5 Psalms to Pray When You’re Feeling Depressed
Does your church still use a hymnal? Many churches have moved to printed lyrics and/or screens to lead people in singing hymns and songs of worship to God. Even if you rarely or never open a hymnal, you still read the Bible, right? Did you know that the book of Psalms was the original hymnal for God’s people? Those “songs of praise” (the meaning of the title, “Psalms”) have been sung and prayed for centuries. You can pray them when you are feeling depressed.While “praise” is built into the name, the Psalms cover the whole gamut of emotional experiences prompted by life’s difficulties: awe, wonder, joy, trust, anger, frustration, loneliness, and lament. Just about any emotion you can name finds representation in the Psalms.
There are five different types of Psalms: the royal Psalms prayed by the king, and Psalms of wisdom, thanksgiving, praise, and lament. Though in church we often sing upbeat, happy songs of God’s goodness, the Bible has a whole category of Psalms that cry out to God from pain, injustice, and loneliness. All your emotions are gifts from God, and you can bring whatever you’re feeling straight to him.
Here are five Psalms to pray for when you’re feeling depressed.
You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry… – Psalm 10:17
A scan of the day’s news headlines can be all it takes to get your blood boiling at the injustice so prevalent in our world. In Psalm 10, the Psalmist bemoans the wicked man who “hunts down the weak,” describing him as arrogant, scheming, boastful, proud, sneering and lying, and lying in wait like a lion to ambush, crush, and utterly collapse the defenseless. The wicked man also reviles God, sets up his own laws, and thinks no one – certainly not God – will ever hold him to account.
The Psalmist can’t stand that God seems stand-offish while these atrocities continue. He demands that God arise and get to work setting things right. He reminds God of the plight of the helpless, that God considers their grief.
When he says that God takes their grief “in hand,” he is asking God to take their grief personally, to hold it and feel its weight. He calls on God to break the wicked man’s arm, preventing him from causing further pain and demanding an accounting of the atrocities committed in the dark.
The Psalmist concludes by declaring that God is king, meaning that God is in charge. He acknowledges God’s goodness in encouraging the afflicted and defending the fatherless and oppressed. Even when all seems entirely wrong, we can trust in God’s character.
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? – Psalm 13:2
Do you ever feel so desperately lonely that you wonder if even God has abandoned you? The Psalmist can relate. You can imagine him pacing back and forth as he rails at the heavens, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?” God hasn’t turned his face from you even when it feels that way. Notice that, even in his despair, the Psalmist addresses God directly.
He begs God to end this period of suffering which feels so intense he thinks he might die. He longs for the hope of God’s presence so that his enemies won’t have any additional reasons to gloat. And still, though he is in anguish, the Psalmist stakes his hope firmly in God’s unfailing love. He makes a conscious decision to trust and to recall the good things God has done for him as he sings God’s praises.
What good things has God done for you? Make a list and post it where it will remind you to continue to trust. If you’re feeling depressed, you could also join the Psalmist and sing a few praise songs, as research has shown that the act of singing releases the “feel-good” chemicals in your body and therefore improves your mood.
Psalm 23 is arguably the most well-known of all the Psalms, both in the church and the larger population. Often prayed at memorial services and public gatherings that invite someone to offer a blessing over the event and those gathered, David’s description of God as a good shepherd keeping watch over his sheep has comforted countless people.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4
This Psalm works when you’re feeling calm and content and it also fits when you’re feeling depressed, walking through that dark valley of death’s shadow, or when you’re ready to cower amid your surrounding enemies. In every situation, God is with you. He leads and protects you. He provides for your physical needs through food, water, and safety and your emotional needs through his companionship, goodness, and love.
You can trust that God is always with you, even in those dark valleys. You don’t need to be afraid. God will use his rod and staff to guide you, lift you out of the thick brush, and defend you from those lurking enemies.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. – Psalm 51:1
Sometimes we make our lives harder than they have to be through sin and its consequences. David wrote Psalm 51 after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. He implores God to have mercy and forgive his sins.
Interestingly, even though his actions involved and had consequences for other people, David claims that he sinned only against God. While you may need to repent and make amends with others, it’s crucial to remember that your sins offend God. God made you and rightfully makes demands on you. When you disobey God, you need to repent directly to God.David pleads with God to wash away his sins and restore joy to their relationship. He humbles himself before God and declares his intention to teach others the ways of righteousness. When we learn from what we go through, we then have the privilege of sharing those lessons with others.
Spend some time considering your actions and attitudes and confess to God anything that doesn’t square with the wisdom he has offered you. Humble yourself and allow Him to lift you up in joy.
I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint; before him, I tell my trouble. – Psalm 142:1-2
King Saul pursued David because he perceived David to be a threat to his kingship. Saul sought to kill David. That’s the setting for Psalm 142, as an exhausted, frightened, and lonely David cowers in the darkness of a cave. He has no comparable military guard to defend him or even a friend to keep watch while he gets some rest.
God alone is his refuge, and so he pours out his heavy heart to God. He calls on God to rescue him and promises to offer praise and use his life as an example of God’s goodness. Whether the people, the circumstances or even the odds seem stacked against you and you’re feeling depressed, God will always be available to listen to your cries and complaints. He is a good and merciful God who offers you refuge in his presence.
Christian Counseling for Depression
If you’re feeling depressed and you’re looking for additional support, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in the online counselor directory. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss practical techniques for handling depression from a Christian perspective.
“Grieving Alone”, Courtesy of Francisco Gonzalez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; Courtesy of Fa Barboza, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Open Bible”, Courtesy of Tim Wildsmith, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bible Verse”, Courtesy of Miriam G, Unsplash.com, CC0 License