I signed a book contract with Bold Vision Books to write a book based on the psalms of Asaph, King David’s director of music. (To the right, a sneak preview of cover.) He watched the glorious rise Israel and the building of the magnificent Temple as well as the moral collapse and complete destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
In his psalms, he struggles with unanswered prayer, unfulfilled promises, and unpunished evil. Here’s a sneak preview. (Please keep in mind, this is a rough draft and not edited. And if you have a comment or question, feel free to email me.)
I. Unanswered Prayer
1. Is Unanswered Prayer God’s Fault?
2. Is Unanswered Prayer Someone Else’s Fault?
3. Is Unanswered Prayer My Fault?
II. Unfulfilled Promises
4. Are God’s “Promises” Really Promises?
5. Are the Promises Conditional?
6. Are the Promises To Be Fulfilled in the Future?
III. Unpunished Evil
7. Is God Responsible for Evil?
8. Why Doesn’t God Seem to Prevent Evil?
9. Why Is God Slow in Bringing Judgment?
10. Life is hard
11. God is good
12. There is a purpose
Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!
But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps had almost slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
And washed my hands in innocence;
For I have been stricken all day long
And chastened every morning.
Psalm 73:1-3, 13-14
Have you ever envied the arrogant? The prosperity of the wicked? Okay, I’ll admit it. I have. And worse, I’ve wondered if I’ve kept my heart pure and hands innocent for nothing. Yep, it can feel like we’re on a “Slip ‘N Slide” coated with motor oil as we struggle with unanswered prayers, unfulfilled promises, and unpunished evil.
As we’ll learn, Asaph—Kings David and Solomon’s minister of music—watched the glorious rise of Israel—and its shameful decline and utter destruction. His psalms—50, 73-83—chronicle poetically and painfully his own dark doubts, crippling confusion, and constant questions.
Here are three incidents on which I nearly slipped.
“God, we’re trusting you to heal Dave this morning.” Fifty people from the church my wife and I attend gathered around the sixty-something man who had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. Pastor Matthew had quoted James 5:14-15a:
Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well (NLT).
The three hundred parishioners present had agreed with hearty amens. As Dave was about to be anointed, Pastor Matthew quietly asked him, “Dave, you know things don’t look good. Do you know where you’ll spend eternity?” After some hushed conversation back and forth, Dave accepted Christ, was anointed, and the congregation promised to continue praying.
A few days later, the church’s Facebook page posted the good news: Dave had accepted Christ as his Savior and a scan revealed that Dave was cancer free! He was a personable soul who enjoyed sharing his newfound faith along with his wonder and amazement that the cancer was completely gone. Great rejoicing filled the church.
I too rejoiced, thinking, Finally, an answer to a prayer for cancer healing after watching so many of my friends die—despite the anointings and prayers! And what a great faith-builder for the many brand new Christians at the growing church. Thank you! Thank you, Jesus!
But just days after the great news, another Facebook post shared devastating news: The test was misread. Dave did indeed have a large mass on his pancreas and would need immediate surgery.
I nearly shouted at God. “This is such a cruel trick. We’re praising you for a miracle—and it’s all just a medical reporting error. This is going to destroy the fragile faith of new believers.”
Again, we gathered around Dave and prayed for a healing—either supernatural or medical. And once again, Facebook kept the congregation informed as the ten-hour surgery dragged on throughout the day and prayers were sent heavenward for Dave.
- URGENT PRAYER REQUEST: 6 pm While removing the cancerous mass from Dave’s abdomen, an artery was torn and a vascular surgeon has been called in for emergency repair. Thanks for your immediate prayers.
URGENT PRAYER REQUEST: 8 pm Dave is VERY critical. Pastor Matthew returned to Indy and just had prayer over him asking that “God’s Spirit would breathe life into Dave—either on this side or the other side of the Jordan.” Thanks for your prayers.
TRAGIC NEWS. TRIUMPHANT NEWS REGARDING DAVE: 8:25 pm Dave died this evening around 8:25 after complications following today’s surgery for pancreatic cancer. He had recently accepted Christ as his Savior during prayer for his battle with pancreatic cancer, and is now cancer-free and safely Home.
The violent, up-and-down roller coaster ride—Dave’s healing and salvation, the news of healing then misread test, surgery which had been going well and then his sudden death—went off the rails. And questions of why shook the congregation—and me. Why had Dave died after he and the church had followed the biblical principles and believed with faith that he would be spared the prognosis of death? What kind of God toys with his children’s emotions?
