I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. (Psalm 13:5)
If faith is the beating heart of a Christian’s spiritual anatomy, then praise is the healthy pulse. When faith looks back upon God’s wondrous deeds of redemption, we cannot help but praise. We praise him for parting the Red Sea with a word. We praise him for felling giants with a shepherd’s sling. We praise him for sending Christ to suffer and die. We praise him for raising him from the grave.
Yet faith goes further still. Not content to praise God only on the far side of deliverance, faith teaches us to praise him before deliverance even comes: not only after he’s parted the Red Sea, but while the Egyptian army still presses in; not only after Goliath lies slain, but as he still taunts the hosts of Israel; not only after the stone rolls away from the tomb, but during the Sabbath silence of Holy Saturday.
As David shows us in Psalm 13, such praise does not arise effortlessly. Often, it comes only on the other side of agonizing prayer.
‘How Long, O Lord?’
Without introduction or preamble, Psalm 13 opens in anguish: “How long, O Lord?” The question is a familiar one for most, even if our straits have not been quite so dire as David’s. Pressure builds. Prayer apparently goes unheard. All the while, God’s promises rest unfulfilled.
No matter where David looks, comfort eludes him. Above, a wall of clouds hides God’s face (verse 1). Within, cares and sorrows swirl (verse 2). Around, enemies surround the tottering king (verse 2). Four times in two verses, David repeats his question: “How long? . . . How long? . . . How long? . . . How long?”
Yet even here, faith has not forsaken him. For all the misery wrapped up in David’s question, he knows that God’s intervention is not a matter of if, but when — not of “Will you?” but of “How long?” His is no cry of despair thrown up into a godless sky, but rather the song of distressed trust.
‘Consider Me and Answer Me’
With each breath in the psalm, faith grows firmer. By verse 3, God is not only “O Lord,” but “O Lord my God.” At the same time, lament gives way to petition: “Consider me and answer me; . . . light up my eyes” (verse 3). Genuine faith may often speak the language of lament and complaint; eventually, however, it takes up the language of specific request.
David follows his prayer to be seen, answered, and revived with three reasons: “Lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken” (verses 3–4). These reasons may seem, at first, simply like the logic of desperation: “Answer me or I will die!” But more is going on here than that.
David, desperate as he may be, is appealing to God on the basis of his own promises. Early in David’s public life, God pledged that the shepherd boy would sit on the throne of Israel. Then he sealed that pledge with covenant promises like the following: “I will make for you a great name. . . . I will give you rest from all your enemies. . . . When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you” (2 Samuel 7:9, 11-12). In Psalm 13, all of those promises are in jeopardy. So David sends them back to God, wrapped in prayer.
When we merely give vent to the chaos within us, our prayers often leave us right where we started. But when we pray in the slipstream of God’s promises, we often find, with David, faith slowly rising.
‘I Will Sing to the Lord’
Many Christians are familiar with the famous “But God” statements of the New Testament (Ephesians 2:4, for example). Yet Christians can look not only at our sin and say, “But God”; we can look also at our despair and say, “But I”:
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (verses 5–6)
No circumstance has changed; no prayer has been answered; no deliverance has arrived. Yet in a moment, enemies grow small, sorrow and care loosen their grip, and lament gives way to praise. Why? Because David’s prayerful meditation of God’s promises has reminded him of something more powerful than his enemies, more certain than his sorrow: “your steadfast love.”
Another psalm of David shows us why steadfast love had such an effect on the fainting king. From the perspective of time, the steadfast love of the Lord is “from everlasting to everlasting”; from the perspective of space, it is “higher than the heavens are above the earth”; from the perspective of God’s character, it flows from him with abundance (Psalm 103:8, 11, 17). Such steadfast love is the pledge of all God’s promises. No wonder David sings.
Today, of course, we have even greater assurances of God’s steadfast love: a bloody cross and an empty tomb. And if this steadfast love is ours, then we too can sing with abandon, far before deliverance comes. For if Christ has come, then God will not fail to deal bountifully with us.