Psalm 79 is a communal lament. The writer of Psalm 79, as in other psalms of lament, complains to God.
How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire? (Psalm 79:5)
Does God allow us to complain? Don’t think you always have to present a good face to God. He knows your heart. All of us have come to a place in our lives where we say, ‘God, what are you doing?’ He is gracious and will listen.
In the TV series West Wing, in the episode Two Cathedrals, the President rants against God. He tells him all the good things he has done so why is this happening? He finishes with ‘I’m done with you.’
In contrast, the Psalmist laments while he holds on to God and who he is. He recognises that God’s judgement is valid because of the people’s sin, but he queries the length of the sentence. ‘How long O Lord?’ is a recurring theme through the Psalms.
V1-4 reminds God of the state of the nation.
O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins. (Psalm 79:1)
Jesus asked people, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ even when it was clear they were sick or crippled. You need to ask him.
V5-8 asks for restoration for his people.
Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. (Psalm 79:8)
Tell him what you need.
V9-12 reminds God of his promises.
Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake! (Psalm 79:9)
Tell him, and you, what he has said and done in the past.
V13 makes an appropriate response.
But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.(Psalm 79:13)
The writer makes a promise that if God restores the people they will serve him faithfully.
Vicar Chad Varah felt moved to provide a service of those who would listen to troubled people, but he told God he couldn’t do it where he was, it needed to be run from a city centre church. Then he was called to a city centre church! With God moving in his life, he obeyed and set up the service. This is the story of the founding of the Samaritans.
God has done so much for us. Even when we have cause for lament, we need to cling to him and serve him faithfully. When church leaders call for prayer for the nation few people turn up. If we want to be part of what God is doing we need to be committed.
[based on a sermon by Pete Orphan at Pantygwydr Baptist Church]
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk