Read the Whole Psalm (and Why It Can Wreck Your Faith When You Don’t)

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“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” How many times have you heard, sung, or recited this verse from Psalms 23? It’s so powerful, so full of hope and inspiration. Verse 23 says, “He restores my soul.” Wow. Yes, he does. But have you read the rest of the chapter? Do you pray the whole Psalm?

Journey into Darkness

The Psalms were essentially the hymnal of ancient Israel and they were meant to be memorized, sung, and prayed. They follow a consistent pattern, starting out with a message of hope and joy, of faith in our provider, healer, and protector. They later venture into a darker message, one we often choose to ignore or simply fail to include. We are so inspired by the beginning of a Psalm that we circle back to one verse or passage over and over again, completely unaware that there’s a greater message to be ingested. Psalms 23 later references the “valley of the shadow of death”. Psalms 42 is well known for the beginning, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You O God”. Read just beyond the beginning though and we journey to a darker place where, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, “where is your God?””. We are setting unrealistic, unbiblical expectations for our lives when we fail to read and pray the entire Psalm.

There’s No Formula for Suffering

We have bought into the lie that life will go nicely if we are faithful followers. It’s this thinking that causes such intense disappointment for so many people. It’s because of this that so many walk away from their faith when their lives are turned upside down, despite a faithful prayer life, church attendance, and commitment to the Word.

Be encouraged! Yes, some suffering is a direct result of bad decisions, but sometimes we suffer because God is doing something we just don’t get. Sometimes it is our very faith in God that essentially qualifies us for suffering. God will walk you through your suffering and bring you into a deeper, more rewarding relationship with him on the other side. Sometimes it won’t make sense; sometimes we won’t have the answers—no matter how badly we want God to behave according to our expectations. Sometimes tragedy happens. Bad circumstances do not equal a faith problem. The Psalms, each one in its entirety, teaches us this. These are songs and prayers from people who found refuge and hope in the darkness, not because they got to skip it.

So pray the whole Psalm, friends. Don’t neglect the parts you find daunting, embrace them—they provide context, meaning, and strength to the joyful ones.

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