Trials, Temptations and Tribulations: Finding Help in the Psalms
None of us can go through life without experiencing various trials, temptations and tribulations. St Anthony of the Desert said: “Expect temptations to your last breath. Without temptations no-one can be saved” We all know quite well through our own life experiences what these are and what they feel like – be it sickness, death, grief, separation, anxiety, stress, bad thoughts, etc. Even though each person’s difficulties may look somewhat similar, each will likely handle them differently.
What can you do as we go through the trials, temptations and tribulations of life? We might hear from well-meaning people suggestions like, “hang in there, tomorrow will be better. Don’t give up, keep your chin up. I feel for you, been there and done that. Life sure has its ups and downs!” However, as Christians we understand that because of Christ’s sufferings on the Cross, we know that we are not alone while enduring our sufferings. We must pray and ask our Lord to help us.
Hear, o Lord, and be gracious to me!
O Lord, be Thou my helper! (PS. 30:10)
When difficult times weigh heavy on our minds, hearts, and bodies, one place where we can find help is in the psalms of the Bible. Reading a whole psalm or part of one can bring some comfort and solace. Repeating a few verses of a psalm throughout the day can help keep our minds and our hearts united to God. It can be helpful to read the Psalms and memorize a few verses when we are calm and peaceful so they are readily available to us in times of distress.
A good example of helpful verses is found in Psalm 143, one of Six Psalms read each morning at the beginning of the Matins service and also repeated at the evening Compline service.
Teach me the way I should go.
for to Thee I lift up my soul,
Deliver me, O Lord from my enemies!
I have fled to Thee for refuge!
Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God!
Let Thy good spirit lead into me on a level path!
For Thy name’s sake; O Lord preserve my life!
In Thy righteousness bring me out of trouble!
(Ps. 143: 8-12)
We learn that the Lord hears our prayers and we, the faithful, must be patient and trust in God’s mercy as we pass through the storms.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us (Ps. 62:8).
(Elder Arsenius speaks on the Meaning of Suffering)
Sometimes we do not fully understand why the trial has come upon us or why at first it seems so overwhelming. As we pray and cry out to our Lord with tears, we might see that something inside of us needs to change. Perhaps we have done wrong and need to ask God for others for forgiveness. Often we need to understand that we might need to change the way we respond to others who night have hurt us intentionally or unintentionally. Many times our emotions rage within us so strongly that we can not see the situation clearly and we need some spiritual counsel.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
fret not yourself, it tends only to evil (Ps. 37:7-8).
In additions to reading the psalms, praying, fasting, confessing our sins, attending Divine Liturgy, receiving Holy Communion and talking to a person we trust can help to strengthen and heal us.
O Lord my God, I cried to Thee for help,
and Thou hast healed me (Ps. 30:20).
In a letter to Marcellinus, St. Athanasius writes some words of encouragement as to how reading the psalms can help us: “Let each one, therefore, who recites the psalms have a sure hope that through them God will speedily give ear to those who are in need. For if a man be in trouble when he says them, great comfort will be find in them; if he be tempted or persecuted, he will find himself abler to stand the test and will experience the protection of the Lord, Who always defends those who say these words. By them to a man will overthrow the devil and put the fiends to flight (St. Athanasius on the Incarnation, SVS Press, 1996, p 117).”
Deliver me from my persecutors;
for they are too strong for me! (Ps. 142:6)
As we go through our different stages of life, let us not be discouraged when the trials, temptations and tribulations come. They will come, they will leave and they will return. May we always remember that God loves us and that He is with us. It is with patience and thanksgiving and trusting in His strength and power that we can endure all things.
O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His
steadfast love (mercy) endures for ever (Ps. 136:1)
When depression wars against us or some unaccountable sorrow wearies our soul, we should read Psalm 102 (“O Lord, hear my prayer, let my cry come unto Thee…”), the 37th (“Fret not thyself because of evildoers, nor envy them that work iniquity…”), then Psalm 27 (“The Lord is my light…”), and Psalm 91 (“He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High…”).
If we read these tree times a day in the name of the Holy Trinity and with humility and zeal, giving ourselves over to the all-good Providence of God, “then He shall bring forth they righteousness as the light and thy judgment as the noonday. Submit thyself unto the Lord and supplicate Him” (Ps. 36:6-7).
It is useful also to read Psalm 39: “With patience I waited patiently for the Lord, and He was attentive unto me”. (S. Chetverikov, Elder Ambrose of Optina, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997, p.256).
(Taken from the ‘Life Transfigured” a Journal of Orthodox Nuns, Vol.42, #1, Orthodox Monastery of Transfiguration, Ellwood City, PA).
Where to Turn in the Psalms…
When you are tempted to compromise: Psalm 1:1-7
When you are unjustly criticized: Psalm 3:1-4
When you are lacking in joy: Psalm 5:11,12
When you are being tested: Psalm 10:5-7
When you need encouragement : Psalm 17:6-8
If you doubt the Scriptures: Psalm 19:7-11
When you are lonely: Psalm 23:1-6
When you mourn: Psalm 30:10-12
When you need God’s forgiveness: Psalm 32:1-5
When you are tempted to miss church: Psalm 34:1-10
When you are worried: Psalm 37:1-8
When you are sad: Psalm 43:35
Before you go to confession: Psalm 51:1-19
When you are depressed: Psalm 57:6-11
When you need God’s protection: Psalm 61:1-8
When you need strength: Psalm 62:5-8
When enemies come against you: Psalm 70:1-5
When there is a shortage of money: Psalm 72:12-19
When you are deeply troubled: Psalm 77:1-15
When you feel insignificant: Psalm 84:5-12
When you wonder about life’s meaning: Psalm 90:10-17
In times of anxiety: Psalm 94:16-19
If you are tempted to disobey God: Psalm 95:6-11
When you need God’s mercy: Psalm 103:1-14
When you are discouraged: Psalm 109:21-31
When you have opportunity to serve God: Psalm 112:1-10
When a loved one dies: Psalm 116:1-19
When you need God’s guidance: Psalm 119:9-16
Before leaving on a journey: Psalm 121:1-18
When you contemplate marriage: Psalm 127:1-5
To find a litany of prayer: Psalm 136:1-26
If God seems far away: Psalm 139:1-18
Before retiring for the: Psalm 141:1-10
If you want to complain to God: Psalm 142:1-7
When you want to give praise to God: Psalm 150:1-6
(taken from The Orthodox Study Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1997, p. XXXI, available from Conciliar Press)