God, Answer Me Quickly!
by Mark. D. Roberts (reprinted with permission)
“Don’t turn away from me
in my time of distress.
Bend down to listen,
and answer me quickly when I call to you.” Psalm 102:1-28
When we ask a question or share a concern with someone, we expect a quick response. Gone are the days when we would write a letter and wait patiently for days or even weeks for a return letter. Technology has fed our hunger for instantaneous communication. In fact, we call one popular form of this “IM” or “Instant Messaging.”
But, even those of us who settle for the older forms of digital interaction, such as email, nevertheless want quick feedback. It’s not uncommon these days for someone to send an email and then a text to make sure the recipient got the email. If there isn’t a quick response to either of these, a cell phone call is not far behind. We want answers and we want them now, thank you very much.
We can also be like this in our communication with God. But our desire for God to respond quickly to our prayers isn’t simply a product of a technological age. In Psalm 102, for example, we read the prayer of an individual who badly needs God’s help. Verse 2 reads, “Don’t turn away from me in my time of distress. Bend down to listen, and answer me quickly when I call to you” (102:2). Desperate circumstances beget desperate prayers, both in our day as well as centuries ago.
The psalmist’s cry for God to answer and be quick about it impresses me in two ways. First, I’m struck by the boldness of this prayer. The writer doesn’t limit his language in ways I’d be inclined to do: “Who am I to tell God to act quickly? God’s ways are not my ways. God’s timing is not my timing. I have no right to demand an instant response from God.” As we see throughout the Psalms, there is no restraint here, no meticulous polishing of the words. The psalmist tells God exactly what he wants: Answer me…now!
Yet, my second impression is that God had not been acting according to the psalm writer’s timetable. It is true that God’s ways are not my ways and God’s timing is not my timing. Though it can be terribly hard to wait on God, and though we should feel free to tell God to hurry up, nevertheless, often God moves in ways that seem to us to be very slow—painfully slow.
A friend of mine is looking for work. He knows what he feels called to do professionally, yet the opportunities for him to do this are few. He can easily become discouraged, wondering why God is taking so long. Psalm 102 encourages my friend to be honest with God, asking for a speedy response. And, at the same time, this psalm implicitly reminds my friend–and all of us–that God’s timing is not our own. Thus, we live in the tension between telling God to act quickly and asking for the patience to trust that God’s ways and times are always the best.
Mark D. Roberts
Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts is Senior Advisor and Theologian-in-Residence of Foundations for Laity Renewal, a multifaceted ministry in the Hill Country of Texas and the parent organization of Laity Lodge. He has written several books, including his most recent: Can We Trust the Gospels? (Crossway, 2007)
He blogs at http://www.patheos.com/community/markdroberts, and writes a daily devotional for http://www.thehighcalling.org.