The Psalms: Prayers for the Abused and Oppressed12 min read
Understanding lament and the power of praying the Psalms through the lens of abuse
“How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day? How long will my enemy dominate me?”—Psalms 13:1-2
Are these words you relate to? Have you uttered similar prayers? Can you relate to the emotion, despair, and desperation here? Then this is written for you.
I often tell women who come to me with severe marriage problems or stories of abuse to pray the Psalms.
Well, because so many of those women have been mislead to believe that their emotions and feelings surrounding their mistreatment are either wrong, misguided, selfish, or simply excess emotions due to being female. They often believe or are told that the anger they feel over the injustice of their husband’s words and actions are unjustified and sinful on their part. And far too often they have been told to stay in the abuse and submit to him or do their part to make it better. These women are often spiritually abused and gaslit using verses that tell them to rejoice in suffering or to win him without a word, and to ask God for deliverance is to not trust God in the trial. They mistakenly believe that they must deal with this pain and heartache in an unemotional manner—and unfortunately this often seems true not because it is right but because it is one of the only ways these women will be believed.
But the Psalms give a clear picture of not overlooking our own sins, confessing and acknowledging them, while also acknowledging the sins of others that affect us, and calling them out, asking not only for deliverance but for justice on those who would hurt and oppress us. When you look at the Psalms, the Psalmist doesn’t shy away from his emotions. In fact, he is pretty candid and honest about all of his feelings, thoughts, and desires. It is not wrong ask questions of God, to tell Him how you feel, and to ask Him to deliver you and to deal with your oppressor—in fact, the Psalmist is often asking for the destruction of those who would oppress him and harm him.
Psalm 4:4 says, “Be angry and do not sin” so there must be an element of examining our reactions to the sins of others, but this verse tells us that it is possible for anger to not be a sin. One thing that has struck me while listening to the Psalms has been how the Psalmist often speaks to God- he will accuse God of being the source of his anguish, suffering, and torment in one breath, then speaks of his trust in the faithful love of God in the next. It seems inconsistent and even impossible, but we can struggle with doubts and feel abandoned by God while at the same time trusting in His attributes. To question God is not blasphemy, despite how it may feel based on what we may have been taught. God’s holiness does not outweigh His other attributes. Remember that in the cross, Jesus prayed a Psalm when he cried out with a loud voice “My God, my God, why have you abandoned (or forsaken) me?” He was quoting Psalm 22:1.
I remember while I was in the midst of my own abusive marriage truly believing that I was there because of God; in my mind it was God’s fault that I was with this man who by all accounts hated me, and it was God’s fault I felt that I had to stay. I believed that God had abandoned me due to my sin and this miserable marriage was His punishment, my “reward.” I wrestled with so many emotions, but at the time I didn’t think I was allowed to have those thoughts. So often I just shoved them down, daring not to utter words that I believed would make God punish me more. I wish that I could go back to that version of myself and give her the Psalms to pray.
God’s faithful and steadfast love kept me and held me fast regardless of my not having the understanding I do now, and for that I am so grateful. Yet I am also thankful to know that in times of wrestling with my thoughts and feelings that God not only hasn’t abandoned me, but that he welcomes my doubt, fears, anger, frustration, and all my emotions. The proof is in the fact that we were graciously given the Psalms.
The Psalms are so important and relevant that Jesus Himself prayed them, as we saw earlier in the example of the cross. Chapter 8 of Chad Bird’s book, The Christ Key, discusses how the Psalms were the prayer book of Jesus and the church. We are meant to pray the Psalms. Not only to pray them, but to sing them! I highly recommend The Hidden Streams Podcast—they take a Psalm and you hear it read, then Hebrew scholar, Chad Bird, provides a commentary, and then you hear a song based on that Psalm. This has been extremely healing for me, and what largely inspired this post.
