It’s sometimes easy to feel as if God is far away from us, as though He doesn’t hear us when we call. It’s easy to see the suffering around us and wonder where God is. Some days it seems like our prayers aren’t being heard.
I don’t think it’s necessarily a lack of faith that causes this. Of course, we often drift far away from God, particularly when we don’t make an active effort to invest in our relationship with Him. But sometimes we can find ourselves in circumstances where it just feels difficult. We feel stuck; we feel like our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling and hopelessness isn’t far away.
In times like that, Psalm 22 might be a comfort. The psalmist offers three pieces of practical advice to those of us who cry out the same words as he does in the first two verses:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”
1. Remember what God has already done.
Firstly, he urges us to remember what God has already done, as recorded in the Bible and throughout history (v4-8).
“In You our fathers trusted,” he tells the Lord in verse 4, “they trusted and you delivered them.”
God has shown us that He cares for us, that He is all-powerful and all-knowing, that He hears His people when they cry out to Him. Start with Adam and trace through all the Bible characters who trusted in God, even in the bleakest of circumstances, and found salvation in Him.
He is faithful to His promises. He does not change; He is the same God today, yesterday, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8). And therefore we can draw encouragement from the fact that we serve the same God who rescued a shepherd boy facing down a giant with five pebbles, the same God who rained down bread in the desert and who blinded an entire army.
He has shown His power and love in the past, and He will do so again.
2. Remember what God has done for you personally.
Next, the psalmist tells us to remember what God has already done for each of us in our own lives (v9-21).
Verse 9 says: “Yet You are He who took me from the womb; You made me trust You at my mother’s breasts.”
Since our births, God has been faithful to us in our own lives in a personal way that transcends blanket promises or an impersonal power.
It is by God’s will that we were formed; it is His will that we are alive. He created each of us for a reason, and He has a purpose for our lives. Therefore, we can, each of us, approach Him in prayer and ask: “Be not far from me” (v19).
3. Remember that there is meaning in our suffering.
Finally, we are reminded that there is purpose in our sufferings, even if we cannot see it (v22-31).
“I will tell of Your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you”(v22).
Verse 24 promises us that God hears us when we cry out to Him, and the rest of the psalm reminds us that God is glorified in our tribulations. This legacy serves to encourage our fellow believers.
I had a recent airport mishap trying to get a flight home due to the coronavirus, and the whole time my mind was repeating: “For God’s glory, for God’s glory, for God’s glory.”
And He did deliver a hundredfold, and I knew at the end as I had recognized at the start that this obstacle too was for His glory, a reminder for me, maybe, to remember what I had learned in my loneliness abroad before I returned to my comfortable home.
When obstacles and suffering occur over a longer time period, it can be difficult to trust that any good can come out at the end. But though we are weak, God is strong, and He says to us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
So we can boast in our weaknesses because they serve to illuminate God’s strength. We find comfort in our troubles because we know that He holds us and will be faithful to the end.
James 1:2-3 tells us that sufferings and trials will result in the testing of our faith, and this, in turn, produces steadfastness. When we have gone through trials and seen over and over again that God is faithful and powerful and active and just, our faith is strengthened. And this steadfastness, this clinging to faith, will be an encouragement to those around us.
There is purpose in our sufferings. We are not alone.
Even when you can’t see the sun on a cloudy day, it is still shining.