Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? —Psalm 10:1
Many Christians in history have considered the book of Psalms as a resource for Christian prayer. The Psalms give us Holy Spirit-inspired words to match our experiences and lead us to cast our cares upon God. Often, this very movement of casting our cares upon God is reflected through the psalmists’ cries. This is a famous characteristic of those psalms known as the Psalms of Lament.
The Psalms of Lament are a family of psalms that bring complaints, frustrations, hurts, and sufferings to God. These psalms are honest and dark, but with hints of light and hope. They often show a change in the writer’s experience. They reveal God working in the background to change human hearts. They show the writer in pain, crying to God in faith—trusting that God hears, that God answers, that God involves himself in human suffering. Here in Psalm 10, the psalmist shifts from a cry to a confident testimony of faith:
Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted….
O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Ps. 10:12, 17–18)
What begins as a statement of an experience of God’s absence then moves to a call upon God to act and ends with a statement of faith: “O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice.” This movement is honest about Christian experience and has much to teach about the Christian life of prayer. In an interview with Ivan Mesa, an editor for the Gospel Coalition, Sandra McCracken discusses her album Psalms. There she explains why she finds the lament psalms to be a rich resource for Christian worship:
Our culture is uncomfortable with extended grief. The church has a responsibility to fight against the dishonesty of living on the surface of things, or encouraging people to put a smile on their faces so they will have a positive attitude about difficult things.
The psalms can help. “The Psalms are by nature invitational,” said Sandra. “When God included the poetry of the Psalms in his letter to us, he made a move toward us that invites us more deeply toward him, with our affections and with our emotion.” It is here that we can begin to see that the psalms can lead us, that they can give words to our experience and guide our prayers.
Guidance in Prayer
In his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Timothy Keller explains why the psalmist’s experiences give reason to pray:
Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change—the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life. (18)
Through prayer God changes our hearts, provides for our felt and unfelt needs, and gives us a deeper knowledge of God and his mercy. Through prayer, “we finally treat God as God.” If you want to learn to pray, reading and praying through the Psalms is a great place to start. There you will learn how to be honest with the God who knows your deepest pain, and more importantly, you will learn how to be honest with yourself.