O Lord, my God, I call for help by day; I cry out in the night before Thee. Let my prayer come before Thee, incline Thy ear to my cry! Psalm 88:1-2
Psalm 88 is one of the “Six Psalms” that are read at the Orthros services in the Orthodox Church. Yet, when we read the whole Psalm, it seems rather depressing. It cuts off abruptly after the last verse, leaving us wondering “Does God really hear our cry for help?”
When I was younger, I had many surgeries on my cleft lip and palate. I had the most serious one when I was in seventh grade, when the surgeon took a bone from my right hip and grafted it into my mouth to make a roof for my mouth. I wasn’t allowed to eat solid food for about three months. And I couldn’t do anything that would make the muscles in mouth strain. Which is pretty much everything. Every time we lift something, there is strain on the muscles in the roof of our mouths. Consequently, I couldn’t yell to my parents, whose room was on the other side of the house, in the middle of the night, if I needed anything. So, they brought me a small hand bell that I could ring and they could then come and help me.
I can’t remember how many times I rung the bell. I do remember ringing it. I do remember being in pain on many nights after the surgery and I would ring the bell and my mom would come and do something to make me feel better—it might be a word of encouragement, a hug, or a pain pill. She might do something that would take the pain away for a few minutes, or she might offer me a pill to take away the pain for a few hours. Eventually the pain would return and the cycle would repeat. Then over time, the pain became less and less until there was no pain at all.
When I read Psalm 88, it makes me think of that time in my life. I would ring the bell, to let my parents know I was in pain and in need. I didn’t know what they would do when they came. I didn’t know if they would come running or walking, if they would bring a pill or an ice pack, if they would turn the light on or leave it off, etc. All I knew is that they would come and I would get some temporary relief.
I think in many respects God works in the same way. When we cry out to Him, especially when we are struggling, it’s like ringing the bell and letting Him know we are in pain. Of course, He already knows our pains, but when we call out to Him, it makes it more personal. We know that He is going to answer, but we do not know exactly how, when and what will happen. We know that He can make us feel better, and sometimes that relief lasts a little while and sometimes it lasts a long while.
Psalm 88 validates that there is a pain and struggle inside each human soul for the entirety of our lives. There is a battle going on in the soul that will last as long as are alive. That final battle is won or lost on the day we die. That’s why a person can lose their whole life and still win at the end—think about the thief on the cross. Or a person can “win” their whole life and still lose at the end—think about Judas. Most people are not at either extreme. Most people fight a battle their whole lives. And there are days when one feels despondent, “cut off” (Psalm 88:5), “heavy” (v. 7), “overwhelmed” (v. 7), “shunned” (v. 8), “shut in so that I cannot escape,” (v. 8) “cast off” (14), “afflicted and close to death” (v. 15) and “helpless.” (v. 15) Of course there are also days when we feel joyful and confident.
There are two facts that we must keep in mind. Even the most confidence and successful people will find themselves despondent. And God hears all prayers, especially when we are down. God hears that bell ringing. Faith is the trust the He will respond, even though we do not know that way or the time that He will respond. Faith is the trust that I had in my parents, that they heard the bell and were going to come. Faith is the trust that we are supposed to have in our Heavenly Father, who hears the bell and comes.
It may feel at times like we are crying out in the night and in darkness, and that our cries go unheard. That is true. There are times I wonder if God is not listening. Whether that is God testing us, or whether it is God not responding in our time is something we cannot always know. We know that God hears our pleas. We know that God loves us. We know that God wants the best for us. When we are down, this is the time we are supposed to run to God, to ring that bell of prayer, and that bell of faith, which not only brings God closer to us, but brings us closer to Him.
O Lord, my God, I call for help by day; I cry out in the night before Thee. Let my prayer come before Thee, include Thy ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am reckoned among those who go down to the Pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one forsaken among the dead, like the slain that life in the grave, like those whom Thou dost remember no more, for they are cut off from Thy hand. Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep. They wrath lies heavy upon me, and Thou dost overwhelm me with all Thy waves. Thou has caused my companions to shun me; Thou hast made me a thing of horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon Thee, O Lord; I spread out my hands to Thee. Dost Thou work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise Thee? Is Thy steadfast love declared in the grave, or Thy faithfulness in Abaddon? Are Thy wonders known in the darkness, or Thy saving help in the land of forgetfulness? But I, O Lord, cry to Thee; in the morning my prayer comes before Thee. O Lord, why does Thou cast me off? Why dost Thou hide Thy face from me? Afflicted and close to death from youth, up, I suffer Thy terrors; I am helpless. Thy wrath has swept over me; Thy dread assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in upon me together. Thou hast caused love and friend to shun me; my companions are in darkness. Psalm 88
Ring the bell of prayer at all times, in times of both joy and despondency. And know for certain that God hears our cries and inclines His ear to them!