Praying Psalms: God's Gift for Sleepless Nights

Rev. Jason Ruis

December 2, 2020

I remember the night clearly. I don’t know how long I laid in bed, but sleep didn’t come. My mind raced, my heart pounded, and tears were flowing. Eventually, I gave up trying to sleep, went to my desk, put my face in my hands, and wept. I was filled with frustration, fear, anxiety, and a litany of other emotions. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t do anything—that was part of the problem. So, I sat there and wept.

Eventually, advice from the past echoed in my head: “When you don’t know what to do, pray.” I remember thinking, “That sounds like a good idea, but I don’t even know what to pray for.” More advice from the past came to mind: “When you don’t know what to pray for, pray the Psalms.” So, I listened and opened my Bible.

Praying Psalm 13

As I opened my Bible, I came to Psalm 13 and started praying. “How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1, NIV). How long do I have to sit here weeping? How long before I find some level of peace in my soul? Why haven’t you helped me yet? Why do you seem so far away?

I moved onto the next verse: “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:2, NIV). How long will my mind race out of control? How long will my thoughts keep me awake at night? How long will I keep weeping uncontrollably?

The words were coming easily now (so much for not knowing what to pray). I went to the next verse: “Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,” (Psalm 13:3, NIV). My frustration overflowed onto God: Answer me God! Why won’t you answer me! Why won’t you do something!!!

Stopped In My Tracks

Just as I was “getting on a roll,” and the angry words were flowing out of my mouth, I went to the next verses: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me” (Psalm 13:5–6, NIV). I stopped and stared. I was speechless. I couldn’t pray those words. I finally realized I wasn’t trusting in God’s unfailing love. I finally realized I wasn’t rejoicing in my salvation. I finally realized that God HAD been good to me, even when I was in the pit of despair.

I ended up sitting for a while thinking about these things. I confessed my sins to God. I asked forgiveness for not trusting Him. I asked forgiveness for my ungratefulness. Then I asked for help. I said, “Lord, I haven’t trusted you. I’ve been trusting myself. I’ve been trying to do everything myself. Help me trust you more fully. Help me rejoice in your salvation. Help me sing praises to you from the pit.”

Better, But Not Overnight

That night was a turning point in my battle with anxiety and frustration. My anxiety and frustration didn’t miraculously go away overnight. Yet, they were “wounded enemies” from that point on. They didn’t have power over me as they had in the past. Whenever I felt these feelings creeping up on me, I would return to Psalm 13 and pray. As I prayed, confessed my sin, and trusted my God, I saw these feelings slowly retreat. Psalm 13 has become an invaluable weapon in my personal war against anxiety and frustration.

Pray a Psalm of lament

Psalm 13 belongs to a group of psalms that all have lament in common. They all cry out in pain and anger and sorrow to God, telling him how we really feel. They include, for example, psalms 12, 13, 22, 25, 44, 86, and many more. If you've ever felt you couldn't be honest and angry with God, the Psalms would beg to differ and even give you words to use. They often follow a basic structure: First, call upon God to answer, second, describe a complaint, third, ask God to help, and fourth, express trust that God will do the right thing. You can pray these psalms, or you can follow this pattern to make up your own from scratch!

The Power of Prayer and God’s Word

As I finish this article, I want to make sure you’re hearing me accurately. Some could hear me saying, “If you struggle with anxiety, it’s because you don’t trust God enough.” That is not what I am saying. Sometimes we need counseling or the help of medical professionals to navigate life’s challenges. My point is that prayer and God’s Word are powerful tools for our daily struggles. We’re told that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV). We’re told that God’s Word is “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV). These are two powerful weapons we can use in our battle with anxiety and frustration.

When you don’t know what to do, pray. When you don’t know what to pray for, turn to God’s Word.

About the author — Rev. Jason Ruis

Jason Ruis is the Lead Pastor at Faith Community CRC in Beaver Dam, WI. He and his wife Rachel are raising four competitive daughters who keep them busy running to track meets, soccer games, volleyball matches, and hockey arenas. Jason has a passion for helping people understand God’s Word: how it applies to their daily lives and equips them to glorify God in everything they do.

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