Why We Can Pray When Overwhelmed

In my last blog post, I wrote about how Psalm 130 demonstrates praying while overwhelmed. Today, I want to address how we can keep on praying when life continues to overwhelm. Again our model prayer comes from Psalm 130. Three couplets emerge within this prayer. First there is a juxtaposition of reverential lament with love. Like Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 2:2-9, this prayer comes from the depths. Jonah’s prayer reflects his being cast into the sea:

“You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; how shall look again upon your holy temple?”(Jonah 2:3,4).

Jonah questions the possibility of a renewed relationship with God. Here too a prayer prayed from the deep craves fellowship with God. Psalm 130’s prayer moves to hope because of an awareness of God’s steadfast love. God’s enduring love produces hope.

The second couplet links watchmen with waiting on the Lord. When rebuilding walls around Jerusalem, Nehemiah the praying politician says, “So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night“(Neh. 4:9). Psalm 130 prays,

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.”

This connection of watching with waiting emerges also when Jesus instructs his disciples to “watch and pray” in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wants them to be alert as they wait for God’s answer to prayer. Even when we fear drowning, we need to relax (wait) rather than panic.

The third couplet in Psalm 130 links forgiveness and redemption. Painfully aware, as the apostle Paul would later express, that all sin and fall short of the glory of God, Psalm 130 confesses awareness that no one could stand before God if he kept a record of wrongs, if he refused to forgive. God, however, does forgive, and so the psalmist can encourage Israel,

“With the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

Two of my favorite hymns are “Be With Me, Lord” and “While On the Sea.” Both hymns are also “prayers from the deep.” In the first, we sing, “If lashing seas leap everywhere about me, they cannot harm or make my heart afraid.” The second says, “In fear of death and in deepest of anguish; Lord, hear my prayer; watch my soul on the sea.” We pray “from the depths.” Life overwhelms us as surely as if we were swimmers caught in the ocean’s undertow. We cry out for the Lord’s attention. We continue to pray, we begin to hope, because as the prayer of Psalm 130 models for us, we pray in faith that God forgives and he redeems.


About Michael Summers

Michael Waymon Summers has preached in twenty-seven of the United States as well as seven other countries. Michael earned a Master of Theology degree. He also has done graduate work in international studies. Michael likes to run, loves to sing, and reads voraciously.
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4 Responses to Why We Can Pray When Overwhelmed

  1. Pingback: Are there really different seasons in ministry? |

  2. Thank you for such well written comments on Psalm 130, and how we can dig into scripture to learn how to pray through the tough times. Our adult forum used the psalms appointed for Sunday worship as our study topic this year. We enriched our understanding of scripture and our worship by understanding this rich and rewarding scripture. May God be with you.

  3. Pingback: The Garden of the Soul | Kinda Crunchy

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