“Are we there yet?” I asked for the millionth time from the backseat of our tan AMC Hornet as it rambled down the interstate. I was impatient to get out of that stuffy car and run around. Crammed in the backseat with my siblings and no air conditioning, I carefully peeled up each leg that was stuck to the vinyl seats. I leaned over into the front seat and whisper into my dad’s ear, “How much longer?” It didn’t matter the destination: lunch at McDonald’s, the nearest rest area, grandma’s house, or the next Motel 6 on the way to wherever we were going. I just wanted to get there. Because at the end of the road, there was the hope and promise of something better than my present circumstances. Maybe it was french fries, a cool swimming pool, a homemade meal, the freedom to run around, or simply my grandparents’ waiting arms.
It was on those never-ending family road trips that I developed a love for maps. Perhaps because my parents were exhausted from my endless questioning of “How much longer?”, they spent the time to teach me how to read a map. I learned how to calculate the mileage between two exit numbers, look for alternative routes, and find cities that started with each letter of the alphabet. I’d often pour through an atlas and make up games that involved guessing the distance between cities or the population of a certain city. But even with the distraction of maps, endless card games, and hunting for different licence plates, I never failed to continue to ask the question: “HOW MUCH LONGER???”
Fast-forward some thirty-five (or more) years later and I find myself asking the same question. Not to my dad from the backseat of a ’72 AMC Hornet, but to my heavenly Father from….well, the front seat of my present circumstances. I don’t know about you, but it seems like there are some prayers I have been praying for a long time. The SAME prayers. Over and over and over and over. I’ve used different words. I’ve prayed at different times. With different people. I’ve been in my bed, on the road, at the table, on my knees, and guess what? I’m still praying the SAME. PRAYERS. And it’s in those moments of frustration, when I feel like I must been doing it wrong or I need to be doing something differently, that I find myself literally throwing my hands up to God in frustration and crying out, “HOW MUCH LONGER DO I HAVE TO KEEP PRAYING THIS PRAYER, GOD???”
And I know I’m in good company, certainly with many of you, but also with those who have penned those same words in Scripture. Well, maybe not those exact words, but they come pretty close. Several times in the Psalms this phrase, “How long, Lord?” occurs – and not just in psalms written by David. There were other prophets, and even Moses himself, who felt as if God had turned away and left His people in dire straights.
From David…How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? ~ Psalm 13:1
From Asaph…How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire? ~ Psalm 79:5
From Ethan…How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? ~ Psalm 89:46
From Moses…Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. ~Psalm 90:13
Perhaps, like these verses above indicate, we feel there are times when it feels like God has abandoned us, or as if He is silent. Unattentive. Unmoving. Does He hear our pleas? Our desires? Our desperate prayers on behalf of those we love? Why isn’t He choosing to act? Has He forgotten us?
And yet, we know He hasn’t, because He declares, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” (Isaiah 49:16). And when we don’t think He hears us, we’re reminded of Psalm 66:19, “But truly God has listened; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.” But even in knowing these truths, we still may open our mouths and begin our complaints as David did in Psalm 13:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Four “how long” statements in two verses. Feeling in good company?
Guzik’s commentary on this psalm describes exactly how I feel when it comes to waiting. He says, “‘How long’ is the critical question. Often we faint under the simple length of our trials. We feel we could endure almost anything if we knew when it would come to an end.”
And yet, therein lies the issue, doesn’t it? We don’t know how long our trials will last or when they will end. If we did, would we even have need to continually go to God to call out for help and deliverance? Or would we simply just mark off the days on the calendar until the trial was over?
You see, it’s not really about God needing to do something on our behalf. (Although surely He is working in the waiting.) But rather, it’s about us needing to change our view of who God is and what His purposes are. After David asks that ‘how long’ question over and over again, he says in the very next verse, “Give light to my eyes.” Meaning, “Give me a new perspective on this situation, God, because I can’t see what You can.” He wants a new vision of the one he’s currently experiencing.
And perhaps, my friends, shouldn’t we be as resolved to let that be our prayer as well? That God would be changing our view, that He would cause us to WATCH in the waiting, instead of merely trying to suffer through it. Because it’s in the waiting that we can remember all God has done so faithfully in the past for us and for those we love. And it’s also in the waiting that God is fulfilling His purpose of bringing people into a closer relationship with Him and working out salvation for those who are far off. And like Moses and David and the other prophets who initially complained, “How Long, Lord?”, our remembrance of God’s faithfulness will produce praise.
From David….But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me. ~ Psalm 13:5-6
From Asaph…Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise. ~ Psalm 79:13
From Ethan…Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen. ~ Psalm 89:52
From Moses…Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. ~ Psalm 90:14
May it be the fervent cry of our heart to follow up our complaining and whining prayers of “how long” with praise to our God for all He has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. Our Father has the road map, and He knows the way. The road may be long in our waiting, but there is incredible hope and promise for a future in heaven, which is infinitely better than our present circumstances here on earth. And eventually, we will make it to our heavenly destination, where we will joyfully jump out of the grave and run straight into our Father’s waiting arms.