1 Lord, hear my prayer; let my cry for help come before You. 2 Do not hide Your face from me in my day of trouble. Listen closely to me; answer me quickly when I call. 3 For my days vanish like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. 4 My heart is afflicted, withered like grass; I even forget to eat my food. 5 Because of the sound of my groaning, my flesh sticks to my bones. 6 I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. 7 I stay awake; I am like a solitary bird on a roof. 8 My enemies taunt me all day long; they ridicule and curse me. 9 I eat ashes like bread and mingle my drinks with tears 10 because of Your indignation and wrath; for You have picked me up and thrown me aside. 11 My days are like a lengthening shadow, and I wither away like grass. 12 But You, Lord, are enthroned forever; Your fame endures to all generations. 13 You will rise up and have compassion on Zion , for it is time to show favor to her— the appointed time has come. 14 For Your servants take delight in its stones and favor its dust. 15 Then the nations will fear the name of Yahweh , and all the kings of the earth Your glory, 16 for the Lord will rebuild Zion; He will appear in His glory. 17 He will pay attention to the prayer of the destitute and will not despise their prayer. 18 This will be written for a later generation, and a newly created people will praise the Lord : 19 He looked down from His holy heights—the Lord gazed out from heaven to earth— 20 to hear a prisoner’s groaning, to set free those condemned to die, 21 so that they might declare the name of Yahweh in Zion and His praise in Jerusalem, 22 when peoples and kingdoms are assembled to serve the Lord. 23 He has broken my strength in midcourse; He has shortened my days. 24 I say: “My God, do not take me in the middle of my life! Your years continue through all generations. 25 Long ago You established the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. 26 They will perish, but You will endure; all of them will wear out like clothing. You will change them like a garment, and they will pass away. 27 But You are the same, and Your years will never end. 28 Your servants’ children will dwell securely, and their offspring will be established before You.”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Psalm 102 is a form of psalm that is called a “lament,” a complaint to God in time of crisis. In this case, the crisis seems to be two-fold. The first crisis is the illness of the psalmist. The second crisis is the destruction of Zion and the captivity of God’s people.
Psalm 102 is one of seven Penitential Prayers (Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143) that are used by the church in the season of Lent. The Psalm is a call to confession and repentance for healing and restoration. There is a clear connection in the psalmist’s mind between the brokenness of the physical body and the spiritual condition.
The psalmist also prays for his community. It is believed that this Psalm was written during the exile and after the destruction of Jerusalem when Zion was a memory. The psalmist understood that there is connection between the individual’s suffering and the suffering of the community. Perhaps the psalmist understood better than we that the health of the individual and the health of the community are intertwined.
The Psalm ends with a confident reassurance that although we are broken, weak, and transient, God is eternal; though our lives perish, God will endure; though this life will wear out and our physical body will die, God’s “years have no end.”
Have you ever come to church and wished that someone would sing the blues—maybe a little Blind Mississippi Morris or Etta James? The blues is a music genre that acknowledges the universal reality of suffering, heartbreak, broken dreams, and sorrow. Praise choruses are good and uplifting, but they don’t always reflect our mood. Sometimes our disappointment comes with us to church and we just need to cry, or at least sing the blues.
The psalmist understood. Psalm 102 is a song of lament. Literally, it is the blues to be sung in church. It is the prayer of one “afflicted.” The Hebrew word that is translated “afflicted” means weak, destitute, unable to save one’s self. The Psalmist is at his wits’ end and believes himself to be at a point of death. His only hope is his prayer to God, and he hopes God is listening.
The psalmist’s prayer is not just for himself. It is also a prayer for his community. Just as his own health was in jeopardy, the health of the community was at risk. His prayer is for a return to physical health and also for a return of the glory to his community, Zion.
The Psalm ends with confidence in God. Even though my life is transient, God will endure. And God will establish His people forever.
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There are times in our lives when the only recourse we have is prayer. A friend once said to me, “We are not easily reduced to prayer.” The meaning was that it takes a lot for us to get to the place where we are at wits’ end and can only pray. It is a difficult place to be. But it is here that we realize the saving power of God.
Our lives are very short. Even the longest lives are lived with a sense of brevity. The apostle James acknowledged that when he wrote, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). When sickness or disability or death cut life short, it can seem very unfair. That is when we need the perspective of the psalmist. The only thing that is eternal is God.
The psalmist had a clear identity with his community. He prayed for the health of his community just as he prayed for his own health. He had a sense of being part of something larger than himself. That is an important connection to make. We are not isolated and alone, but are part of something larger. Whatever we can do to promote a healthy community, either through community service, or through community politics, or through community ecology, we are well served to do so.
- Have you ever wished that the mood of the worship service reflected your own personal mood? It is okay to feel sorrowful in church. In fact, the Psalms give voice to every emotion. If you feel the need, use Psalm 102 to voice your own prayer of complaint.
- Have you ever said, “It’s just not fair”? There are times when life does not treat us fairly. The premature death of a loved one can bring that complaint. Life is NOT always fair. But the Psalm does voice a different perspective. God is bigger than our lives. The next time that you say to yourself, “It’s just not fair,” give voice to the reality that God still reigns.
- When was the last time that you prayed for your community? What needs are there in the community for which you can pray? Make a list of community needs that would make for a healthier environment.
- Once you have a list of community needs, ask God to guide you in your own involvement. It could be that you are God’s answer to your own prayer.