In the year 2000, I was hired by a Christian internet company to serve as a writer and editor. I was paid an ungodly amount for my work, but praised him for the wonderful opportunity to support missions work. Since my wife, as a pastor, had a parsonage, car, insurance and salary provided, we lived on her income and benefits, while I gave away most of my salary to missions work. I had been taught early in from Malachi 3:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows” (3:10)./UL>
It was such a joy to be able to give generously as I was given generously.
But then the dot.com bubble burst, my wife lost her job, and we found ourselves needing a loan—for the exact amount of what we “overpaid” on our tithe. (I know, you really can’t over-pay God, but that was the feeling shaking my soul. Ever since I had placed a nickel of my fifty-cent allowance in the little plastic church in Sunday school, I had been taught, “You can’t out give God.” And yet, it seemed we had—right down to the last penny.
My wife was in tears and I felt like a total failure as we signed the line on the loan designated “debtor.” It was if my spiritual life flashed past my eyes.
What about the promise, “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38)?
God, this is the only place in Scripture that you dare us to “test” you . . . and you have failed the test!
As a Christian—and news junkie—my heart is broken each time I read about how The Islamic State In Iraq (ISIS or ISL) has targeted Christians in the Middle East. Since its formation in 2002, researchers at the University of Maryland estimates that ISIS committed 4,900 acts of terror, resulting in at least 33,000 deaths, 41,000 injuries, and 11,000 prisoners between that year and 2015. Its mode of operation includes suicide bombings, plowing through crowds in large trucks, beheading and torturing believers, raping young girls and women, and burning churches to the ground with doomed worshippers inside.
I feel the anguish of those described in the Book of Revelation:
- I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” (6:9-10).
But the slaughter of Christians is nothing new. In the twentieth century, more Christians died for their faith than in the first nineteen combined. Countries such as China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia brutally oppress those simply loving Christ.
My questions of unpunished evil, actually began with the Vietnam War, numerous political scandals including the impeachment of President Clinton, and corporate crimes.
How long, Jesus, before you judge these torturers and murderers of your brothers and sisters? When will you avenge their blood? When are you coming back to restore the justice you have promised?
I’m sure you have your own stories and struggles with unanswered prayer, unfulfilled promises, and unpunished evil. Asaph transparently and honestly struggled as Kings David and Solomon’s chief of music. His psalms are angry, raw, and despondent, but they are also filled with white-knuckle trust in a good God during an ungodly time period. We’re going bravely and truthfully explore the depths of despair and the heights of hope. So, buckle up. It’s going to be a rough ride.
James Watkins tackles the big questions that most people ignore—or deny. I felt his heart in this book and thought, I know those feelings. I especially appreciate his writing about this and hope many will read this book.
Cec Murphey, best-selling author of 90 Minutes in Heaven and Gifted Hands
You might not think that a book about unanswered prayers, unfulfilled promises, and unpunished evil would be engaging and encouraging. But it is. Like its author, this book is thoroughly honest, even gritty, but also helpful and hopeful. It is a pleasure to read and recommend.
Bob Hostetler, best-selling co-author of Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door
I love the book! James pulls back the curtains of doubt and despair in the ancient psalms of Asaph. This book allows us to release our feelings to God without fear that our honesty might offend him. Take time to read through this honest adventure and find hope during seasons of struggle.
Chris Maxwell, author of Underwater, his story of dealing with traumatic brain injury
This book is for everyone who’s ever questioned God’s goodness, love, or faithfulness. With his trademark wisdom and wit, James Watkins addresses the hard questions, validates our pain, and offers a shoulder to cry on. This book shines a light on the blackest spaces of our lives and finds the hope that hides in the dark.
Renae Brumbaugh Green, author of Morning Coffee with James and Latte for Life.
James Watkins reminds us that we are not in danger of losing our faith simply because we have questions. So pull up a chair, settle in, and be blessed to know you are not alone. The road may be rocky, but hope and joy can be found along the way as God faithfully walks with us.
Diana L. Flegal, literary agent
Thanks to James Watkins for introducing me to Asaph, who reached down, stood by my side, and let me know I was not left alone to struggle with unanswered questions.
Louise Looney, author of Over the Hill Onto the Mountain Top
Copyright © 2017 James N. Watkins
The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, Unpunished Evil should be out in time for the Christmas shopping season 2017!