Give Me a Sign
Sometimes when we’re struggling in our faith, we want to ask for a sign. Or perhaps we are praying, and we would love to have some proof that God is really listening. It doesn’t have to be miraculous or remarkable, just something unmistakably from God.
I remember when I was much younger praying quite intensely about something over a number of days. I don’t even recall what it was anymore, but I really wanted an indication that God was hearing me, some encouragement that I was on the right track. So I said something like, “Dear Lord, if I am going in the right direction with all this, if this is really your will, please make the phone ring within the next minute.” That would be my sign.
So I waited, just willing the phone to ring. But it didn’t.
And it was OK, of course. I just had to carry on, and keep praying, and waiting on God.
We tend to prefer the visible and physical, yet God and his ways can seem shrouded in mystery. We do not see him, and we believe in him—but sometimes we want more confirmation. We want to be assured that God is really there.
David prayed like this in Psalm 86. He asks God in verse 17,
Show me a sign for good.
He prays this during a time of danger. He was being harassed by enemies, and he is sure that if they catch him, they won’t spare his life. But David looks to God. He confesses, “You are great, and do wondrous things; you alone are God” (v. 10). There is no crisis of faith in this Psalm, for David is confident of God’s help.
Yet deliverance hasn’t happened. David is still waiting, still hoping. Then in the closing petition, David requests a sign: “Show me a sign for good.” He seeks some an outward pledge, something he can see with his own two eyes as proof of God’s mercy.
So what is he asking for? In the Old Testament, the word ‘sign’ refers to a few different things. Most often it describes God’s great miracles, like the “signs and wonders” that He performed when He brought Israel out of Egypt. But God also gave his people ‘signs’ as the prophetic pointers to salvation. For example, think of the son who was to be born to the young virgin in Isaiah 7: “This will be a sign for you.”
All these signs have something in common: they are the sure indicators of God’s presence. Signs unveil his power and grace. By mighty deeds like destroying the Egyptians with locusts and boils, or by quiet miracles like a young virgin having a baby, God wanted his people to know that He was with them.
When we hear about getting a ‘sign’ from God, we also think of a few well-known Bible stories. There is Moses and his miraculous staff, which God turned into a snake. Or Gideon and his fleece: wet with dew on a dry morning, dry on a dewy morning.
By these signs too, God confirmed that his presence was near, and that He would do just what He said. But David isn’t asking for a special display of God’s power like Moses and Gideon did. He is simply asking for deliverance. A rescue when there seemed no possibility of earthly help would be sure evidence that God was on his side.
David will see the evidence, and his enemies will see it, too! This is what David prays next in verse 17,
Show me a sign for good, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed.
He is praying, “O God, when you save me, make me such a monument to your power and goodness that all my enemies stop in their tracks. Awed by your great glory, may everyone be convinced that you are the Protector and Friend of all who trust in you.”
We join David in his prayer in Psalm 86. For we too, have enemies. There are forces who wish to turn us against our Lord. So we pray for deliverance. And then we even ask him for a sign, “LORD, put your power on display in my life! Show that you’re with me by helping me fight bravely and win against Satan’s attacks.”
And it is through Jesus that we offer this prayer for deliverance. Christ rescued us from the grip of our enemies. He broke the chains of captivity to sin, and He cast Satan down forever. The greatest ever exhibition of God’s power and grace was at the cross, which is the one hope of sinners. Nothing is more sure!
Even so, God knows our chronic forgetfulness. We quickly despair whether God is really with us. We fear that perhaps He hasn’t joined us on this difficult day or miserable month. Then we wish that He would show his nearness.
This is what God has given in the sacraments, holy baptism and holy supper. These are visible signs, billboard announcements of the gospel, impressive monuments to God’s mercy and power. By them God confirms and underlines and amplifies his Word of grace. If you’re struggling in prayer, not feeling confident in the Lord, even despairing at how far away God seems, think of the signs that He has given.
Recall how you received a holy sign in your baptism. Christ’s hand reached out to you and cleansed you from sin by his blood. He put his mark on you, now invisible but very real. He gave you a sign, for now and always.
Recall how you get a holy sign every time you go to the Lord’s Supper. As surely as we receive the bread and wine, so certainly does God love us in Christ. God’s love for you is as real as the bread in your mouth. It’s as real as the wine on your lips.
There is nothing ambiguous about these signs from God. His signs are unequivocal and plain and need no interpretation. For Christ’s sake, God does love us, and He has forgiven us.
And He is with us always, even to the end.