Have You Felt Depleted Lately? Psalm 79

Even after the warnings, God’s people could hardly believe the great disaster that fell upon Jerusalem during the Babylonian Conquest in 597 BC.

In the aftermath of war, Psalm 79 expresses the people’s grief about what had been done and left undone in the form of a community lament.

How Long, O Lord?

1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy Temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

2 They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.

3 They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them. (Psalm 79:1-3 ESV)

The city was left in ruins. The Temple was ransacked and destroyed. By the end of the siege, bodies lay in the streets with no one to bury them. The people’s inheritance, the promised land, was covered in their blood.

4 We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.

5 How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?

6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name! (Psalm 79:4-6 ESV)

Shame filled their hearts as God’s people begged for mercy and began asking Him to turn His wrath onto those who denied God’s existence. They questioned how He could protect His reputation with their neighbors without rescuing and restoring them. Does God need such a reminder? Does He need to carefully guard His reputation with those who don’t even acknowledge Him?

7 For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

8 Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. (Psalm 79:7-8 ESV)

How often have we failed to take a complete inventory of my sins? Do we regularly take time for confession, or do we wish to jump ahead to God’s compassionate response? Do we demand His quickest mercy so we can get to the forgiveness part more efficiently?

 9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake!

10 Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?" Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!

11 Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die! (Psalm 79:9-11 ESV)

God’s people begged for compassion, forgiveness, and help. Desperation drove the urgency of their pleading. Finally, however, they acknowledged their sins needed atonement, and since the Temple was in ruins, they couldn’t go and make sacrifices. Only God can provide for these prisoners. 

They were once again quick to remind God to protect His reputation. Does God need such reminders? How often have we been so quick to point out how unfair we consider something to be? Does the God of the universe grow weary of our limited view and hasty judgments?

12 Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord! (Psalm 79:12 ESV)

God’s people also demanded vengeance (seven-fold) on their neighbors who taunted God. Does God need us to point out when others disrespect Him? Did He miss it by any chance? It seems unlikely. His endless patience with our need to keep score is yet another grace.

13 But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation, we will recount your praise. (Psalm 79:13 ESV)

Finally, in Verse 13, God’s people gain a proper perspective. They acknowledge their need for their one true Shepherd and pledge their thanksgiving for now and forever to the next generation.

As God’s people, we desperately need to spend time with our Good Shepherd. Expressing lament to God draws us closer to Him and brings healing to our souls. Most of us have not had our homeland destroyed, but smaller losses pile upon significant losses and chip away at our souls, leaving us desperate and depleted.

Lament is a necessary step in healing from the inside out. The healing balm of God’s presence brings about an abundant crop of gratitude. After all, we are charged with an essential responsibility to help our children and grandchildren to inherit a thankful and praise-filled attitude from us. Can I afford to take a few minutes to practice lament today?

How Do I Lament in the Midst of Joy? Psalm 77

A woman sitting looking away in sadness.

Sometimes a day carries both joy and sadness in overflowing measures. I had a chance to witness an incredible event today with family and friends at our church. My niece was baptized. Somehow, in a moment, I could only see my sister was not there to share something we would have been beaming from ear to ear over. A crescendo of joy flowed through my heart. Then deep sadness and longing for a person who has been gone for over thirty years arrived on the scene. I suppose I will always miss her. When I see her smile on her daughter’s face or hear her grandchild’s giggle, it is an echo of what we are all missing. Even the ones who have not ever met her here on earth.

Psalm 77 is a psalm of lament suitable for whenever my heart is heavy. Using these verses as prompts, I can pray through a road map directing me to a place where I have space to express my real feelings, ask questions and find peace. I must travel through this valley. If I fail to continue on the journey and try to bypass feeling my feelings, the heaviness will likely ambush me later. Then anger might spew forth, causing damage to an innocent victim. My doubts carried for miles may weigh me down and cause overwhelming fatigue. Finding a place of peace with God is a journey best taken in a psalm of lament as a soul-tending practice. Each verse of this psalm offers a handhold to safeguard my forward progress through grief.

