“Wait patiently for the Lord” (Ps. 27:18)
What a difference the context makes when we pray! This Lent that context is shaped by images of war. Not that last year there was peace on earth (there wasn’t): there was still war in Syria, conflict in Ethiopia, violence in Yemen. In that sense, nothing has changed. Yet the sudden outbreak of war in Ukraine two weeks ago creates a different context, bringing home to us with a new urgency our need for God, and the necessity of prayer.
Think about our psalm this morning. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1). “Though an army should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not be afraid; and though war should rise up against me, yet will I put my trust in him” (Ps. 27:3-4). “For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter” (Ps. 27:7), the psalmist prays; or again, “Deliver me not into the hands of my adversaries” (Ps. 27:16).
When I pray, I’m not thinking of enemy armies that surround me, or my need to get to the bomb shelter. I’m not thinking about deliverance in the hour of national peril. Yet in the world of the Holy Scriptures, the world in which King David ruled, these were not necessarily just metaphors, but lived realities. The armies were likely to be real ones; the enemies that surrounded were actual flesh and blood threats. It was so in the world in which the psalms were first prayed; and so it is in our own world, in a country that’s not too far away from our own.
This reality can teach us humility in our prayer: whatever our struggles may be, there are others who are dealing with situations that far outstrip our imaginations, even when viewing the images on the screen. Not that our challenges are insignificant, but God sustains all of us through the burden that each one bears, which cannot be quantified or reduced to equations. Humility also comes with the knowledge that there are not only the challenges of this time, but also challenges that lie ahead for each of us. I say this quietly, because none of us knows what lies ahead, in the providence of God.
It’s a feature of a psalm like this, a psalm of lament, that it’s grounded in faith. “Show me your way, O Lord” (Ps. 27:15), we prayed this morning; “Your face, Lord, will I seek” (Ps. 27:11). Or again, the joyful note, “Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation with sounds of great gladness; I will sing and make music to the Lord” (Ps. 27:9). There is another reality at work in our lives, in the midst of adversity: the steadfast love of God for us. We experience struggles, the oppression of our adversaries; but the God of Israel reigns above them all.
“What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” (Ps. 27:17). What indeed? This is the prayer of faith. A psalm of lament looks forward in faith to the deliverance that comes from God, to an as yet unrealized hope. “For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:25), St. Paul says in the Letter to the Romans. Or as Paul puts it in our reading from Philippians this morning, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). We expect, but we have not yet received. We wait with patience for the Lord Jesus Christ to act. Again, as the psalmist prays, “O tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure; be strong and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the Lord” (Ps. 27:18).
Whatever our context this Lent, God is our hope. We’re travelling with Jesus to Jerusalem, as our Gospel reminds us. There he will fulfill his ministry and finish his work, as he says in our Gospel (Lk. 13:32). The cross, we know, will lead to resurrection. Faith is the ground of our prayer, and hope reaches forward to a reality that we cannot see, but which we wait for patiently.