Let our good shepherd lead you on a journey as you pray. And expect as you walk on this journey, that your will expand. That what may start with our individual struggles, but then branch out to the cares of others, with the expectation of how God will use these things to bring him glory not only here, but to the ends of the earth, and not only now, but for all of eternity.