How long, LORD God Almighty,
will your anger smoulder
against the prayers of your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours,
and our enemies mock us.
Restore us, God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
The Psalms are a lifesaver for those of us who struggle with knowing what to pray. Because they give us a voice. Where we don’t always have the words, they give us the words.
The words in this particular psalm come from a place of brokenness. In case we’re in any doubt, the central prayer comes not once, not twice, but three times: ‘Restore us… make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved’ (80:3, 7, 19).
That refrain is deliberately reminiscent of the priestly blessing in Numbers 6, where Aaron and the priests affirm the sheer delight God takes in his own: ‘the LORD make his face shine on you.’ Except, the people felt they were no longer experiencing that promised blessing of the Lord.
They’d perhaps been feeling it for some time. ‘How long?’, they ask. That question is found in a number of psalms. Sometimes it’s because devastation has come at the hands of others and it’s a plea for God to step in. In this case, though, the people are painfully – and tearfully – aware of their own culpability, of God’s anger smouldering against them, of being mocked by others. Is it possible for God’s people to be derided by unbelievers because God himself brings it about? Apparently so.
Here is a cry of anguish from God’s people who are grieved by their own failure and distraught that God seems distant or even absent from them.
What do they pray? What do we pray? We return to the one we know to be faithful even when we’re not, to what we know to be fundamentally true about his promises to us, and to plead with him to step in and show his face: ‘Restore to us your special presence – your shining, smiling face that brings deliverance and blessing.’
So, what is it today that you would want to cry out to God for? For yourself? For the congregation to which you belong? For the church in our land? For your friends and neighbours? For your place of work? For our world? Take the words of the psalm and make them your own: ‘Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.’
And as you do so, remember that some broken things are restored because they’re precious, because they’re loved. God remains, to this day, in the restoration business.