What do we pray when our spirits are crushed, when circumstances force us to change direction and formulate new plans? Five years ago on January 21st, my day began with a phone call that informed me that my older son had died a few months short of his twenty-eighth birthday. We had had no knowledge of the health problem that caused his sudden death, and still have no reason to believe that he knew. I wrote about my grief then and again last year.
David, the great king of Israel, grieved the deaths of several of his sons. He expressed his grief in prayers and songs to the Lord God. David had known great success as a military commander and a king. He united a divided people with his visionary leadership. He led with courage, with love, and with deep religious faith. David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, where he dreamed of building a temple where his people could worship their God. When he told his plans to the prophet Nathan, the prophet initially encouraged him, but then returned to tell him that God did want David, a man of war, to build the temple. Solomon, David’s heir, would build his father’s dream.
David was disappointed. He did not lose hope, in part because Nathan’s message from God promised the continuity of David’s lineage as rulers. He continued to plan the temple and to acquire materials needed for its construction. He organized roles for leaders of worship from among the Levites, who assisted the priests in Israel’s worship assemblies. 1 Chronicles 17 records the prayer he offered after he learned he would not build the temple. David thanked God for honoring him and blessing him. He had risen from humble beginnings to become king. David said,
Who am I, LORD God, and what is my family that you have brought me this far…You, LORD God have looked on me as thou I were the most exalted of men” (1 Chronicles 17:16,17).
David praised God,
“There is no one like you, LORD, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears” (1 Chronicles 17:20).
God’s promises and his blessings in the past gave David courage to pray praises and gratitude at a moment in which he could have raged in frustration. He realized that although a dream would not reach fulfillment as he had imagined, he would not see that dream become a reality, that God would continue to bless him and his family as they humbly sought his will.
In times of grief and frustration, anger may blind us to new paths and open doors to replace the cherished goals and plans now denied to us. When we acknowledge who we are in the presence of God, when we continue to thank and praise him for what he has given, we discover that hope remains, that God still has work he has planned for us to do, even if that work is not what we had envisioned. David’s psalms reveal that he prayed at times with desperation and in bewilderment. His laments comfort us because they remind us that God will listen to our sorrow and our anger when we pray in faith, even when loss has damaged and threatened that faith. Like David, I have known grief. I have had to change course as doors closed and detour signs appeared on the road of my life. God’s promises give me courage, as they did David, to keep praying, to keep planning, to keep believing, to keep living. May they do the same for you.
• Bible quotations are from the New International Version, 2011.
O Lord, our God, in my sorrow and my frustration I cry out to you when it seems that another loved one has departed too soon, when doors for ministry slam in my face. You have shown me great patience and love. You have given me a life filled with adventure, love, and accomplishment. There have been times when I faltered, times when I failed, times when I grieved. In those times, as is the case now, your promises console me. Your past blessings give me hope. Grant that I always be able to hear your voice, to sense the opportunities that you give, to have courage to pray and to walk in the path where Jesus leads. In Jesus’ name, amen.