The Book of Psalms is, among other things, an instruction book for how to speak to God. The psalms give us just the right words to speak when we are at a loss for words, or when we are stuck in the common rut of repetitive prayers. But even more than allowing us to borrow God’s own language, they demonstrate the appropriate way to approach God in prayer.
This is especially helpful in those moments in life when we struggle to make sense of what God is doing. Moments such as when our present affliction and uncertainties about the future don’t align with what we know God has promised in the past. Or moments that require far more than the trite phrases and overworn cliches we so often hear. “God is good, all the time” is most definitely true, but that can ring hollow in the dark valleys of life and leave us grasping for words that truly express what we are feeling.
Psalm 77 is one of those honest psalms that refuses to settle for easy answers to complex questions. The psalmist opens his song by expressing his desperation and bringing it before the Lord. He knows that when the soul is tormented and no comfort is to be found, the only place to go, the only One to turn to, is God.
The psalmist is so troubled that he cannot speak. His own words fail, so he turns in his mind to the ancient words of his God. He remembers and he searches for an answer to his trouble not in his own wisdom, nor in the wisdom of others, but in the faithful promises of God.
That doesn’t mean that he simply remembers God’s great promises and immediately his problems dissipate like a morning fog. Rather, as he recalls God’s past promises he begins to wonder if they are in fact forgotten promises, relics of a time when God was truly with his people.
But the psalmist doesn’t stop there and wallow in his distress. Again, he turns to the remembrance of what God has done and said in the past. He remembers the deeds of the Lord and specially the great, covenant-defining moment of Israel’s redemption from Egypt. This moment in Israel’s history spoke loud and clear of God’s saving power and faithful love towards his chosen people. It was the event which shaped Israel’s identity and revealed the heart and character of God.
The psalmist does not just recall the Exodus event in passing, but he shuts his eyes and remembers the details of it. He marvels at waters of the Red Sea swept up into a heap and imagines how they shook in fear. He feels the trembling of the deeps below and the thunder above. He sees the flash of both the Egyptian arrows and the crashing lightning. And most vividly he beholds the open path through the sea by which his people were saved, and notices the unseen footprints of the Lord, leading his people to safety like the Good Shepherd he is.
As the psalmist remembers the details of the Exodus, his own troubled soul is calmed and the storm of questions raging inside his mind is quelled. He remembers the power and glory of God and is assured that God is greater than his troubles and worries. He remembers God’s faithful love and is able to find peace knowing that neither wind, nor wave, nor enemy army, nor human weakness, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God.