Here’s a helpful table for praying the Psalms, taken from the Book of Common Prayer:
This next table I am sharing is from a seminar I sat in taught by Christopher Powers of fullofeyes.com, a visual exegesis animator. I appreciated that it shows the large majority of the Psalms are psalms of lament. There are even imprecatory psalms which are prayers against one’s enemies. These Psalms help give us language to speak our pain, and to acknowledge it and take it seriously, knowing that God takes it seriously as well.
Chad Bird explains that we are able to use these words because we have Christ in us, and we can speak with boldness and confidence as people redeemed and part of the body of Christ, as those through whom Christ speaks. We can use these words and language as those who know we have a Father Who hears and Who understands us (Heb. 2:18; Heb 4:14-16).
|Sub Genres in The Psalms||Psalms|
|Lament||3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14 (same as 53), 17, 22, 26, 27, 28, 35, 38, 39, 41, 42/43, 44, 51, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 63, 64, 69, 70, 71, 74, 77, 79, 80, 82, 83, 85, 86, 88, 90, 94, 102, 106, 108, 109, 120, 123, 126, 130, 137, 140, 141, 142, 143|
|Penitential Psalms||6, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143|
|Imprecatory Psalms||35, 55, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137|
|Trust||11, 16, 23, 91, 121, 125, 129, 131|
|Praise||8, 29, 33, 46, 47, 48, 76, 84, 87, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 103, 104, 105, 111, 113, 114, 117, 122, 134, 135, 136, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150|
|Royal||2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 101, 110, 132, 144|
|Wisdom / Torah||1, 37, 49, 73, 112, 127, 128 [19, 119]|
|Historical||78, 105, 106, 107, 114|
|Mixed||9/10, 19, 25, 31, 32, 34, 36, 40, 65, 89, 119, 50, 52, 62, 67, 68, 75, 81, 115, 133, 139|
|Unclear||15, 24, 136|
It is interesting to note the difference in number between the Psalms of lament and the others. We are often under the impression due to a wrong use and abuse of Phil. 4:4 and other scripture that we must display a posture of praise in everything, but look at the great number of laments we are given by God to pray to Him. We not only have permission to lament, but God gave us words to pray to Him! What a good, kind, loving, and gracious Father! He knew we would not always have the words to pray, so not only did he teach us how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13), but He gave us an entire book of psalms that use the full spectrum of the human emotions. I am still in awe…
The Psalms are honest, and for you
So for you who are being abused and oppressed, I commend to you the Psalms. Read them, yes, but also pray them. Pray them with boldness knowing that God delights to hear your prayers (Psalms 6:9). Allow yourself to feel, to speak, and to pray the words God has given us. And know that He hears and hates evildoers, those who boast, tell lies, and are treacherous (Ps. 5:5-6). He is a God who rescues the oppressed (Ps. 18:27; 147:6) and loves justice (Ps. 37:28). God is for you, dear one, even when others are against you.
*I realize that some may not know what godly, faithful, love looks like, and when you hear “love” you don’t feel safe and secure. I genuinely pray that by reading the Psalms you come to experience and understand a safe love; a love that is raw and unexplainable; a love that allows you to be yourself and to express yourself, and that cares for you. For God is love (1 John 4:16), and we know that “If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.” (1 John 4:20-21).
The Christ Key by Chad Bird
Night Driving: Notes From A Prodigal Son by Chad Bird
The Lord is My Courage by K.J. Ramsey
Learning To Love The Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey
I have also written more on abuse here:
These are some great music artists who have put the Psalms to music:
The Corner Room
The Psalter Project
Shane & Shane Psalms, Psalms Vol. 2, Psalms, Hymns, and spiritual songs albums
Sandra McKracken Psalms album
My Cry Ascends: New Parish Psalms album by various artists
Poor Bishop Hooper
If you are being abused, seek help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (USA) 800-799-SAFE (7233) 800-787-3224 TDD www.thehotline.org
Stay at home mom of four children, wife to Brad, and a lover of the body of Christ. Central WI, member of the PCA.