Have you ever asked yourself, how long? How long until God saves my spouse? How long until my health improves? How long until God gives me a job? How long until I meet the perfect partner? How long until the home pregnancy test reveals two lines instead of one?
If you have asked the question, you’re not alone. The phrase “how long” is used, in one form of question or another, more than sixty times in the Bible. It is asked by the Lord himself almost as often as it is asked by the Lord’s people, and it is not always uttered as a prayer. Nevertheless, the words spill frequently from the lips of God’s people.
The psalmists ask the question as frequently as anyone else. It’s the question that lies behind David’s prayer in Psalm 13. Consider David’s words and ask yourself, have I asked similar questions? “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (vv. 1–2).
I don’t know what “how long” questions you are asking. But one can lesson we draw from Psalm 13 it is that our hope in our “how long” questions does not necessarily rest in changed circumstances.
I was talking recently to one an older church member who was telling me about the great affliction she faced from a very young age. She recalled feeling, even as an unbeliever, that God had turned his back on her. She related how even her closest family members simply did not understand her situation. She felt as if nobody was on her side. She held sorrow in her heart all the day and felt as if her “enemy” was exalted over her.
She recalled with tears hearing the gospel for the first time and coming to faith in Christ. She recalled her baptism. “When I came out of the water,” she said, “it was the first time in my life that I felt like I belonged. That I wasn’t a freak. I had a loving Father and was part of a family.” Significantly, nothing changed in her circumstances. She has lived her entire life with the challenges she remembers from childhood, but her perspective changed when the gospel became real to her. “Even if my prayers are never answered as I would like them to be,” she said, “I will never walk away from the Lord!”
David knew of this same commitment. Psalm 13 begins with his lament that the Lord had hidden his face from him. It ends with these words: “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” (vv. 5–6). It is significant that this change in perspective did not come from a change in circumstances. There is no indication in the psalm that circumstances favourably changed for him. Instead, he made the choice, even in unfavourable circumstances, to sing to the Lord.
Life is not always easy. It is harder for some than for others. In one way or another, everybody suffers. Perhaps you are hopeful in your affliction. Perhaps you are more pessimistic. Whatever your outlook, Psalm 13 teaches us a simple principle: It’s what you make of it. That may sound very psychobabbly, but it’s essentially how David approached his “how long.”
For David, praising God was a choice rather than a feeling. He felt anguish and even anger, and honestly presented his emotions to God. Ultimately, however, he submitted his feelings in trust. He chose to sing the truth that his heart did not yet feel.
What does your heart feel as you read Psalm 13? Anguish? Anger? Doubt? Consternation? Those feelings are understandable, but let the psalm remind you that it may be time for your voice to lead you to the truth and allow your heart to follow.