Scripture: Psalm 109
“Most of Scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us.” That statement was made by Athanasius of Alexandria, a church theologian in the 3rd century. The Psalms give us words and images to express the movement of our hearts as we serve the Master of our hearts. Today’s Psalm goes against the grain of our civilized lifestyles. Many of the phrases may even offend us. We may think, “Why are such thoughts even expressed in the Bible?” They are expressed in the Bible because people have them. The thoughts may not be right, they may not be loving, but they are a part of us nonetheless. Because they are a part of us, we need to bring them to God as we pray. Now, we can be pretty comfortable praying verse 30, “With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord; I will praise him in the midst of the throng.” Verse 1 is not quite as easy, but not bad, “Be not silent, O God of my praise!” – it seems a little bossy toward God. Verse 7 however, is rough, “When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin!” So are verses 9-10, “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!” If we prayed this way in a worship service, it would be a scandalous thing. Now if this Psalm was the only Psalm that had this tone, it would still be challenging, but there are several occasions! Psalm 5:10 reads, “Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you.” Then a classic when it comes to very hard Psalms is Psalm 137:8-9, “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” We might say, “Well, the Old Testament is just that way. It is much harsher than the New Testament.” The Old Testament in other places however, teaches against this kind of attitude. Leviticus 19:17-18 — “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Exodus 23:4 — “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. Proverbs 24:17 — Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,…” Proverbs 25:21, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,” So Psalm 109, and the other harsh Psalms, go against the teaching of both the Old Testament. Since that’s the case, why should we pray that way? I believe this Psalm is here to teach us how to pray through our pain, through our hurt, through resentment and bitterness. Once we acknowledge before God that we are hurting, that we are angry or bitter, then we can move towards healing and truly loving one another. Ignoring the thoughts and feelings are there however, will get us nowhere. So based on this Psalm, there are four things that characterize our prayers when we are hurting.
First of all, when we are hurting, we can bring it all to God. Throughout the Bible we see that every aspect of life is to be brought before God. Psalms especially teaches us that lesson. The Psalms share with God our praise, our joy, our sorrows, our depression and even our pain. The Psalms do not leave real life at the door of our prayer room – they encourage us to bring every aspect of life to God. How many times have we heard someone pray (it may even have been me)?, “Lord, we now come to You, setting aside everything we were thinking and feeling before we came and everything we are concerned about after we leave.” Or we may have thought during the Lord’s Supper, “Well, I am not going to partake of the Lord’s Supper this morning, because I feel like I’m not worthy. I got angry with my wife or my kids on the way to church, and I don’t want to approach God until I can do it worthily.” Friend, you and I will never be worthy to approach God or to participate in the Lord’s Supper. The best place for us to deal with sinful attitudes and selfish hearts is in God’s presence and with God’s people. Especially when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, the reason Jesus gave his body and shed his blood was to save us from our sin. Now we shouldn’t partake of the Lord’s Supper in an irreverent manner, but we can never do it worthily. So when we come to God, we bring all of our baggage with us. God’s desire for us to do so may be one reason why the Psalms are not in some kind of nice, neat order. The sections are all jumbled together, happy and sad, praising and cursing, just the way our life is. Life doesn’t happen in an orderly fashion, so why should the Psalms be that way? Philip Yancey writes, “Taken together, the 150 Psalms are as difficult, disordered, and messy as life itself. Oddly, that fact gives me great comfort.” So we find up-Psalms, down-Psalms, Psalms of orientation and disorientation, Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” that is preceded by Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 103 – “Bless the Lord, O my soul” preceded by Psalm 102 “Hear my prayer, O Lord! Let my cry for help come to you.” As we pray through this book, we go up and down, in and out, left and right, because that is how life comes at us. The Psalmist brings everything into his relationship with God, which is exactly what we are to do as well. John Calvin said the Psalms are “an anatomy of all parts of the soul.” Nothing is hidden. So when we are hurting, we can bring it all to God.
