“When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all.”
~ Psalm 34:17-19 ESV ~
A few months ago on Facebook I was nominated by two brothers in Christ and brothers in arms to raise awareness for Veteran’s Suicide Prevention. In the United States alone, we lose as many as 22 veterans to suicide every day.
So I decided to share how I deal with my own anger, guilt, and shame: daily times in the Psalms. For my #22forVets I posted a video of me reading a psalm each day for 22 days. You can check out the full YouTube playlist here or at the individual links below.
But as I continued sharing, I came to another realization: veterans aren’t the only ones struggling. One in five Americans struggles with mental illness, including half of our children, and less than half of these poor souls receive professional care. Suicide itself is a leading cause of death in the United States and the number one cause of firearm deaths among our neighbors. And that was before the debacle we know as 2020!
So I figured we could all use a little more help. Mental health is a team sport. If you struggle inwardly with your own thoughts, you are not alone and you are braver than you think. And since September is Suicide Prevention Month, I figured it was time to share these again.
But why the Psalms? Well, the Psalms are both the songbook of the early church and the prayers of Jesus himself. They help us find words when we don’t really know what to say. And they help me get my mind right by pointing me back to Christ.
That first thought comes from Athanasius, a leader in the early church in Egypt:
I think that these words become like a mirror to the singer for him to be able to understand in them the emotions of his own soul and thus perceiving them to explain them. Moreover, he who hears the reader also receives the ode which is spoken as about himself. … And thus all the psalms have been spoken and arranged by the Spirit so that the emotions of our soul may be understood in them according to what was written before time and so that all of them may have been written as about us and become our very own words, for a reminder of our emotions and a corrective of our conduct. (A Letter to Marcellinus; in Everett Ferguson, The Early Church at Work and Worship - Vol. 3, ch. 11)
So in the Psalms I hear my own cries, and come face to face with my own demons. But honestly, that’s not a mirror I want to spent much time in front of. Recognition alone doesn’t bring healing.
Thankfully, in the Psalms we don’t only hear our own cries. At times, the strange but familiar voice of Someone Else breaks through. Listen to another reader, this time from the height of Nazi oppression:
The psalms that will not cross our lips as prayers, those that make us falter and offend us, make us suspect that here someone else is praying, not we—that the one who is here affirming his innocence, who is calling for God’s judgment, who has come to such infinite depths of suffering, is none other than Jesus Christ himself. It is he who is praying here, and not only here, but in the whole Psalter. … The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus Christ in the truest sense of the word. He prayed the Psalter, and now it has become his prayer for all time. Can we now comprehend how the Psalter is capable of being simultaneously prayer to God and yet God’s own Word, precisely because the praying Christ encounters us here? (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, ch. 2)
When we sing or speak the words of the Psalms we’re talking with Christ in his Spirit’s own words, and the Father recognizes our voice as his Son’s. And alongside our triune God and me, are all the believers around the world and through the ages who are singing our songs—and that is an incredibly beautiful thought.
Of course, God also surrounds us with people who are there when we need them most. Here are some great resources for those struggling with doubt each day:
So these are my 22 psalms for broken spirits. Read along with me and check out my comments below. I pray that God uses these songs to open your heart and to speak to you tenderly of his love, your great worth, and his plans for you among his people.
Day 1: Psalm 4. It’s okay to be angry, but hand that anger over to God.
Day 2: Psalm 6. God knows what keeps you up at night, because he sits up with you and listens.
Day 3: Psalm 13. Waiting can be hard, but hope is the anthem of your soul—sing the doubt away. (The previous two phrases are shamelessly stolen from Switchfoot.)
Day 4: Psalm 20. You’re never alone, especially when you pray—others are praying for you right now.
Day 5: Psalm 22. What starts as a lament becomes Jesus’ own victory song. He lifts you broken from the silence, to make you whole again.
Day 6: Psalm 23. Following God changes our expectations of what this world really needs—what I really need: an abiding faith, a simple goodness, and a whole lot of mercy. (You may want to read through the psalm before watching. This video was recorded in Kabul, Afghanistan in January 2019, when I tinkered with a cover of Jon Foreman’s, “The House of God, Forever.” To keep it simple I sang by ear, sticking with my first take of the melody and my second of the harmony.)
Day 7: Psalm 27. When you’re surrounded by injustice and violence, find your hope and courage in the presence of the Lord, worshiping with his people.
Day 8: Psalm 29. In the storm you see the power and glory of the One who made you; but it’s in the silence that you hear the gentle whisper of his words to you.
Day 9: Psalm 30. God lifts us from the pits of despair; he turns our weeping to joy, our mourning to mirth, and our grieving to gladness.
Day 10: Psalm 32. The injustice of the world is not about someone else’s sins, it’s about my own. Confession and forgiveness are the balm of a guilty spirit, and bring healing for a hurting nation.
Day 11: Psalm 34. The goodness of God cannot be explained, it can only be experienced: a good life, the peace of his presence, and the redemption of spirit and flesh. And in that experience, his goodness flows back to him in our praise.
Day 12: Psalm 38. Sometimes our head reels with feelings strong enough to be felt through our whole body. God can use that to point us beyond the Now, to share in his own goodness, and to reflect it to those around us—especially when they don’t mean us well. (I owe the thought of that first sentence to Switchfoot’s song, “Voices.”)
Day 13: Psalm 40. Patience is a virtue built only by waiting, teaching us to hope. And in that hope we find our song, our gladness, and our will to follow.
Day 14: Psalm 42. The world can be draining. But in God we find our oasis, a living stream in the desert of lies and injustice, where our souls drink deeply of the waters of life.
Day 15: Psalm 46. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to turn. Leaders come and go, nations rise and fall, earth itself grows old. But know this: God is always there; our refuge and our peace.
Day 16: Psalm 55. There is almost nothing worse than betrayal. And the closer the relationship—your neighbor, your friend, your family—the worse the pain. But fight and flight aren’t the only options; give that vindictiveness to God and he will vindicate you. Let him give you “the strength to let go.” (Yep, another line from Switchfoot.)
Day 17: Psalm 56. Sometimes we get stuck in sick cycles; nothing goes as planned and no one seems to care. But God knows what keeps you up at night; he sees every tear, he writes down every prayer, and he does what’s best for everyone. Trust in him.
Day 18: Psalm 73. Life just doesn’t seem fair sometimes: bad things happen to good people, while the wicked live the good life. But it’s among God’s people that we begin to understand what he’s doing. He shows us his justice, and his mercy, and calls us to hold on to him as our Rock.
Day 19: Psalm 80. Coming to God is like returning to a home you’ve always dreamed of but never been to. Or like meeting your Father for the very first time. There’s so much new to take in, but there’s also a feeling of familiarity that you can’t explain. Like everything beautiful was just a glimpse of his glory, and that looking out now the beauty of everything else grows because you now see it as the work of his hands.
Day 20: Psalm 84. When you feel weak, remember you weren’t intended to do it by yourself; you were made to belong. You have a Father, a family, and a place to call home—that is your strength.
Day 21: Psalm 103. Amidst all the disappointments and WRONGS of this world, it’s way too easy to forget what’s going RIGHT. Healing, forgiveness, compassion—that’s real power—glimpses of Heaven’s Kingdom in our broken hearts and broken towns. (That last phrase is adapted from Jon Foreman’s song, “Your Love Is Strong.”)
Day 22: Psalm 121. No matter where you go or what you do, you’re never alone. The One who made heaven and earth is watching, and helping, and guarding your every step. Look to him.