Halap is an interesting Hebrew word. (Don’t go to sleep on me!). It means “to renew” or “to exchange.” This word is used in Isaiah 40:31, which is a favorite verse to many. It states:
They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
This verse literally means—those who wait upon the LORD shall “exchange” their strength, or “they shall exchange their weakness for the strength that God provides.”
There are times in each of our lives when we become weary to the point of exhaustion. We have so much on our plate that we can become either immobilized or beyond our breaking point. It is at these moments that we need this Great Exchange. We quite literally need God’s strength to become our own. Moreover, we need His comfort in the midst of our struggle.
The writer of Psalm 77 certainly knew this predicament. Asaph (the author of this Psalm) found himself in a spiritually dark place. The props had been kicked out from under his life. We don’t know what his situation was; nor do we know how long he was in this spiritually dark place. However, as we read through this Psalm, Asaph gives us some insight for how to handle this darkness, what God wants us to do in the midst of it, and how we can be assured of God’s presence and providence in our lives as we wait for our situations to change for the better.
In verses 1-10 of this Psalm Asaph teaches us five things about ourselves and about God:
God Does Not Always Bring Comfort Instantly. (vv.1-4)
1 I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.
4You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
Spiritual depression often lasts a long time. Asaph cried out to God repeatedly in his trouble but found no comfort. His trouble had become so grave that there was NO comfort for his soul. In the book of Ruth, Naomi (Ruth’s mother-in-law) became so distraught over the loss of her husband & two sons that when people came to try to console her she said, “Do not call me Naomi (“pleasant”); call me Mara (“bitterness”).
Like Naomi, Asaph’s soul was an infected mess that saw no brightness in his days. In fact, when he remembered God (probably the sweetness of his relationship with God) he moaned. When he meditated over his happy times, his spirit literally fainted. Why? Because that was such a distant memory compared to his present circumstances.
Psalm 84 states:
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!
My soul longs, yes, even faints for You…
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand days elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
The Psalmist here is saying that ONE DAY in the house of the Lord (or in the felt-sense of His smiling presence) is better than 1,000 days of the world’s most pleasurable sin.
Certainly, Asaph was feeling the same way and consequently his darkness was longing for the renewed light of God’s favor. Yet, as we are to see in the next section, God is often closer than we think but…
He Does Not Always Let Us See Him Plainly. (vv.2b,4a)
2b in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
4You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
Asaph, in the midst of his “night” continues to stretch out his hand without wearying, meaning even though this is a dark place, he continues reaching out for the LORD. Though he is utterly fainting in his spirit, he still has the strength to continually call out to God without wearying. He then says that God holds his eyelids open. Asaph cannot close his eyes–he is so burdened. He can’t sleep, and he keeps crying out to God in spite of himself.
Do you ever lie awake at night with a troubled heart and can’t sleep, but you lay in bed saying over & over, “Lord, please help me; God, please, PLEASE help me. Oh, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…”
As you pray this way you certainly don’t feel that there is anything special about your prayers. Prayers like this
would certainly never be compiled in a book and sold at a Christian bookstore, you say. Nevertheless, you keep calling out in your moment of need.
Billy Graham was no Ph.D.-level biblical scholar. Yet, he defended the authority of the Scriptures on occasion at Cambridge University in England. He told his daughter that before the event he would spend HOURS on the front porch praying about the event, and she once asked him what he would pray for that length of time. Graham’s daughter said that her father told her he would simply pray continuously, “Jesus, please help me. Oh Lord, please help me.” Where does that strength come from?
It comes from God who gives us the strength to continue crying out to Him. He holds our eyelids open to continually pray to Him. We don’t lose heart because He is the one actually empowering our prayers. Yet, we often do not plainly see that it is GOD who is the One giving us the strength. We CAN see it in hindsight, but we need to be aware IN THE MIDST of trouble that God is right there with us to give us the strength to continue hoping, believing, praying… Next we see…
God Does Expect Us to Exercise Our Minds. (v.6)
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
Asaph begins talking to himself. He begins to instruct himself. He says: let me remember, let me meditate, (let me) make a diligent search. In his “night” rather than listen to himself, Asaph spoke to himself. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once stated that one of the biggest problems depressed Christians have is that they spend too much time listening to themselves rather than speaking truth to themselves, and as a result their depression often darkens.
Instead of listening to “this trouble is your downfall; you’ll never make it through this; you might as well quit; you’re such a loser,” Asaph remembers his song. He remembers the happier times. He soaked himself in the remembrance of God’s blessings. He “diligently” occupied himself with what is TRUE, rather than on his fears. This naturally folds in to our next point…
God Does Expect Us to Know Our Theology. (vv.7-9)
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
Asaph continues his self-talk, and he does it in such a way that what he KNOWS about God fuels his conversation. In verse 8 he speaks of God’s steadfast love. This is the Hebrew word hesed. God’s hesed expresses both God’s loyalty to His covenant & His love for His people along with a faithfulness to keep His promises. Jeremiah 32 illustrates this perfectly:
…This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God… I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. “This is what the Lord says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them. Jeremiah 32:36-42
Asaph reminds himself that God will not spurn forever; He will be favorable; His promises are forever; He will be gracious again; He will show compassion…
God’s hesed love must be woven into the fabric of our lives. It must be the foundation of all of our days because if we don’t believe ULTIMATELY that God is for us and not against us, then when trouble comes and lasts for a season, we will think that God really hates us—or at least is completely unfeeling towards us. God expects us to know our Theology. And lastly we see…
God Does Expect Us to Remember Our Past. (vv.5,10)
God’s faithfulness in our past is the key that unlocks our assurance to God’s faithfulness in the future. In all of our nights, we must give rigorous attention to what God has done previously. When we scour our lives to behold the joy we once had, the quiet sense of God’s favor, the obvious provision and blessing of God, God can use these memories as nutrition to exchange our weakness for His strength. Our knowledge of God’s presence in our past life is meant to be proof for us that He will ALWAYS be faithful to us, no matter that we are going through. Just because we may not feel His joy does not mean that we do not have His joy in you. As Zephaniah 3:17 states:
The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
For the Christian, these are God’s thoughts toward us at all times. In Jesus, we are being loved with an everlasting love. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will turn all of our darknesses into the glory of the light of His love for us eventually.
But in the meantime, God has given us some tools in Psalm 77 to know and use BY FAITH when we can’t see Him BY SIGHT.
Will you use them?