Anatomy of the Soul #2 - Prayer and Our Troubles

A Prayer Guide

1. Read psalm 77 Aloud

2. A Guide to Understanding Psalm 77

When Trouble Comes: Psalm 77 is a prayer for our times of trouble and stress in life. Verse 2 tells us the occasion for this prayer – “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of trouble, I seek the Lord”. “Trouble” here can refer both to the outward cause of our trouble (challenging circumstances) and/or the inward experience of trouble (stress). This Psalm and many others show us that the day of trouble is also to be the day of prayer.  Many people struggle to speak their troubles aloud - instead choosing to keep it all inside. Psalm 77 teaches us our stress is not to be held inside and resisted; nor is it to relieved by distractions and pleasures – it is to be expressed to God aloud in prayers of lament. 

Lament goes beyond praying, “God! I’m in trouble! Get me out of this!” Lament is praying our troubles (or the troubles of others) to God. To lament is to describe the trouble we are facing and the feelings we have about our troubles to God. This is what the Psalmist does in verses 2-9. He speaks to God about his troubled soul, his struggle to pray and the questions that arise in his mind. Psalm 77 assures us God wants us to pray like this and he always hears the lament of those who seek Him in the day of trouble. 

When Prayer Brings More Trouble: There are many reasons we struggle with lament. One of the reasons is what happened here in this Psalm. When the Psalmist lamented aloud to God (just like he was taught to), what happened? He became more troubled. Prayer made things worse! He found no comfort (v2). He could only groan in weakness (v3). His troubles kept him awake at night and memories of better times brought more pain (v4-6).  When this happens, we think, “Prayer isn’t working! God isn’t listening!” But there’s an assumption we are making in our distress. It goes like this - if God doesn’t fix my circumstances or my troubled emotional state, He must not hear me. If God was listening, He would end my trouble! He’d end my stress!

Psalm 77 challenges this assumption. It shows us that before God deals with our troubles, He often wants to deal first with us. He doesn’t just want to bring us out of trouble; He wants to teach us in our trouble. This was true for Jesus: In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:7,8). There are some things we can only learn through lament. We learn God doesn’t exist to obey us; we exist to obey Him. We learn reverence for God and his will. He can be trusted even in our troubles.

How Prayer Brings Us Through Trouble – For a time, prayer brought more grief and trouble, but the Psalmist didn’t stay there. There is a dramatic shift in this prayer that begins in verse 10. The prayer moves from a meditation inward to a meditation outward. In verses 2-9, the first person (inward) meditation dominates (my trouble, my hand, my soul, my eyelids, my song I used to sing, my heart, my spirit, etc). This is the hard but important work of lamentation. But it’s not enough. We need to get outside of ourselves and our troubling circumstances and emotions. This happens when we make the shift to outward meditation on who God and what he has done.

In verses 11-12, the Psalmist says, I will remember the Lord’s works, yes I will remember your wonders of old, I will ponder all your work and meditate on your mighty works.” He turns his mental, emotional and spiritual energy to God and his redemptive actions in history. This takes him to the greatest act of redemption in the OT – the exodus. He “prays himself there” – seeing God’s power deliver his people. In meditation on God’ act of redemption, these things became real to him:

  • God is more powerful than my troubles and feelings. (He is above the storm v16-17)

  • God makes a path through my troubles. (Your way went through the sea v19)

  • God is present with me in my troubles, even when we can’t see him (your footprints were unseen v19)

The Exodus was the greatest act of redemption the Psalmist knew of but we know of an even greater act of redemption – the redeeming work of Jesus. The gospel is the definitive place for us to look to remember who God is and what he does. Here’s what redemptive/gospel meditation might look like:

  • Jesus came into the world of trouble. He bore all the troubles of humanity and our greatest trouble on the cross (our sin and separation from God). God is present with me in my troubles.

  • The tomb is empty. If all the sin, the curse, the forces of evil and death cannot stop God’s redeeming power, nothing can stop his loving purpose for me. God is more powerful than my troubles and feelings

  • The worst day in human history became the best day in human history. The day of darkness and evil became the day of deliverance and life. God made a way through the most impossible situation, the worst trouble of all! He turned the tables on sin and evil!  God will make a path through my troubles.

In prayer, God brings us out of our troubles through meditation on the gospel. Gospel meditation is “praying ourselves there” - into the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We fix our hearts, minds and souls on the solid truth of all of who Jesus is and all he did for our redemption. Even in our hardest day of trouble, these things will never change.

A Guide to Praying Psalm 77

1. Opening Prayers – Ask God to open, search, examine your heart. Ask God to help you see and speak your troubles aloud to Him.

  • “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23, 24) “Help me see what’s happening in my own heart. Help me be honest about what’s there.”

2. Inward Meditation – Lament (verses 2-9)

  • Begin with an affirmation of trust – “We cry to you God because you hear us.” (v1)

  • Describe your troubling circumstances to God. Use detail and imagery. Don’t worry that “God already knows.” Tell him all about it.

  • Describe your troubling emotions to God. Use detail, use imagery, tell God what you are feeling and don’t hold back - be real and reverent at the same time.

  • Articulate the tensions you feel between God’s character and promises and your situation. Use verses 7-9 as a sample.

3. Outward Meditation – Gospel Mediation (verses 10-20)

  • Affirm the holiness and greatness of God. Worship him that He is above you, greater than you and far above your understanding.

  • Pray yourself into the story of Jesus. Open up one of the gospels, if needed. Meditate aloud on his coming, his life, the cross, the resurrection and the ascension.

  • Pray the truth of the gospel into your troubles (examples):

    • Since you experienced suffering even from birth, Jesus, you know my troubles!

    • On the cross, you felt what’s it’s like to be alone in the dark. You took on the stress of sin and the trouble of the world! I cast my trouble to you!

    • Jesus, You overcame the world. You broke the power of sin and death. One day you will end all troubles. Break the hold of my trouble over me! Give me hope to endure.

    • ALSO – Through the lens of the gospel, we can look back at the Exodus or other moments in Scripture of God acting to redeem and rescue his people. Praying ourselves into these mighty acts of God take on even greater significance as we see them fulfilled in the gospel.