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Psalms of waiting, longing and yearning

28 July St Mary’s

Words from our Psalm for this evening, Psalm 27:

   ‘Wait for the Lord…………Wait patiently for the Lord’

The fourth in a series of sermons on Psalms

                                                   Revd Michael Vooght

Psalms of waiting

Some of you will have been here on the last three Sunday Evenings to hear Jan, our Vicar, then David Self, then Tom Keates, talking about the Psalms, of Lament, of Blessing, and of Praise.

This evening, I want us to spend time with Psalms of Waiting, and I want to do it in two sections, handing you for each section a sheet of paper with selected psalm verses, about which I shall speak, and then leaving about three minutes of silence after each section, for you to be still with those verses, and to allow yourselves to be before God with the words, which formed such a central part to Christ’s own life of prayer before his Father.

The First Section centres on Waiting for God, in trust, in hope, in expectation.  The Second Section will be about Waiting for God in the sense of reaching out in times of anguish, uncertainty, fearfulness and even despair, as the Psalmist reflects the thoughts of those going through some of that, and waiting in longing for God to help them through .

More of that later.

So, here’s the first sheet with some selected verses from Psalms of Waiting, about which I want to say a little now.

Psalms of Waiting.  [Selected Verses]

Psalm 27, v 1  

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?

The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

       vv 4 & 5  

One thing have I asked of the Lord, and that alone will I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to seek his will in his temple.

   vv 10 & 11  

My heart tells of your word, ‘seek my face’. Your face, Lord, will I seek.

Hide not your face from me, nor cast away your servant in displeasure.

   v 17

Wait for the Lord; be strong and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the Lord.

Psalm 33, vv 18 and 20

Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him,

on those who wait in hope for his steadfast love.

Our soul waits longingly for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

Psalm 37, vv 4 & 7[a]

Let your delight be in the Lord, and he shall give you your heart’s desire.

Be still before the Lord and wait for him.

Psalm 62, vv1 & 5

On God alone my soul in stillness waits: from him comes my salvation.

Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul; for in him is my hope.

Psalm 130, vv 1, 4, 5 & 6

Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord, more that the night watch for the morning,

more than the night watch for the morning.

O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy;

With him is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel

from all their sins.

The theme of Psalms of Waiting was included from the start of this Service of Evensong today by our saying together Psalm 27. Some of the verses from that Psalm are shown above in blue.

Evensong continued with the reading from a section of Isaiah, a section probably not written until much later than the early chapters of the book, but belonging to a period after the Jewish Exile to Babylon, and following their return to rebuild Jerusalem and its Temple; and therefore a time of new confidence and hope among the Jews in their restored sense of security in God’s love;

‘We have a strong city, with walls and ramparts, built for our safety’…………’Trust in the Lord for ever, for he is an eternal rock’……..[and later on] ‘with all my heart I long for you in the night; at dawn I seek you’. [Isaiah Chapter 26, verses 1, 4, and 9]

The Psalms are full of the theme of Waiting, some of them just waiting for God, some waiting for God to act over this or that situation, some waiting in hope, but often waiting in stillness, just to be aware of God’s Presence. A modern poet, called Ann Lewin, has likened the prayer of waiting in stillness for God’s Presence to the silent waiting to see a kingfisher, oneself intent and completely focused.

Psalm 27, first on our sheet, is one of those prayers. According to a recent book called ‘Silent Waiting’ by Alexander Ryrie, Psalm 27 speaks, more that any other Psalm, of direct communion with God. [Look at verses 4 & 5 on the sheet, and again at verses

10 & 11].  Ryrie says: ‘This theme colours the thought of the whole Psalm, and has led it to being called ‘the contemplatives’ Psalm’. [Look also at verse 17 with its culmination of ‘Wait for the Lord’.]   

Also you will see that Psalm 33 and 130 include ‘waiting in hope’, and hope is preceded in Psalm 130 with anguish, as the writer prays desperately ‘out of the depths’ for God to hear his voice.

That’s a hint of part 2 for this evening.

Meanwhile, Psalm 130 settles to ‘waiting as a watchman waits for the morning’.

So, I invite you to share in 3 minutes of total silence, either in digesting some of the words on the sheet, or simply sitting before God in total stillness. [Think of  birdwatchers.]

