Text: Psalm 13; John 20:24-29
We are continuing in a series called “Songs for Every Season,” chosen to work through some of the experiences and feelings we are having in this time of COVID-19 and stay-home orders. The Psalms are songs and prayers written from an astounding range of human experiences and they are a wonderful resource to us as we experience things like grief, impatience, fear, weariness, and other human feelings.
Last week we looked at grief in Psalm 8, noting the way the Psalmist moved through several stages of grief, from anger and blame, to asking for help, to talking to God, to trusting in God. I noted that each stage is a normal and healthy part of grieving, and God is present in each stage (whether we realize it or not). We also looked at one of the post-Easter resurrection appearances and how Jesus walked two discouraged travelers through similar stages of grief.
This week we are doing something very similar. We are going to consider impatience and will look at a Psalm (13) and another post-Easter resurrection appearance of Jesus. My hope is that if you are struggling with impatience around staying at home or poor health or things just not going the way you want in the timing you’d choose, you’ll find encouragement here.
Tired of Waiting
How are you doing with all this? Are you tired of waiting for the waiting to end? Are you ready to get back to work, to school, to life? That, of course, is a different question than whether it is safe to do so. It’s a different question than whether the economic cost is beginning to outweigh the health risk. That’s what is in the news right now as governors and others try to weigh the two things against the other. But overlaying all that (or lying beneath it) is a healthy measure of impatience. We are tired of this sequestered isolation and limitation on our way of life. And though we might want to blame politicians or scientists or God, part of the frustration is that it’s a virus we are frustrated with, and that’s kind of like howling at the wind when a storm comes. Ultimately, we can be careful, we can try to be wise, but we just have to… WAIT. And that makes us impatient.
I can’t think of a more appropriate song for the season than Psalm 13. It’s chief refrain is “How long?”
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”
“How long will you hid your face from me?”
“How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day?”
“How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”
How long? How long? How long?
And here’s the thing I love about the Psalms: it’s okay to say and feel these things… even with God! Maybe even especially with God! The Psalmist even goes further: “Answer me or I think I will die… my enemies will laugh.” (vv.3-4)
But I also love the Psalms because they work it out and talk it out. We get a glimpse of our most human feelings and thoughts, but we also see what those feelings and thoughts look like offered to God. And so the Psalmist continues:
“But I have trusted in your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” (vv.5-6)
I’m impatient, but I’ll pray. I’m frustrated, but I’ll trust and seek God. I wonder when God will respond, but I also can remember God’s faithfulness in the past. That’s what this Psalm offers us: a pattern for what to do with our impatience. Don’t deny or push down the human feelings; but offer them up to God in hope.
You probably know the story of Thomas the disciple. This is the story for which he is known: Jesus appeared to the disciples after Easter, but Thomas was not present. When Thomas heard about it from the others, he declared that until he could see Jesus for himself – see and touch the nailprints and the wound in his side – he would not believe.
This is a story about faith and doubt, right? Yes; it is, but I think there is also a secondary story of impatience in there. Have you ever noticed how long Thomas had to wait for his proof? It’s there in the text: “AFTER EIGHT DAYS his disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them.” Eight days after Easter… that’s a long time to wait when all your closest friends have seen and believed. They surely didn’t hit ‘pause’ on their excitement until Thomas could catch up… they were no doubt excited and all a-twitter about their risen friend and Lord. And Thomas was holding out. Surely Jesus would be back soon… and day after day passed. He was even appearing elsewhere. How long, O Lord? How long will you forget me forever?
When Jesus does appear to Thomas, I’ve always marveled that Thomas did not seem to need proof after all. There is no record of Thomas following through with his demands. Jesus offered for him to touch the wounds. Jesus invited him to believe. And maybe he did have to touch, but that’s not in the record. In response, he simply declares, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus does seem to praise those who believed without requiring the proof of sight.
But again, while faith and proof is the main story, that’s not my focus today. Today it is impatience. How long Thomas had to wait for his demand to be met. But he also followed the path of the Psalmist… he was quick to move to worship, to rejoicing. There was no grousing or bitterness that he had to wait so long. Rather, he proclaimed Jesus as Lord and God, a clear act of worship and belief.
Impatience and Worship
Can impatience and worship go together? It seems like the Psalmist says so. It seems like Thomas said so. Isn’t that comforting… that we can say both things: “How long, Lord?” and “I trust in your compassion and salvation!”
That we can do both is one of the things I appreciate about scripture. We are free to be human – thankfully (!), because we are kind of stuck with that. And… we are invited to be honestly human and also beloved by God. You don’t have to clean up and scrub up your frustrations or impatience to pray or sing or worship. Rather, you are invited to bring those very things into the presence of God.
So, in this time of waiting and wondering, I invite you to offer this simple, if seemingly held-in-tension, prayer to God, modeled on God’s Holy Word:
How long, O Lord?
I love you, Lord!
I think God delights in prayers such as those. Amen.
Some Music Used:
- Everlasting God
- O Love That Will Not Let Me Go
- OFFERTORY: My Life Flows on in Endless Song
- Abide With Me