When your feelings are overwhelming or feel out of control, the Bible offers a path to calmness.
Posted in , Jun 1, 2020
You might be one of those people who spout off when they’re angry—you know, who just let the words fly even if you end up saying things you don’t necessarily mean. On the other hand, you might be someone who holds your anger in. You might find it hard to form complete sentences—cohesive thoughts, even—when your temperature goes up.
Wherever you find yourself on that spectrum, you may find it hard to pray when you’re angry. Maybe because you’re afraid to really tell God what you’re feeling or thinking because, well, He might let loose with a lightning bolt or two. Or you may just not have the words to express your anger—and it takes words to pray, right?
If the Bible is any kind of guide—and it is—then it’s not only possible to pray when you’re angry; it’s apparently something worth doing. God’s people in the past not only did it, but they recorded some of those prayers in scripture…and saved them for future generations! So what do the Bible’s “angry” prayers teach us?
1) Let It Out
If God’s praying people of the past are any kind of model, you can just let out what’s really, truly in your heart and mind. God sees it and knows it already, so you might as well share it in prayer. Whether it’s anger at yourself, circumstances, other people or even God, who better to vent to than the sovereign, omniscient God who created you and loves you? Let it out. Vent. For as long as it takes. Follow the example of David, who prayed:
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes (Psalm 6:6-7, NIV).
2) Say What You’re Afraid to Say
Judging from the psalmists’ example, God values brutal honesty. He wants us to pray what’s really in us, not what we think He wants to hear. So, go ahead and pray your anger. (It’s hard to pray through your anger if you won’t express your anger.) Maybe that’s how we can understand the kind of emotion that caused psalmists to pray about an enemy, “May his children be fatherless,” and “May a creditor seize all he has” (Psalm 109:9, 11, NIV).
Yes, those are some strong words. Emotional. Raw. And later in the psalm, the guy confesses, “I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me” (Psalm 109:22, NIV). No kidding. But trying to suppress or deny your emotions prevents you from working through them and finding compassion and forgiveness.
3) Trust the Holy Spirit to Interpret for You
The Apostle Paul wrote:
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God (Romans 8:26-27, NIV).
Sometimes, when I haven’t been able to articulate my feelings to God, I’ve consciously called on the Holy Spirit to pray what I can’t pray. And I believe He does. And He interprets those thoughts and emotions that are too deep—or convoluted—to find expression. So, trust Him to make sense of even your deepest pain.
4) Return to What You Know After Expressing What You Feel
We are thinking creatures and feeling creatures. And sometimes feelings short-circuit thoughts. In that case, we may need to express the emotions, giving voice to the feeling side of our brains in order to remember and express truth from the thinking side of our brains. I think we can see that happening over and over in the “angry psalms” of the Bible. For example, in Psalm 70, David is clearly angry and hurting:
Hasten, O God, to save me;
come quickly, Lord, to help me.
May those who want to take my life
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
be turned back in disgrace.
May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”
turn back because of their shame (Psalm 70:1-3, NIV).
Because a psalm is a song, I wonder if David sang those verses more than once—many times, perhaps—before he finished his prayer:
But may all who seek You
rejoice and be glad in You;
may those who long for Your saving help always say,
“The Lord is great!”
But as for me, I am poor and needy;
come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
Lord, do not delay (Psalm 70:4-5, NIV).
It’s okay to pray about your anger. Like David and other psalmists, you might even sing it (using a loud electric guitar, perhaps). And you’ll probably find, when you’ve thoroughly expressed what you’re feeling, you’ll be in a better place to pray the things you know to be true.