“God Answers When We Cry”
Psalm 22:23-31 (22:24) – March 3, 2021 (Midweek Lenten Service, Week 2)
How often do you cry out to God in prayer? Whether it’s sadness, grief, despair, or anger for yourself, or in pleading prayer for a loved one, this is an agonizing feeling that so many people have in common.
This psalm, Psalm 22, may be familiar to many people from Jesus’ last words on the Cross. The first line of this psalm are those words of lament, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” These are words many suffering people have echoed throughout the centuries. And, some will more closely examine these words from the beginning of Psalm 22 in just a few weeks, when we enter into the Passion of our Lord, in Holy Week.
However, there is so much more to this psalm! The reading for today is from the end of the psalm, verses 23 through 31. Yes, it comes from a psalm of lament. And, who has not complained to God at some time or other? Sometimes, more often than any of us wish to?
These cries of lament and complaint have a specific pattern to them.
- the invocation, in which the psalmist cries out to God to hear and listen
- the complaint, in which the psalmist tells God what is wrong
- the petition, in which the psalmist tells God what the psalmist wants God to do
- the expression of trust, in which the psalmist tells God why she or he knows that God can do what the psalmist asks
- the expression of praise and adoration, in which the psalmist celebrates the goodness and sovereignty of God 
This psalm reading, from verse 23 on, is wholly in the last part of this pattern: the expression of praise and adoration. We are in the praise territory of this hymn, and this last portion of the psalm is tied closely to the beginning, which seems so dark and hopeless. The psalmist makes a journey from darkness and despair to light and hope.
Is that our journey, sometimes? Can we be in the depths of misery or sadness or grief or despair? And then, gradually, the light of God’s presence comes into our experience. God extends hope and encouragement into our hopeless or sorrowful situation.
As I learned from Dr. Ken Bailey in one of his excellent Bible seminars, centuries ago there were no titles or numbers for the psalms. Bible students and scholars would refer to psalms by the first line. So, when our Lord Jesus referred to “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Yes – I am sure He was speaking forth this great lament from Psalm 22. However, I believe Jesus may also have been thinking of this portion of the psalm, especially verse 24: “God does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering; God does not turn away from them, but answers when they call for help.”
We do not have a distant, uncaring God! Yes, there is pain and suffering and sadness in the world. Yes, we will have sorrow and grief and even despair in our lives. Yet, God is present even amidst all that negative stuff. God will sit with us, or walk by our sides, as we go through all of that. And if we have a loved one who is going through the valley of the shadow, we can come alongside of that family member, or friend, and let them know that we are there, too.
As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1, the Lord helps us in all our troubles – vertically – so that each of us may be able to help others – horizontally – when they go through their troubles and difficulties. Praise God for God’s faithfulness to all generations.
Remember, this psalm assures us that all peoples will worship the Lord; from every part of the world they will turn to God. This is a promise from God, and it is faithful and true. Amen.
(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!
Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, GA