Praying the Psalms

The Psalms have been called the “prayer book of the Bible” because they have prayers for just about any situation. There are prayers of trust, like the well known twenty-third psalm: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” There are prayers of praise: “Give thanks to the Lord because he is good. God’s faithful love lasts forever!” (Ps. 136:1). There are psalms of repentance, too: “Create in me a clean heart, oh Lord… my sin is always before me.” (Ps 51). There are even prayers of despair:

Lord, God of my salvation,

by day I cry out,

even at night, before you—

let my prayer reach you!

Turn your ear to my outcry

because my whole being is filled with distress;

my life is at the very brink of hell.

My eyes are tired of looking at my suffering.

I’ve been calling out to you every day, Lord—

I’ve had my hands outstretched to you!

You’ve made my loved ones and companions distant.

My only friend is darkness.

-Psalm 88:1-3, 9, 18


Ever felt that way? In the grip of despair, it seems, someone long ago wrote a prayer that still resonates to this day with people facing grief, depression, or loss. If you have time, read the whole psalm to really hear what that writer was feeling. Have you ever felt that way? Or do you know someone who has?

This time of year–this late-January, middle-of-winter, dreary season– can be hard on a person’s spirit. Even if things are mostly okay, we can find ourselves in a funk. When that happens, whether it’s in January or July, we might feel that we need to cry out. But will God hear us?

Yes. The very fact that this psalm is included in our Bible is evidence that God expects and wants us to express our deepest sadness just as easily as we give thanks and praise. We don’t have to restrain ourselves when we talk with God. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re joyful, be joyful. If you have doubts or questions, express them. All these emotions and more are found in the psalms, so why would we think we can’t express them to God? Your God wants to hear it all from you: the good, the bad, and even the ugly.

Then comes the hard part: trusting God with our full selves is hard. Trusting and sharing those things with other people, even at church, where we should be able to be open and authentic, is harder. But these psalms, these prayers: they remind us that we are never alone, that no part of us is too extreme for God, and that other people have felt this way, too. When we borrow the words of the psalms for ourselves, we can express what we feel and what we need, and God is listening.

Lord God of my salvation, by day I cry out, even at night, before you– let my prayer reach you! Turn your ear to my outcry. You lead me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Create in me a clean heart. Amen.

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