Psalm 121: A Liturgy for Times of Distress

Psalm 121: A Liturgy for Times of Distress

Psalm 121 moves from questioning to proclaiming. For most of our distress-filled days, we also go back and forth between doubting and trusting. In this Psalm, God gives His people words to communicate both uncertainty and faith. This passage provides the freedom to acknowledge our struggles, but it also encourages us to have confidence in Him. 

What does distress sound like? Each of us expresses our anguish differently, but it frequently sounds like physical tossing and turning on our beds, pacing in the hallways, tears, and cries that pour out of our overwhelmed hearts.

While these are the instinctive ways we typically communicate the turmoil in our souls,  we sometimes neglect the most important way we can express our sorrow: to the Lord. If we do not call out to the Lord in our distress, we will feel distant from Him.

And yet, there are seasons when our sorrow is so great that we fail to find words. Our hearts are so broken, burdened, betrayed, and distressed that our words fail us. In these moments, we need help speaking to the Lord.

The Lord Gives Us Words

God, in His kindness, allows us to borrow His words when we struggle to know what to say to Him. Jesus did this in His agony. From the cross, He cried out to the Lord, expressing His anguish by quoting the words of Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (v. 1).

Jesus, using the words given to Him in Scripture, articulated how He felt abandoned in His moment of need.

Did you catch that? Even He who knew the glorious redemptive purpose of His suffering expressed deep anguish as He went through it. He shared His heart with His Father. This should encourage us to speak directly to our Father even when we feel He has abandoned us.

The Lord Invites Our Questions

Similar to Jesus’ prayer based on Psalm 22, Psalm 121 can help us speak to God in the midst of our distress. It is a song of ascent, which means that it was sung by Israelite sojourners embarking on a long, perilous journey to Mt. Zion. They needed courage for the climb ahead. They started out in a valley and had an arduous journey before them. They were aware they might encounter robbers and challenging terrain along the way. They anticipated trouble.

Like us, when we are in a difficult or dangerous place, the Israelites were filled with fear, wrestling with uncertainty. Nevertheless, they knew they needed to head towards Mt. Zion to reach their temple.

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