Praying the psalms- permission to complain?

Many of our worship songs are based on psalms, but have you noticed how selective we are in picking the positive parts of the psalms?

“Don’t grumble!” we are told, and not just when we are children by parents who want us to grow up well.  “Don’t complain!” is a theme in scripture.  For example the Israelites in the Wilderness complained about their food and so provoked God’s judgment.  Our attitudes matter to God and if we have a complaint about someone, Jesus and Paul taught clearly that we must forgive them (Matt 5:43-48, Matt 6:14-15 and Col 3:13).

There is another theme in scripture, though, that means there is more for us to uncover - we need to talk to God about how we feel, as well as what we are doing and (most important) what He is doing.  The psalms are full of emotional outpourings, as the psalmist lets rip about the circumstances and how he feels about them.

This is not a human right to individual self expression.  It is being real with God.  It is feeling our own and others’ pain, lamenting and praying.

He already knows our hearts (see Psalm 139 for example).  In fact God often asks questions in scriptural stories, not to find out something but to make us realise what is really going on in our hearts.  When He asked Adam and Eve “What have you done?” He already knew; but they needed to realise it and not just cover up.

Venting is important but it is hard to recognise that a desire for revenge is really there in the psalms, and in human hearts …. including our own!  The key is what we do with it.  Notice that the psalmist is always talking to God or venting in God’s presence, not actually addressing enemies.

Once the psalmist has let out the emotion and hurt - and done so in God’s presence to invite God’s perspective - he can leave it in God’s hands.  The psalmist is anticipating Paul’s advice in Rom 12:19: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

- Chris Horton
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