Praying the Psalms in moments of Distress: The language of Suffering and Sorrow within the Sovereign Sway of God.

“God, where are you?”

Have you ever had one of those days when nothing seems to go right?

Can you recall a moment or season of your life when you experienced pain and/or despair?

Despair and Dismay Eventually Find Us All

Perhaps the despair was the result of a conversation in which you received some distressing and unexpected news?

News such as a terrible disease striking a loved one.

The sudden loss of a friend or relative.

An argument that feels like an end to the relationship.

Maybe a moment when the last dollar you had slipped out of your fingers just as you were facing yet another major auto or home repair.

A pink slip after years of dedicated service for the company.

A false accusation that gains traction and ushers in distress, anger, and bitterness.

Well, you get the idea. We all have them. Moments of suffering and sorrow. They inflict great pain. At times the pain is unmanageable.

In those cases and during such times, where does one turn?

Suffering, Sorrow, and the Sovereign Sway of God

No doubt there are many ways to respond to moments of dismay. 

Have you ever considered responding by praying the Scriptures?

By that, I mean soaking your situation and circumstance within the context of the biblical story. Saturating your situation – the real pain, despair, agony, or dismay you are feeling – in the biblical story provides a rich language and redemptive pathway.

This series of posts focuses specifically on praying the Psalms. In this case, praying the Psalms of Lament.

Praying the Psalms of Lament provides a rich biblical language for times when the words around and within us just seem to fall short.

Praying the Psalms in Moments/Seasons of Distress

In last week’s post, here, I offered a portion of Psalm 86 as a model for prayer.

This week I am leaning on and gleaning from Psalm 89.

Psalm 89 is a much longer Psalm (52 verses).

It offers us at least four practical ways to contextualize and experience suffering and sorrow within the Sovereign Sway of God.

1: The Psalms of Lament Ground us in the Language of our Promise-Keeping God.

Every Psalm of Lament accentuates, at some point and usually at many points, the nature of God’s faithfulness to His people and the promises by which He binds himself. The first section of Psalm 89 is an excellent example of this.  

Psalm 89:1-2 delares,

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
    with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
    your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

However, the refrain of God’s faithfulness is a steady drumbeat throughout the entire Psalm.

Augustine wrote, in his commentary on The Psalms,

“Understand, beloved, this Psalm, which I am about to explain, by the grace of God, of our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, and be of good cheer, because He who promised, will fulfil all, as He has fulfilled much: for it is not our own merit, but His mercy, that gives us confidence in Him.” – Augustine of Hippo

When I encounter loss and tragedy, I find that beginning with the character or essence of God is a great reminder of the hope I still have. Whatever the situation may be or become, His steadfast love is a faithful presence in my midst!

2: The Psalms of Lament Accentuate the Specific Nature of God’s Promises.

Another way to say this is that the Psalms of Lament momentarily take me out of my story and locates me within the story of God.

When I read of King David, Abraham, Ruth, etc., I am reminded of the vast and rich history of God’s people and the dynamic saving presence of God in each situation.

As you pray your way through Psalm 89, around verse 15 or so, you will enter into the specific story of God’s people.

Doing so may give you hope again.

The deliverance God provided yesterday is an essential component of helping us hope in the same God who can deliver today!

God has worked this way in the past – perhaps He will today!

3: The Psalms of Lament are saturated with the truth that Promises are Broken, and Life Often Beats Us Down.

In this Psalm, we are caught up in a deeply human danger. I am speaking specifically of the danger of our ease with disobedience to God’s loving rule and the natural consequences that follow.

The author of this Psalm is feeling the devastating pain of punishment. A punishment viewed as directed by the hand of God (some might say allowed). The punishment, pain, and dismay he feels are seen as the consequence of disobedience to Him, see here.

When faced with implicit sin and the decay we cause, The Psalms of Lament provide a language of confession and remorse. A language that helps us confess our own sins as well as mourn the sins of others.

Perhaps this is why we seldom read or pray the Psalms of Lament. Modern-day Christians rarely confess our sins. We rarely take stock of our contribution to the conditions we are enduring. It’s too easy to blame others or shake a defiant fist against God.

When we encounter the Lament and pray our way through one, we are confronted in a way that we simply will not confront ourselves. Such sin exposure would leave us panting – exposed before God’s holy and powerful presence!

Yet, in the midst of the pain our sin causes, we have the reassurance that God is good and He is faithful. In His discipline, we are loved. In His punishment, we are found.

Such knowledge, wrapped in the mysterious, confounding, AND consoling grace of God, leads us to the place where we began, proclaiming the goodness of God in the midst of the distress and dismay of sorrow and suffering!

4: The Psalm of Lament Resolves In Remembering God’s Goodness, Crying Out for Deliverance, and Proclaiming His Love – in Spit of it All!

The bookends of Lament are the steadfast, enduring love and faithfulness of God! The truth of God’s enduring love is the thread that holds the Lament in place and offers us hope that His love extends to us. Even in the midst of the mess we have made or the one we are enduring!

Consider the conclusion of Psalm 89,

Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
50 Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted, how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples, 51 with which your enemies taunt, O Lord,
    with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed.52 Blessed be the Lord forever.
and Amen.

Even as the Psalmist looks for God’s faithfulness, which from his perspective is unseen, He remembers His goodness, cries out for deliverance, and proclaims His love.

Yes, we end where we began. Restating Augustine, “it’s not by our merit but by His mercy that gives us confidence in Him.”

Are you dismayed?

Perhaps sorrow is setting in, and suffering has become an unwelcome guest in your home!. The place to run is God.

The avenue – well-lighted along the way – is the language of Lament learned by way of Praying the Scriptures – particularly the Psalms.

Grace and peace, Biz