Usually, when we study the Psalms, we study them as poetry and songs, as passages of comfort and praise. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but two-thirds of these psalms are laments. They are petitions to God, and one aspect we can appreciate from these poetic verses is that we can approach God in prayer the same way these psalmists appealed to God. They are open and honest about their feelings and frustrations where we today feel compelled to bury our feelings. We are often uncomfortable with open and emotional interaction with God, but these psalmists serve as an example to us.
At times, the writers of Psalms feel that God is distant from them, had ceased keeping His promises. In Psalm 10:1, the psalmist asks why God is hiding from Him. In chapter 13:1-2, David feels forgotten and expresses sorrow in God’s absence. Psalm 22 asks why “has God has forsaken me.” Why does He not answer David’s cries? Psalm 42:9 asks again about God forgetting the author. Psalm 69:1-3 expresses weariness with sorrow, waiting for a silent God. In Psalm 74:1, the author asks why God has cast His people off, and verses 9-11 entreats: “How long?” Finally, Psalm 77:4 expresses a troubled mind to the point of silence. The author asks if God’s lovingkindness and promises have failed. Are God’s mercies closed forever?
What Holds Us Back?
Have we ever felt like these passages? Chances are, most of us have. We wonder what we have done to deserve our misfortunes. We wonder if God has stopped caring. Do we appeal to God the same way these psalmists do?
- Do we think having these feelings is wrong? After all, Romans 5:3-5 speaks of rejoicing in tribulation, so we feel we are sinning if we are discouraged. Philippians 4:4 again tells us to rejoice in all things. James 1:2-4 reiterates seeing trials as joy. We look at these passages, and we decide feeling sorrowful is somehow wrong.
- We teach and practice a feel-good religion. We look to our spirituality for comfort, and rightly so. What we miss, though, is taking our emotions to God. Our religion becomes a mask for our feelings rather than an avenue for comfort and unburdening ourselves.
Enabling Emotional Honesty
The psalmists are not inhibited in these ways. They are sincere, open, and emotionally honest with God. We can have boldness as theirs if we can learn from the examples they set for us. They see God as the source for all things. While they seem accusatory at times, the psalmists do not place blame. They express their fears and discouragements, and they view God as the source for relief and deliverance. In Psalms 10:14, after expressing fear of God’s distance, the psalmist expresses confidence in God’s compassion, nearness, and empathy. Psalm 13:5-6 expresses trust in God’s salvation. David, in Psalm 22:19-31, recognizes that God will help in his trials. Psalm 42:5 records the author recognizing his hope in God, and Psalm 69:29-30 expresses confidence in God’s ability to lift us up and deliver us. Then, Psalm 74:12-17 recognizes God’s power to deliver the oppressed, and Psalm 77:10-19 is an appeal to God’s ability to deliver. Though all of these psalms contain fears, distress, and sorrow, each contains acknowledgement of God’s deliverance.
Also, the psalmists can approach God in these ways because of the relationship they have with Him. Like close spouses or close friends can speak sharply with one another while maintaining love and trust, so too could these psalmists do with God. When we read these appeals to God, we see a level of trust and love we should also have. Psalm 5:3, 54:6, 56:13-15, Psalm 1:2, Psalm 19:7-11 – these passages and more express the level of study and sacrifice these psalmists have invested in their relationship with God. In Psalm 40:8, the psalmist recognizes that God hears him because of his knowledge in God’s word. In contrast, Psalmist 66:18 records understanding that God would turn away if he had turned away from God.
Finally, these psalmists surrender to God in all things. Psalm 31:5 records David entrusting his whole life to God’s hands; Psalm 119:2 and verse 10 bless those who seek God with their whole heart. Our prayers are only useful if we trust God with our entire being. These psalmists could pray as they did because of the relationship they had with their Lord.
We will experience emotions besides joy in our lives. To claim otherwise is fooling ourselves, but God is capable of taking on our anxieties. We should never try to cover our true feelings from God. After all, we are praying to one who already knows our hearts. It may take us a while to turn our discouragements into praise, but we are still in a relationship with Him so long as we continue to turn to Him. Psalm 88, for example, ends on a dissonant note, never returning to praise as did those other psalms. Still, this psalm begins with trust in God. The psalmist in this chapter has not yet worked through his troubles, and we will have times like that as well.
As long as we are the children He would want us to be, we can know He will be the Father we need. We need to love and trust Him in faith. We can know He will not abandon us and that we can come to Him in all our troubles. He is our divine Father, and we can come to Him as children who need guidance and deliverance, open and honest with our God who cares for us.
lesson by Tim Smelser