Theme: Crying Out in Faith
In this week’s lessons the psalmist teaches us to pray in desperate circumstances.
Scripture: Psalm 70:1-5
The last verse of Psalm 70 is what I call the psalmist’s most basic beliefs or persuasion. It has two parts: 1) that he is “poor and needy”; and 2) that God is his “help and deliverer.”
In his short but otherwise helpful observations on this psalm, the great preacher G. Campbell Morgan says that the faith that is displayed in this last stanza “is not the highest type of faith” because, though it believes in God’s ability to help, it doubts whether help will arrive in time.1 In my opinion this is not right. Help might not arrive in time. Since none of us knows the mind of God or has any special insight into his ordering or timing of events, we cannot say with certainty that God will intervene to save us from whatever danger we are praying about. Therefore, the height of faith is not to presume on what God will or will not do but to be convinced precisely of what David is convinced: namely, that we are needy, that we cannot help ourselves, and that God is the only one who can help us.
I wonder if you know that. Many people get off base on the very first of these two points because they assume, as virtually all unbelievers do, that human beings are perfectly able to help themselves. In other words, that they are not “poor”—they have great natural resources—and that they are not “needy,” certainly not in spiritual areas! If they are going to get to heaven, it will be by their own efforts. They are the masters of their souls and the captains of their fates. And in other areas too! Do you know that according to a recent public opinion poll, over sixty percent even of so-called evangelical Christians believe that the saying “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible?2
Those who know their Bibles don’t want anything to do with that false teaching. They know that they can’t help themselves. So they say with David, who by all outward appearances was a rich and very powerful man, “Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God.” Above all they confess their utter need of God in salvation. They know that there is no salvation to be found except in Jesus Christ.
The second part of David’s confession is important too, for it is only this that makes this prayer hopeful. David knew his weakness and need, but he also knew God’s grace and greatness. Therefore, even though he is weak he turns to God strongly. And though needy, he comes to the one who is able to satisfy his need. Do you know that? Do you know God as the one who offers deliverance from the penalty and power of your sin through the work of Jesus Christ? The very name Jesus means “Jehovah saves.” It is Jesus’ work as Redeemer to set his enslaved people free. This is great faith, crying out to God urgently because the need is great.
The very last line of the psalm returns to the note struck at the beginning: “O LORD, do not delay.” The prayer that the Lord might make haste, come quickly or not delay is the psalm’s watchword and theme. It is a cry often on the tongues of God’s people.
We ought to remind ourselves that this was often the prayer of the early church as it waited for the return of Jesus Christ. The Christians of that day did not have the freedoms we do or enjoy protection from an enlightened democratic state. They were under constant danger from hostile authorities, and they were frequently plunged into times of terrible persecution. In their trials they cried out to God, and their prayer was that Jesus might quickly come again. Like the saints in the book of Revelation, they cried to God, saying, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood” (Rev. 6:10). Life is one long trouble, since ours is a sinful, evil world. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” The saints wanted God to come quickly, to hasten.
And so at times do we. But then turn in our trouble to the very last verses not of Psalm 70, but of the Bible. And there we find the Lord Jesus himself speaking, and what he says is this: “I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20). To us the coming may seem long delayed, but it is not long in the great sweep of history. What we must do, despite our weariness and frequent lack of faith, is endure, looking to him who is our present help and ultimate deliverance. As the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1,2).
1G. Campbell Morgan, Notes on the Psalms (Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1947), p. 126.
2For more information, see What Americans Believe, by George Barna (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1991), pp. 217, 218.
What does David mean when he describes himself as poor and needy?
What is the balance to our weakness and need?
Why did early Christians pray with such urgency?
Application: What are you going through right now that proves to you the reality that life is filled with trouble? Do you see yourself as poor or needy? What exactly do you need from God, and how does acknowledging your need for God’s help change or encourage you? What new perspective does the promised return of the Lord Jesus Christ give you?
For Further Study: We can pray to the Lord in faith, knowing that he hears and is able to bring about what is best for us, because he has already defeated death through the resurrection of Christ. Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Death Swallowed Up in Victory.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)