For centuries, Christians have looked to the psalms as a guide for prayer. No wonder, the raw emotion of the Psalms provides something for everyone no matter their situation or setting in life. Whether you are blessed beyond compare with health, wealth and salvation or you feel cursed and forsaken, the Psalms have prayers to echo what is in your heart.
Even Jesus relied on the Psalms in His prayers, quoting the laments of Psalm 22:1 and Psalm 31:5 while on the cross. In my recent studies of the psalms, I have learned so much about prayer and praise. However, the number one point I’ve learned is tattooed across the pages of these writings. If we will ever pray like the Psalmists, we must see God as they did.
God is My Rock…
Whether the psalmists were ascending to heaven or making their bed in Sheol (cf. Psalm 139:8) they could pray because they were utterly dependent on God. Psalm 18:1-2 describes it extensively.
“I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
The amazing thing about Psalm 18 is this psalmist had been near death and in distress. Yet, he called upon the Lord? Why? So many in this place feel God has abandoned them and decide to abandon God. Why did this psalmist keep praying? Because no matter how he felt, he knew deliverance could only come from God. No matter what he was facing, he relied on God and surrendered to God. Instead of assuming God had to do everything his way on his time, he simply trusted God to take care of him on God’s time table. So, he kept crying out to God.
The Example of a Distressed Psalmist
Consider Psalm 10:1, 4. The psalmist begins saying:
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide ourself in times of trouble?”
Listen to this psalmist. I remember after Bette Middler made the Julie Gold song “From a Distance” famous the many well meaning Christians who seemed to rebuke everyone by saying, “If God is watching from a distance, who moved?” That seems meaningful and spiritual to us, but this Psalmist would have said, “God did and I’m begging Him to come back.” This violates our sensitivities. We know Hebrews 13:5-6, which says God never forsakes us. Therefore, we fear taking up this psalmist’s cry in our prayers. We see this as despair and doubt which lead to sin. However, that is not how they are pictured in Psalm 10.
This psalmist actually contrasts the wicked and the righteous. The contrast is not that they feel God is not watching. The psalmist starts his lament with that feeling. Then he describes the wicked in Psalm 10:4-11. In vs. 11 the wicked justifies his sin by saying, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” Just like the psalmist, he believes God hidden Himself. The difference is seen in Psalm 10:4. “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.'”
Did you see the difference? In this psalm both the righteous and the wicked believe God has hidden his face. The wicked takes that feeling and decides God is not watching. He decides God must not exist. He uses this as justification to sin. The psalmist, on the other hand, feeling that God is hiding starts to seek for Him. By the end of the psalm, he lets his faith overrun his doubts and feelings. Even though he feels like God is hiding, he knows by faith God does see and will act. Psalm 10:14-15 says:
“But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.”
Why can this psalmist whose feelings are covered over with so much despair that he will accuse God of hiding pray this prayer? Because he truly believes God is king forever (Psalm 10:16). Because, despite his feelings in the moment, he truly believe God hears him and will act based on his prayer (Psalm 10:17). Though he doesn’t use the terms found in some other psalms, like Psalm 18:1-2 noted above. The sentiment is the same. Even in his despair he can pray because God is his rock, his refuge, his redeemer.
The Springboard for Our Spiritual Lives
These are not sentimental terms to fill our praise songs. They are whole-hearted beliefs that anchored the psalmists no matter what was happening to them and no matter how their situation made them feel. Since God was their rock and refuge, whether times were good or bad, they could rest in Him. They could cry out to Him. They knew He was there. They knew He would listen. They knew He would act. Perhaps not on their time table. But He would deliver.
When we have that faith, we will pray like they did.