“To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me.” That is how David opened Psalm 28. Can you relate? Do you know what it is to pour your heart to God in prayer, knowing that he has the power to answer favourably, only to find that he doesn’t do so? We love the “even if” faith of Daniel’s three friends: “If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up” (Daniel 3:17–18, CSB). We take a degree of pride in the unwavering faith of these three young men, vindicated as God delivers them from a fiery death, but we are puzzled when God doesn’t honour our expressions of faith in the same way.
We think we know how it should work. “God is able to heal my loved one, but even if he doesn’t, I will still serve him.” “God is able to protect my job, but even if not, I will still serve him.” “God is able to protect me from the virus, but even if not, I will still serve him.” Implicit in those expressions of faith is often the assumption that, when the heat is turned up, God will step into the fire with us and we’ll walk away unscathed. Glory to God!
But what about when it doesn’t go that way? What about the times when the fervent, faith-filled prayers for your loved one are answered with the cold rattle of death? What about the times when the confidence of job security is met with a UIF application? What about the times when the confident expectation of a negative test result is countered with the dreaded positive? What does your “even if” look like in those moments? Do you suddenly find yourself where David was, wondering if God has gone deaf?
Brothers and sisters, be assured of this: Those times will come. It is foolish to expect every prayer to be met with a miracle. Indeed, we are wise to prepare ourselves in advance for the times when the miracle doesn’t happen. Psalm 28 helps us in that regard. Among other things, it encourages our preparedness in at least two ways.
First, it encourages us that our prayers need not necessarily be sanitised. In a recent recorded conversation between Rebecca St. James and her younger brother, Luke Smallbone (of For King and Country fame), Luke recounted the intense grief that he and his wife experienced when she miscarried. As he talked through the experience, he reflected on what he had learned in that time from the Psalms. He noted that we often “pre-filter” our prayers to ensure that we approach God reverently and carefully with our questions. We should, of course, approach God with reverence, but reverence does not necessarily mean silence. David was not afraid to express his confusion in prayer. Luke compared it to his son coming to him and saying, “Daddy you got mad at me and I don’t know why.” Would we not feel honoured that our children felt safe enough to bring those questions to us? Perhaps God feels the same way. Perhaps, rather than sanitising our prayers, we would do better to be transparent with God.
Second, Psalm 28 teaches us to meet our struggles of faith with praise. David spends the first half of the Psalm expressing his frustrations with God’s seeming deafness and pleading with God to deliver him. But notice that, midway, he switches gears. “Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him” (vv. 6–7). We should not imagine that David’s circumstances changed in the space of one verse. He still faced the threats. God still seemed deaf. The prayer was yet to be answered (see v. 9). But he knew that wasn’t true and so, instead of giving into despair, he began praying truth. He began praising God for who he knew he is, even when it didn’t feel true.
One of the best ways we can combat temptations to faithlessness is to learn and speak and pray truth. That is one of the reasons we include a prayer of adoration in our weekly prayer guide. God may not answer every prayer on that list in the way we would like, but even if not, we can encourage our hearts that he is our strength and shield even when it seems that he is deaf.
Speaking to his sister, Luke Smallbone said, “When we’re going through difficult times, we tend to dwell on the pain. But when we come out the other side, we see God’s faithfulness.” Let’s learn from Psalm 28 to prepare ourselves to see God’s faithfulness on the other side by choosing to rejoice in his faithfulness even while it seems that he is deaf.