1 I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. 
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. 
3 When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah 

As I declare verse one aloud, I am reminded that God does hear me. He hears me in the night, in the day of trouble, and even when my soul refuses comfort. As I remember God, I am overwhelmed and struggle to find words to express all I feel. I try to deeply think about God, but my mind can’t grasp it all and becomes faint at the effort. Finally, at the end of verse three, I see the word “Selah.” Scholars cannot agree on exactly what the word means, but it appears to put forth the idea of pause and being still. So, at this moment, I choose to be still before God and just be with Him.

Prayer Pause

Lord, help me to settle my mind simply on you and kneel before you in surrender and be still.

(On a very practical note, I have to set a timer to do this because otherwise, I spend the entire time wondering if I should be done yet.)

4 You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old, the years long ago.
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search.
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

Have you ever been so sad, anxious, or angry that you couldn’t sleep? Yet, the picture of God holding my eyes open feels profoundly true in those moments. It is as if He is saying to me, “Seriously, we need to talk.”

As I respond to Him, I might well begin to review my own history and search my heart. Then questions fill my mind, just like the ones the Psalmist begs in verses seven, eight, and nine. All this is so much to process that I will need to pause once again before the Lord and ask Him to help me see a new perspective.

Prayer Pause

Lord, as we meet in the dark of the night and the escape of sleep eludes me, I come before you and consider our history together. Lord, search me and allow me to ask you the probing and challenging questions. Are you bringing something good out of all this? How long until you answer my requests? Have you given up on me? I surrender again all my rights to be in the know. You know all the things so that I don’t have to carry that burden. Thank you. I now pause to be thankful for You.

10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

12 I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.

13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?

14 You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.

15 You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

Psalm 77:10-15 ESV

Verse ten reveals a bend in the road where the journey brings me to a new place. I will choose to rejoice in the right hand of the Most High. I give thanks for God’s hand that has rescued me, guided me, and provided everything for my life. I will choose today to remember the deeds of you, LORD. I am in awe of Your wonders. I will decide to ponder all Your work and mighty deeds. Your way is holy and set apart for me. The path You ask me to take is for Your higher purposes. Others serve gods who are nothing like You. Not only do You work wonders for all of Your people, but You also make known Your might and strength and power in public on purpose, so no one can say they do not know. God, You redeem Your people and your daughter in the family line of Jacob and Joseph because of Jesus’ work on the cross. You made me part of your forever family. All of this is worthy of my meditation today.

Prayer Pause

As I remember all You have done for my loved ones and me, I am in awe. I see how You have been so gracious for generations. Your ways are holy and beyond my own limited understanding. Help me to grow into greater trust and obedience as I follow you more faithfully. Whenever doubts come at me, help me to remember Your deeds. Help me to remember Your endlessly redemptive work in my life and in this world.

16 When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled.

17 The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side.

18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world;

the earth trembled and shook.

19 Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Psalm 77:16-20 ESV

Just in case I might forget Your mighty works, You are so kind to display them to me every single day. At the end of each day, you reveal a stunning sunset, and then the following day, you provide a magnificent sunrise. You take me through the green valleys and up onto the mountain majesties. Whenever I see wild storms, lightning displays, and water directed and controlled by You, I know that You hold it all together. Thank you for moment-by-moment displays of Your power. I am always in need of reminders.

Prayer Pause

Thank you, Father, for allowing me to live in a place where I see Your handiwork on display all day and every day. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, give me fresh eyes to see it. Let me not miss a demonstration of Your might and power. Thank you for your generosity. You are willing and able to give daily demonstrations that leave me in awe. You parted the Red Sea to save your people. You will carry me through whatever difficulties and bring me safely home and into your eternal promised land someday. Please sustain me in my journey with you and bring peace and healing to my grieving heart. Amen

Why not try praying through a psalm today? The psalms are the original collection of prayers and devotions. Jesus himself often pulled from them in prayer. If you do, let me know how it goes. I would love to hear what you discover.