This past Sunday I listened to an old Dutch Pastor preach his last sermon. He chose Psalm 13 as his swan song, hitting every Calvinist point and calling us to Trust God in all things. It was a fine sermon, but as he spoke I couldn’t help thinking about a different sermon on this passage…my first sermon.
11 years ago I preached my first sermon in a little inner city church. It was summer and the series was Psalms. I was assigned Psalm 13, a lament psalm. I still remember working on that sermon and the sick feeling I had when I stood up to begin speaking. I remember how my throat closed up at one point and I needed to take a few moments to breathe and gather myself. I remember looking out at the church and seeing tears running down friends’ faces as I shared my thoughts and story around this passage.
I spoke on Psalm 13 in the months following the loss of our first child. A child that we had desperately wanted and had been so devastated to lose.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
I spoke on how the first 4 verses seemed to perfectly sum up how I felt for the last 8 months. This lament of David during a time of persecution and darkness was my own personal prayer for months, a bitter angry prayer. I knew the first 4 verses intimately. But it took almost a year for me to even be able look at the last 2 verses. And even longer for me to be able to pray it with any sort of truth.
I spent a long time in the in-between place, the space between verse 4 and verse 5. That was my sermon, that space where the psalm shifted from lament to hope. I wondered then, as I wonder now how long that took. Was it immediate as David wrote it? Or was there a break in the writing of the psalm, when darkness finally gave way to the light.
I know that for some people the shift from lament to hope in God is quick, almost instantaneous in dire situations. They see and trust that God is in the midst with a faith that I do not possess. I envy them.
The sermon was not great, I was hardly eloquent in my delivery. But I remember being surprised at how many people came up to me after the sermon to say that they too knew of the in-between space. That space in our faith where we linger before we are reminded of our hope in God.
But the beauty of this psalm is that there is movement. It actually doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as it does. That is hope. That is my faith.