Psalms of longing and yearning

Psalms of Longing.  [Selected Verses]

Psalm 42, vv 1,2,3,6 & 7

As the deer longs for the water brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God.

My soul is athirst for God, even for the living God;

when shall I come before the presence of God?

My tears have been my bread day and night,

While all day long they say to me, ‘Where is now your God?’

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul,

and why are you so disquieted within me?

O put your trust in God; for I will yet give him thanks,

Who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Psalm 69, vv 1,2,3 & 19

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up, even to my neck.

I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold;

I have come into deep waters and the flood sweeps over me.

I have become weary with crying; my throat is raw;

My eyes have failed from looking so long for my God.

Hide not your face from your servant;

be swift to answer me, for I am in trouble.

Psalm 143, vv 6,7 & 8

I stretch out my hands to you; my soul gasps to you like a thirsty land.

O Lord, make haste to answer me; my spirit fails me;

Hide not your face from me lest I be like those who go down to the Pit.

Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning,

For in you I put my trust: show me the way I should walk in,

For I lift up my soul to you.

Our first part this evening was about Psalms which wait quietly for God, Psalms of waiting for him to act, waiting in hope, but above all, simply resting in him, waiting expectantly to have a sense of God’s Presence.

Only in Psalm 130, at the beginning, did we get a hint that not all the waiting within the Psalms is so straightforward as simply waiting for him in quiet trust:

‘Out of the depths have I cried unto you, O Lord’.

So, in this second part this evening, I want us to move on to Longing for God, Yearning for God, and certainly Crying out for God, from the darkness, or its equivalent.

The positive words of waiting in Psalm 27:

‘The Lord is my light and my salvation’ are tempered, in a real world, with the dark words of Psalm 42 :

‘My tears have been my bread day and night, while all day long they say to me: ‘where is now your God?’

And even more in Psalm 69:

‘Save me, O God, for the waters have come up, even to my neck’ words reminiscent of Jeremiah’s cry from his bottle shaped dungeon into which he had been lowered with ropes, which were then removed, possibly a similar type of dungeon into which Christ may have been put for a short time during the night before his trial. ‘Save me, O God’.

Here, there is little of the quiet words of waiting for God. Rather, there is anger at the apparent absence of God:

‘I am weary with crying, my throat is raw; my eyes have failed for looking so long for my God.’

And yet, even in that dire situation, the soul in prison cries out:

‘Hide not your face from your servant: be swift to answer me, for I am in trouble’.

Even within all the darkness he cries out for God, in waiting and in yearning for his deliverance.

In Psalm 42, too, the words of despair: ‘Where is now your God?’ are tempered in the next couple of verses:

‘Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? ……O put your trust in God’, echoing back to the beginning of the Psalm: ‘As the deer longs for the water brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God’.

Looking on to the verses for Psalm 143, though they may seem really dark:

‘My soul gasps to you like a thirsty land’, the writer comes back to words of waiting, like we were hearing in the first part this evening:

‘show me the way I should walk in, for I lift up my soul to you’.

So, Psalms of Longing and Crying for God, shot through with prayers of quiet and hopeful waiting.

Our Second Reading this evening was about Christ waiting in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before he was crucified.

‘He said to Peter, James and John: “My heart is ready to break with grief; stop here, and stay awake”……..he threw himself on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, this hour might pass him by. “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; take this cup from me. Yet not my will but yours”’.

Christ, as well as the psalmist, knew the paradox of deep, quiet trust in God, shot through with anguish and near despair at the darkest moments of his life.

So, as we ponder the Psalms, we have a huge variety of spiritual expressions, ranging from great delight and rejoicing in many of the Psalms of Praise, to some of the expressions I have shared with you where the Psalmist , and even Christ, are at the point of despair as they reach out in anguish for God with the last breath of trust they can express.

I suggest that this vast spectrum of human response to God contained in the Psalms is a wonderful compendium of prayer for us to draw from, as we continue our journeys before God, so varied day by day, so subject to the greatest joys and the deepest sorrows, and as we hold on to our faith, and look to its deepening and its growth in genuineness.

Let’s spend our last 3 minutes in silence before God, and with the words from the Psalms in front of us as our diet and guide.

[At this point, the congregation shared that silence, before singing the last hymn]