When My Foot Slips: Praying the “Angry” Psalms

This morning I meditated on and prayed through Psalm 94. This is one of those psalms that I normally skim because it starts out with what appears on the surface to be that angry tone:

O LORD, God of vengeance,
O God of vengeance, shine forth!

Sometimes these sorts of psalms in which the psalmist is pleading for God to act against his foes make me squirm. “Who am I to point out other people’s unrighteousness and wickedness? Shouldn’t I be focusing on my own sin?”

Yeah, I should. But the experience described in these psalms is real. I shouldn’t neglect them because of some idea that I’m too humble to pray them. Too humble to pray Scripture? Sounds like false humility, like pride.

The reality is that we do have enemies in this world, and prayers for God to act in his perfect justice are appropriate. But we have to make sure these prayers aren’t ultimately about us. Here are some thoughts on how to do that.

Notice that in verses 1–7, as the psalmist is citing the problem, he is not just concerned about his personal afflictions, but those of God’s people. He’s not complaining because his own name is being slandered, but because God’s name is being defamed.

They crush your people, O LORD,
and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The LORD does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.” (v5–7)

The prayer is ultimately about the good of God’s people and the glory of God’s name. Such concerns are right; they are God’s chief concerns, as well.

The accusation of the wicked against God is answered in verses 8–11 by reflection on God’s person (who he is): God made ears, so of course he hears. God made eyes, so of course he sees. Those who come against him are a breath; God is forever.

Then the accusation of the wicked against God is answered in verses 12–15 by reflection on God’s promises (what he says): “For the LORD will not forsake his people…”

With the person and promises of God in mind, the psalmist turns to proclamation and praise in verses 16–23. He recalls all that God has done for him in the past. He declares with confidence that God will ultimately accomplish his purposes, save his people, and work justice.

My favorite lines from this final section are these:

When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up. (v18)

What an awesome God! His faithful, eternal, steadfast covenant love has held me up time and time again. His grace is sufficient. His power is made perfect in weakness. When I think I am about to slip and fall, when my footing is unsure, then God can show himself great through my need.

To pray these angry psalms, then, make the problem about God’s glory and God’s people, not your pride. Remember the person of God (who he is, his character, his attributes) and the promises of God (what he says he will do). Then based on that, begin to proclaim his ultimate victory and praise him for his work of grace in your life and the lives of his people.

These prayers help us live out the reality of verse 19:

When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.

Our hearts are going to be stressed and confronted with cares and worries and anxieties. That will not change in this life. But in the midst of those cares, God consoles and cheers, often with the promise of his perfect justice that will one day come.

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