What do we sing when evil seems to be rampant and ongoing? This past Sunday Christians across the world observed a Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Over 200 million Christians daily face oppression, discrimination, torture, or worse, simply because they own the name of Jesus. In addition to taking time to pray for persecuted Christians, oppressive rulers, and the rest of the church, we expressed our prayers using Stuart Townend’s song, “How Long.”
Those words echo the Psalmist’s struggle with God’s seeming unresponsiveness to the present prosperity and triumph of the wicked. How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? (Ps. 74:10 ESV) O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? (Ps. 94:3 ESV)
Here are the words:
We have sung our songs of victory,
We have prayed to You for rain;
We have cried for Your compassion
To renew the land again.
Now we’re standing in Your presence,
More hungry than before;
Now we’re on Your steps of mercy,
And we’re knocking at Your door.
How long before You drench the barren land?
How long before we see Your righteous hand?
How long before Your name is lifted high?
How long before the weeping turns to songs of joy?
Lord, we know Your heart is broken
By the evil that You see,
And You’ve stayed Your hand of judgement
For You plan to set men free.
But the land is still in darkness,
And we’ve fled from what is right;
We have failed the silent children
Who will never see the light.
But I know a day is coming
When the deaf will hear His voice,
When the blind will see their Saviour,
And the lame will leap for joy.
When the widow finds a Husband
Who will always love His bride,
And the orphan finds a Father
Who will never leave her side.
How long before Your glory lights the skies?
How long before Your radiance lifts our eyes?
How long before Your fragrance fills the air?
How long before the earth resounds with songs of joy?
By Stuart Townend. Copyright 1997 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music/MCPS For reprint permission contact Kingsway Music.
Stuart’s song communicates our struggle behind the question, “How long?” but like many of the Psalms also expresses unltimate confidence in God’s faithfulness. We remember that God isn’t sitting by unemotionally as world events unfold. His heart is grieved by evil in the world. We also acknowledge our own lack of obedience to God’s will. “WE have failed.” The problem isn’t just somewhere out there; we see it in our own hearts.
Finally, the lyrics keep us from assuming that we will see the problems of evil resolved in our generation. “I KNOW a day is coming,” doesn’t mean that day will be in our lifetime. We look with hope and eager anticipation to the final day when there will be no “mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4 ESV) We live in the age of the already and the not yet – the age of hope and faith, tasting of the powers of the age to come, but awaiting the final return of our Savior, who will “put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15:25 ESV) And so we pray, we sing, we act – trusting that God will be faithful to his word and his promises – His kingdom shall come.
(Read part 3 here.)