By Christa Threlfall
Do you ever get the irresistible urge to laugh during a serious moment? Chalk it up to immaturity, but I find myself in these moments frequently. I was in church recently during the pinnacle of a lesson and discovered a large spider slowly crawling up the speaker’s shirt. I stopped the laugh from exiting my mouth, but it took a light jab from my husband to jerk my attention back to the speaker’s words. Appropriate emotion; inappropriate time.
I noticed a similar situation in my study of Psalms. The psalmists are shockingly honest in their prayers to God, often asking questions we’re afraid to voice. In Psalm 13, David begins by asking God five rapid-fire questions:
“How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day? How long will my enemy dominate?” (vv.1-2)
David is in a rough place: five questions in a row is pretty intense – and the questions themselves take direct aim at God’s care and protection over David. We know from other Scripture passages that David’s troubles could be large in scale. When he speaks of enemies, he’s not talking about a boss who refused to promote him, he’s referring to soldiers who are literally chasing him to kill him. David’s feelings are natural: Has God forgotten Me? Is God hiding from me?
We know what has happened when someone starts questioning God like this. After all, we’ve seen it in our own hearts. Hard, unexplainable events happened. God could have prevented them; in fact, it seems like he should have. God, did you forget that I’m here? Are you ever going to answer me?
This line of questioning has gone through my own heart during difficult seasons in my life. That’s why the end of this short psalm takes me by complete and pleasant surprise:
I’m sorry, what? David, why are you talking about God’s bountiful blessings at a time like this? Weren’t you just asking God if he had forgotten you? Why are you singing to him now? Singing is a wonderful expression of faith – but doesn’t your timing seem just a smidge wrong?
Yes, David’s timing is completely wrong. One moment he is telling God he feels forsaken, and in the very next breath He’s giving a testimony about God’s faithful love. Feeling like God has forgotten you and never answers your prayers does not warrant praise-and-worship songs.
Appropriate emotion; inappropriate time, David.
But maybe the first and last half of Psalm 13 aren’t as disjointed as we think. Perhaps they’re connected by faith.
Faith is what believers do best. Faith doesn’t wait until the questions are answered and the sorrow has lifted. It doesn’t wait for a secure job, resolved relationships and restored health. Faith sings smack in the middle of unanswered questions. It remembers that on the darkest day of human history, God was executing the most brilliant rescue plan the world has ever known. Faith clings to what cannot be seen – namely Jesus and his coming kingdom – right in the middle of this sinful kingdom of earth.
One of the most powerful testimonies that believers can give comes from our David-like habit: when life’s circumstances cause us to question God’s care, we look beyond – and above – to the things we cannot see. We bring our questioning hearts to the faithful, covenant-keeping God. And with faith-motivated praise, we joyfully sing. It seems there is never an inappropriate time for that response.
Scripture quotations are from the Christian Standard Bible.
Used by permission from Bible Study Magazine, July-August 2021 issue, pg. 5.
Christa Threlfall is a pastor’s wife and mother of four who began writing in 2011 at BrownSugarToast.com. Through her words, she aims to point others to the goodness and glory of Jesus Christ. She is the author of Come to Jesus, published in 2019 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. She lives with her family in New Hampshire, where they enjoy serving with their church and exploring the outdoors.