Then, when we are hurting, we can express it all to God. We don’t just bring all of who we are into God’s presence, we share it with Him, we express it. Eugene Peterson paraphrased The Message Bible that many people like to use. In his book, Answering God he says,
It is easy to be honest before God with our hallelujahs; it is somewhat more difficult to be honest in our hurts; it is nearly impossible to be honest before God in the dark emotions of our hate. So we commonly suppress our negative emotions….Or, when we do express them, we do it far from the presence, or what we think is the presence, of God, ashamed or embarrassed to be seen in these curse-stained overalls. But when we pray the Psalms, the classic prayers of God’s people, we find that will not do. We must pray who we actually are – not who we think we should be. The way of prayer is not to cover up our unlovely emotions so that they will appear respectable, but to expose them so that they can be enlisted in the kingdom of God.
When we pray our pain to God, when we express it to Him, He is then able to lead us through it, to heal us and to comfort us. If we come before God acting like someone we aren’t, then the darkest parts of us will never be touched and transformed by His light. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “The prayer preceding all prayers is, ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real you I speak to.” God knows every part of us anyway, so we might as we go ahead and express and own up to it being there. When we are hurting, we can express it all to God.
Then, when we are hurting, we can trust it all with God. God can handle anything we share with Him – He isn’t afraid of our emotions, He isn’t shocked by our anger or even our hatred. We can trust God with it. Stuffing our hurt down inside of us, not even sharing it with God, doesn’t make it go away – instead, it gets stronger and it begins to control us. One person said, “What we bury rules us.” Unvented anger just smolders, waiting for the worst possible moment to explode.
If you stuff your anger at the office, you’ll kick the dog at home.
If you stuff your anger towards your parents, you’ll vent it towards your spouse.
If you stuff your anger towards a teacher, you’ll vent it towards your friends.
If you stuff your anger towards God, it will poison every area of your life.
When we are angry, when we want revenge, when we want someone else to hurt like we are hurting, we take it all to God – we can trust Him with all those dark feelings – He can handle them. We may think, “Well won’t He be disappointed with me?” He knows You have those feelings anyway. He is only disappointed if you don’t share them with Him. Express it all to God, trust Him to handle it – He can do far better with it than you can. “Well pastor, I don’t want to let it go. I’m just too angry, too hurt to let it go.” Then don’t let it go just yet. Just share with Him that You don’t want to let it go – trust Him to handle Your stubbornness. If you are hurting and want vengeance, if you want the wrong to be righted, then God can do it far better than you can. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” When we are hurting, we can trust it all with God.
When we are hurting, we can leave it all with God. After sharing the deepest, darkest part of his soul with the Lord, the Psalmist says in vv. 30-31, “With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord; I will praise him in the midst of the throng. For he stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.” His attitude has changed, he has left his pain with God. Now he may be hurting still, but the pain isn’t weighing him down as it was when he came to God. Prayer has changed him. When we pray, it changes us as well. When we come to God with our real selves, just the way we are – weary, confused, twisted, dirty, angry, discouraged – then we find in Him One who takes all those things, heals them, and transforms us. This psalm speaks of “an enemy” over and over again. So I’d like for you to do a prayer exercise with me. Close your eyes, and focus your mind on your enemy. It may be a person, it may be a situation, it may be an experience. Whatever it is that is sticking with you, that is causing you pain, focus on it. Now feel the emotions – the anger, the sadness, the pain, the grief. Now tell God about it – share with Him exactly how you are feeling. Then tell him what You want to happen to that person or that situation – it could be good or bad. Just let it all out. Then tell God, “I choose to give this person, this situation, to You. I know You love me just as I am, despite how I feel. Take this pain, this bitterness, this anger from me – free me to live for You.” Now God may very well be saying to you, “You’ve taken your first step towards freedom with this prayer. Now look away from your enemy, and focus on Me and my great love for You.”
Prayer changes others, and it changes us. When we pray our pain, powerful things happen. You may need to pray first a prayer of salvation, asking Jesus to forgive you of your sin and to give you new life. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Will you choose to live a lifestyle of bringing everything to God in prayer?