By James Boice
Theme: The Beginning of the Psalmist’s Shift
In this week’s lessons we are reminded that when we are discouraged and God seems distant, we are to remember who God is, what he has done in the past, and what he promises to do in the future.
Scripture: Psalm 77:1-20
In the second stanza (vv. 3-6) Asaph tells the reader a bit more about his depressed state of mind, explaining in verses 5 and 6 that what troubled him most in his musings was the memory of former days when he was happy enough in God to sing songs in the night. The important word in this stanza is “remember,” which also reappears in stanza four. Here he is remembering his former happiness. In stanza four he remembers the mighty deeds of God (v. 11), which is a significant shift of his focus.
This is a case where we need to try hard to appreciate the spirit and tone of the verses, if we are to understand what is going on. The first verse says, “I remembered you, O God.” So it seems on the surface that Asaph is thinking about God, which would be good. However, as the verses go on to show, what he is really thinking about is himself, and what he is thinking is that God has been hard with him and has not been as close as he was formerly. In other words, he is feeling sorry for himself—with reason perhaps, but still it is about himself that he is thinking. His case is not as extreme as that of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, for Asaph is a believer and the Pharisee was not. But still, the Pharisee’s prayer was much like this. He began with “God…” But, as Jesus said, he was really praying “about himself.” So the Pharisee continued, “I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11).
The best we can say about the second stanza of Asaph’s prayer is that his focus is beginning to shift, albeit slightly. But there is still an awful lot of “I” (five occurrences) and “my” (five occurrences). In this respect the prayer sounds like many of our prayers or prayers we are used to hearing.
- What is Asaph really thinking about?
- Why is the tone and spirit of these verses important?
- How can you tell that the focus of Asaph’s prayer is beginning to shift?
Application: If you are depressed now, determine why, and list examples of God’s faithfulness to you in the past. Pray for perseverance as you await his will to become clearer.
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