A Prayer in Times of Pain and Sorrow – Psalm 22 (Jesus Prayed It Too)

I love Psalm 22. In this psalm, God provides us with an awesome way to connect with Him in our sorrows, and to find His strength and peace in that place.

In this psalm, God doesn’t tell us our sorrows will completely disappear. But He shows us that He will be present with us in that place, and bring us HIS peace.

Jesus Is with Us in Our Pain

To show us that He truly understands the pain in our hearts, Jesus prayed Psalm 22 from the cross.

Here is the first verse of Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (NRSV)

And here are Jesus’ words from Matthew 27:46:

“And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

In His most difficult hour, when God the Father Himself had to turn away from Jesus (because Jesus had taken on all of our sin), Jesus began to pray Psalm 22. 

In praying this psalm, Jesus gives us a model for how to pray during times of sorrow. He also shows us that He is with us in our pain.

Psalm 22 Helps Us Pray in Pain

How does Psalm 22 guide us in prayer? The psalmist begins with a lament, an expression of his sorrow. From the very start, he makes it clear he is telling all of this to God – all of his pain, all of his sorrow. Out loud. To God.

In verses 1-21, the psalmist offers three laments, and they get progressively worse! He gets to the point where he feels like he is at death’s door (verse 15). And honestly, some of the other stuff sounds worse than that.

But in between these laments, something interesting happens. The psalmist remembers about God’s faithfulness. He turns to the truth He knows about God.

The Struggle in the Heart – It’s Real

That doesn’t mean the psalmist feels that truth in his heart. His heart is hurting. He knows what the truth is, but he doesn’t feel it yet. There is a battle going on in his heart. His pain and his sorrowful experiences are very real. But he also remembers that God is good.

It’s in the midst of that struggle within the heart where God does His best work.

So the psalm goes like this:

Lament (verses 1-2) – the psalmist feels abandoned by God.

Truth (verses 3-5) – the psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness in times past.

Lament (verses 6-8) – the psalmist feels scorned.

Truth (verses 9-11) – the psalmist remembers God has always been with him.

Lament (verses 12-18) – the psalmist is at death’s door (and worse).

Truth (verses 19-21) – the psalmist is confident God can deliver him.

Heart Change – God’s Peace Is Here

Notice that the truth doesn’t take away his reality or his sorrow. But it does bring peace to his heart, the peace of knowing God is present. How can we tell? Verse 22 says it all: a change of heart, where the psalmist begins to praise God in the midst of suffering. This praise grows with great intensity to the end of the psalm.

He doesn’t praise because he “has” to (although that would be okay). He praises because God has brought him peace in the midst of his very real suffering. The psalmist knows God hears his pain. He says this in verse 24. And not just his own pain, but also the pain of everyone who is suffering.

There is a lot of peace and comfort that comes from knowing that someone else is present with us in pain and really hears our heart. We need this from each other. Most importantly, we need this from God.

Sorrow and Truth – We Need Both

The beauty of this psalm, as a prayer, is the movement between lament (expression of our sorrow) and truth. Often when we pray in times of pain and sorrow, we end up with one or the other, but not both.

We need both.

We can lament and lament until there is nothing left of us. But if we haven’t taken the next step to pray for God’s truth in our situation, we end up consumed with lament, and no peace (just like the psalmist at the end of verse 2 – unable to find rest).

On the other hand, sometimes we rush too quickly to speak the truth. And we overlook the pain in our hearts.

Sometimes we do this because we are afraid of giving words to our sorrow or struggle – afraid that once we start crying out in pain, we will never stop.

We might also avoid the pain because people around us might get uncomfortable with our expressions of grief and sorrow. Society (even in the church) doesn’t really like “lament,” and we rarely feel like we have permission to grieve. We’re supposed to just “get over it” and move on. “It’s under the blood” – we hear that so often, meaning that whatever we are struggling with, God’s already taken care of it, in some way or another.

But when we say things like that, we risk applying truth like a band-aid without draining the wound.

It’s important that we do both: That we lament, expressing our sorrows out loud to God; and that once we have completely poured out all the pain that’s stuffed in our hearts, we then remember God’s truth.

Psalm 22 teaches us beautifully how to pray both, back and forth, until God’s peace comes into our hearts. The situation may not change. But we have His peace. We can take the next step forward in our daily life, even in the midst of painful things.

Again and Again, until Our Hearts Know God Is Here

What I also love about this psalm is how very real the psalmist is. He doesn’t just stop at verse 5. He laments again. And again! Until he is done. Really done.

Only then does he turn to praise.

When you read verses 22-31, you can tell that God’s peace has come into his heart in that place of deepest sorrow. There is nothing quite like the tearful and heartfelt praise of someone who has just cried out all of her pain to God.

Jesus Prayed This for You

If you are in pain or sorrow of any kind right now, I encourage you to read and pray through Psalm 22. Remember that Jesus Himself also prayed this psalm at His worst hour. He prayed it while carrying all of your pain and sorrow in His own body, mind, and heart. So in a way, He has already prayed this psalm for you.

When you join Him now in praying Psalm 22, He will meet you there and will bring His peace to your heart, as only He can.

That doesn’t mean your pain or sorrow will lift completely, or that your circumstances will change overnight, especially if you have experienced and are grieving a loss. But it does mean that you will have the strength and comfort of Jesus’ presence with you in that place.

You will be able to experience His peace, which is a peace like no other. It’s the peace that helps you take the next breath and keep going.

It’s also the peace that reassures you, deep in your heart, that God is here, and that He loves you from a deep well of love that’s almost beyond imagining.