I am an introvert. My natural inclination when I experience pain is to be stoic and silent. I hardly uttered a sound in childbirth! The reality is that many people struggle to find words to express overwhelming feelings of distress and bottle them up instead. Many other people prefer to vent their pain outwardly.
Our culture encourages us to air our grievances; tell our stories and bare our brokenness and vulnerabilities to each other. Anything else is seen as unhealthy repression. But while there are therapeutic benefits to honest expression, as sinners we run the risk of seeking sympathy instead of healing. Sympathy will give us momentary comfort, but can also entrench distorted perceptions; excuse our sinful responses and stunt our ability to grow through adversity.
Trusting the Lord of our trials.
But, for Christians there is always a better way than following our natural inclinations or conforming to the patterns of this world. As Peter reminded first century Christians facing hideous suffering, “You have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials… so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7)
If we submit to Christ as Lord of our trials, the Bible shows us how to deal with our pain. It is simply not biblical to say, “My feelings are always right,” or “Always trust your feelings”, because our feelings can easily lose perspective of the truth. Our feelings can lie to us.
In Psalm 6, David gives Christians a godly template to work through our feelings of sorrow. Psalm 6 is the first of seven ‘penitential’ Psalms where the writer humbly describes his predicament (usually the result of his own sin), then expresses sorrow over it, and finally seeks God for the remedy and healing. We don’t know the exact source of David’s distress in this Psalm, but it is probably his sin with Bathsheba, as he begins his prayer with these words:
“O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled” (Ps 6:1-2).
David goes on to pray:
3 My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?
4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?
6 I am weary with my moaning;every night I flood my bed with tears;I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil,for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
- David confesses his sin. (Ps 6:1-2)
David is not stoical or self-pitying, but honest and humble in his prayer. He confesses that if God treated him as he deserved, with justice instead of mercy, he should be wiped out by God’s wrath. He asks God to correct him gently rather than in anger, just as Jeremiah asked, “Discipline me, Lord, but only in due measure—not in your anger, or you will reduce me to nothing (Jer 10:24).
But you may ask—What if my distress is not caused by my sin, but by sickness, bereavement, depression, conflict, divorce, unemployment or someone else’s sin against me? Surely I can skip the confession and get straight to the deliverance I need?
Confession is a good place to begin, no matter what the source of our grief. Jesus taught us to say, “Forgive us our sins, just as we forgive those who sin against us,” because we are always in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace. The Apostle Peter realized this when he witnessed the miraculous catch of fish, fell at Jesus’ knees and confessed, “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).
Likewise, the prophet Isaiah, after seeing a vision of the Lord and listening to the praise of the angels, confessed, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isa 6:5). Neither Peter nor Isaiah had committed a great sin before they made these confessions, but both showed a proper fear of the Lord. They knew that they were sinners approaching a holy and powerful God, and this knowledge humbled them.
Confession is an acknowledgement of who God is, who we are, and our continuous need of his forgiveness and grace. We are weak and sinful by nature. Even our emotions are marred and misled by sin. Again, Peter describes this humble attitude in his instruction to suffering Christians: “Humble yourselves therefore under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
- David prays his pain (Ps 6:2-3)
David then pours out his heart to the Lord in tears:
- “How long, O Lord, how long?” (Ps 6:3).
- “I am faint…for my bones are in agony” (Ps 6:2)
- “I am worn out from groaning” (Ps 6:6)
- “All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears” (Ps 6:6)
- “My soul is in anguish” (Ps 6:3)
- “My eyes grown weak with sorrow” (Ps 6:7)
David tells God the physical symptoms of his sorrow. There is a desperation about his question, “How long, how long?”
Of course God knows our feelings before we say a word, but when we pray them to the Lord, we are relating to our Father as a child would relate to their parent (Matt 6:8). We are expressing trust in him as our loving Father (Matt 7:11). Prayer is all about relationship, not a shopping cart. God doesn’t want us to put on a brave face or to suffer in silence. Nor is he a cold impersonal force looking on from a distance, or a supplier in a business transaction. He is the Lord, Yahweh who makes a faithful, everlasting covenant with his people (Ps 6:5).
This side of the cross, we pray to God as our Father, Abba, who has adopted us into his family (Gal 4:6-7), our Father who cares deeply about our sleepless nights and our bloodshot eyes that can hardly open in the morning. As Father, he wants you to express your pain to him, to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
- David asks God for help (Ps 6:2; 4)
David knows that the Lord, and only the Lord, is the remedy for every grief. He turns to God for his deliverance and healing, for that is what he needs most:
- “O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony” (Ps 6:2).
- “Turn, O Lord, and deliver me, save me because of your unfailing love” (Ps 6:4).
Like David, every believer can simply ask God for help on the basis of God’s unfailing love. The Bible never says that we need a specially ‘anointed’ man of God or pastor to declare healing or deliverance on us. We simply need to get on our knees and ask God for help.
James says, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray…The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:13; 16). Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us our daily bread…deliver us from evil.”
Prayer is sometimes the last thing we feel like doing when we’re in trouble. But that’s when we need to pray most. Phone a distressed friend today and offer to pray with them, even if it’s on Facetime or Zoom.
- David preaches to himself (Ps 6:8-10).
Like David, we need to preach the truth to ourselves, because we are prone to forget it when troubles rule our emotions.
After David prays for help, he believes God. He believes that the Lord has heard his prayer and then confidently verbalizes his trust in the Lord, as if preaching the truth to himself:
- “For the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry to mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer” (Ps 6:8-9).
Athough there’s no resolution or evidence that the source of David’s anguish has vanished, he affirms in words that God cares for him and is acting on his behalf. Unexpectedly, his prayer ends on a note of victory:
- “All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace” (Ps 6:10).
We don’t know whether David’s immediate circumstances changed after this prayer, and we know for sure that he suffered far-reaching consequences for his sin with Bathsheba. But regardless of what happened next, David’s attitude changed from being in anguish, to being quietly hopeful in the Lord. He experiences God’s peace that transcends understanding, as Paul describes when he instructs suffering first century believers to pray,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).
Find rest in Jesus.
“In Christ Jesus” is the key to our prayers. If you and I have put our faith in Christ Jesus, we have more available in our arsenal of truth than David in 1000BC. We know and are known by “the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” that the prophet Isaiah foretold (Isa 53:3). We have the cross to remind us that there is no anguish of body, mind or soul which Jesus did not experience on our behalf. And there is nothing in Psalm 6 that Christ did not pray to his Father (Matt 27:45-56; Luke 22:42).
He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; was afflicted by a terrible punishment he didn’t deserve; was crushed for our sins (Isa 53:4-5). He took the punishment that brought us peace with God, and by his wounds we are healed (Isa 53:3-5). And he too prayed for deliverance the night before he died, but for our sake, his Father did not grant his request… until the resurrection and ascension. In our own fears and anguish, we can trust Jesus who has given us “new birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).
That’s why King David’s prayer in Psalm 6 ended in hope. And there will come a day when that hope will be fully realized for every believer. Christ Jesus will return in victory to give us full healing and deliverance: new bodies and a new creation where pain, sorrow and death do not exist (Rev 21:4). “All our enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace” (Ps 6:10). Until then, let’s run to Christ, the Lord of our sorrows, and pour out our hearts in prayer.