Do people of faith struggle with pain?

Does faith in God’s sovereignty produce perpetual happiness?

That seems to be the sometimes spoken and often implied belief of Christianity.

“Rejoice in the Lord always!” “In all things, God works for good!” “God has a plan!”

We push away struggles with platitudes, portraying and either/or kind of faith. You either struggle with pain OR are content in the midst of all circumstances. You either question the direction of your life OR have faith God is at work.

These are implied to be mutually exclusive categories in a life of faith.

The Psalms tell a different story. The Psalms are the prayers of people with a both/and kind of faith. They both tell the struggles of their life AND maintain faith in a God who acts on their behalf. They display both honesty about the depth of their pain AND praise for a God who is present with them.

It is a complicated faith that can sometimes make the Psalms difficult to read. But isn’t it more true to life?

For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.

In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones. – Psalm 102:3-5

AND

Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” –Psalm 102:18-20

I am prone to pushing away my struggles because I know I shouldn’t feel this way or that. There are others who have much bigger difficulties; I “shouldn’t” be struggling with something like this. I know that God is bigger than all this; I “shouldn’t” be so consumed with something like this.

It is never God who asks me to downplay my pain.

Psalm 102
Psalm 102

God wants us. He desires us to come to Him with our true selves. Which means our Father welcomes the prayers of our honest, complicated, and sometimes contradictory hearts. 

God invites the both/and sentiments of a people who both praise Him and don’t understand Him, who both love Him and are angry with Him, who both ache with pain and find contentment in His love.

I believe God is always good. And I believe life can be really hard.

It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

That was my reflection on Psalm 102. Link up with your own thoughts below. Stop back next week when Psalms Journey moves on to Psalm 103.

// <![CDATA[ document.write('<scr' + 'ipt type="text/javascript" src="http://www.inlinkz.com/cs.php?id=427453&' + new Date().getTime() + '"><\/script>'); // ]]</p></div>

Praying to Get God's Attention

When you read the Psalms, do you pay attention to the little line written underneath the Psalm number?  

Often these lines say something about the author, or the musical styling. Sometimes, they tell a bit of the backstory behind the Psalm.

 

These lines are not notes written by commentators years later. These are actually part of the Psalm, just like the verses. They are written by the original authors, and hold weight to the Psalm’s interpretation.

 

Often, these lines don’t seem very significant to me, though. Until I read the line under Psalm 38, as translated by the NET.

 

“A psalm of David, written to get God’s attention.”

 

I love that. How often would we even have the guts to say something like that in private, much less to write it down and share it with history.

 

“God, I feel ignored. I am praying in order to get your attention.” I hear such bold desperation in those words. I mean, we know that God is always listening, but doesn’t it seem like sometimes He’s not? Like we have to work a little harder to get Him to turn His head to our needs?

 

That line is followed by words of raw honesty and frustration.

 

My whole body is sick because of your judgment; I am deprived of health because of my sin. For my sins overwhelm me; like a heavy load, they are too much for me to bear. My woundsare infected and starting to smell, because of my foolish sins. I am dazed and completely humiliated; all day long I walk around mourning. For I am overcome with shame and my whole body is sick. I am numb with pain and severely battered;   I groan loudly because of the anxiety I feel. – Psalm 38:3-8

 

I read this, and I think of some of my old familiar struggles. The ones I have borne the burden of for years. Thoughts that hold me down in such a way that I just cannot seem to break myself free. I think we all have a few of these.

 

Don’t they get old? Don’t we long for God to come down and free us?

 

But yet, I wonder, have I really prayed to get God’s attention?

 

Or have I only prayed half-heartedly about these things?

 

Sometimes old burdens begin to feel comfortable in their weight. Though they seem unbearable, we also don’t know what life would be like if our arms weren’t full of them.

 

In this prayer, David doesn’t pray half-heartedly. He lays it all out there for God to hear. He admits that he has done wrong, that he has played a part in getting himself into this mess. But he is begging that those negative consequences come to an end. He lays out all the ways he is being hurt, and asks for it to stop.

 

He can’t take it anymore. He desperately needs God to help.

 

And in the midst of the pain, David has faith that God will show up.

 

Yet I wait for you, O Lord! You will respond, O Lord, my God! – Psalm 38:15

 

Confession. Desperation. Honesty. Faith. A prayer written to get God’s attention.

 

I wonder what would happen if I prayed like this about my struggles.

Walk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.