Steadfast Love and Faithfulness: August 16, 2020

Good morning, Church,

Patience is a virtue, so they say, but sometimes having patience can be extremely difficult for even the most relaxed people. Have you ever prayed for something and feel as though that prayer has fallen on deaf ears? Have you ever prayed and did not get an answer for months or even years at a time? We wait in traffic, wait for things to get better, or wait in the waiting room. We are no good at waiting. We want to get moving, we can’t bear wasting time, and the clock is ticking while we just don’t know what will unfold next. Patience is listed by Paul as a “fruit of the Spirit,” which it must be for somebody, somewhere, but not me, or at least not yet. I can’t muster it; maybe a miracle will dawn.

I know that at times I have prayed and prayed and prayed and felt as though nothing was going on. I have felt ignored by God, unloved by God, and sometimes even rejected by God, none of which feels good. There is something to be admired about those who are patient and faithful, even in the midst of unanswered prayers. Most of us can read Psalm 40 and admire its words, the depth of thought and faith conveyed in its phrases. But who among us can with any candor say “I waited patiently for the Lord”? When did I ever wait for anything at all without frustration or anxiety?

So for those of us who struggle with patience, what can we gather from a passage like Psalm 40? Well it's important to recognize one very important thing: this passage is not actually a prayer, but is rather more like a report on an already committed prayer. In biblical times it was common to pray and ask others to pray about some distress that you were experiencing. Later, you would return and report on the progress or the happenings about the prayer that everyone had been lifting up. You did this to help others who were struggling to find hope in the ways God had stepped up for you. If God does something good, we should share it, as it were.

Psalm 40 sounds notes in its melody that harmonize with so many tunes in Scripture.

  • *“Here I am” -- the words Isaiah used to reply affirmatively to God’s call (Isaiah 6).

  • *“Here I am” -- the same words a later follower of Isaiah used to depict the way God is there for us but we don’t go looking for God: “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I said ‘Here I am’ to a nation that did not call on my name” (Isaiah 65).

  • *Psalm 40’s image of God’s law not being something out there we try to absorb and translate into action, but it is actually inscribed directly onto the inner heart: Jeremiah longed for such a day (Jeremiah 31).

The purpose for a Psalm like this was to help the people of the ancient world to have their hearts and ears opened and the minds focused on what God was doing in the midst of their communities. The reason being that God wants people to be more involved in the work being done. God desires that we all take a lead in helping one another, growing in our understanding of faith together, and supporting the larger community, even those outside religion.

The Hebrew for this phrase “open ear” means literally “ears you have dug out for me,” as if our ears are jammed with gunk and wax, and only if God will bore it all out can we actually hear God! What fills our ears so we cannot hear God? And is the doing of God’s will a chore? A duty? Or is it a delight? We are more than happy to do something kind for our loved ones, are we as eager to do something loving for God?

This Psalm is important because it not only encourages us, but challenges us to be the best version of ourselves. It's about being blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. The happy or blessed one “makes the Lord his trust” -- and history has taught us that those who trust in the Lord are not comfortable or sheltered from difficulty. Following Jesus was never going to lead to a perfect life without hurts or stresses, but it does mean that we have hope for what can happen in our lives and how we can effect positive changes for others.

The last verse of our passage states, “Let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.” It is God’s steadfastness, God’s faithfulness, that will endure and win the day; if we triumph it is God doing so through us. And the “forever” the Psalmist had in mind was probably just in this world -- for a very long time here in this earthly life.

God promises to be with us, to walk the journey of life alongside us. God calls us to take that path with each other. In Psalm 40, an individual psalm of thanksgiving and complaint, the psalmist becomes a model for all. In their prayer, the psalmist takes us beyond the usual pattern of laments deeper into the nature of thanksgiving and its connection to petition and plea. The depth of the relationship with the Lord that the psalmist seeks to convey is embodied in the language they use. The psalm is full of words relating to the body and its activity. When the psalmist utters the words in v. 7, ‘Here I am’ (lit.: ‘Here, I have come!’) and uses the emphatic pronoun ‘I’ in v. 17, they stand before the Lord totally vulnerable. Giving all one’s life to the Lord is the essential point of the psalm. The delight of the one who is blessed (Ps 40:4) is to do the will of the Lord and have the Lord’s teaching in their heart.

The Psalmist has petitioned God for the two things we all want most, steadfast love and faithfulness. How have you been touched by God's love and faithfulness? How have you been able to touch others with your love and faithfulness? Together we can build a beautiful world filled with love and kindness. Let us take each moment and do something of purpose and value with it. Let's not waste any time we have here on earth and make the best use of our time to help build the kingdom of God. Only together, by God's grace, can we see the beauty of creation for what God intended. Amen.