A pastor slowly makes his way across the stage to where his pulpit stands. As he lays his Bible and notes on the pulpit, he looks out over his congregation and thinks to himself, “My people are hurting; how is my sermon going to help them?” It is not that this pastor doubts the power of God’s Word, in fact, his only confidence in helping those who are hurting is the living and active Word he is about to preach. This pastor knows that before him is a group of people he loves, who are dealing with unknown worries, temptations, failures, fears, problems, and tragedies that need to be counseled.
The truth is, the pastor I just described represents all pastors. Whether we have served at our current church for five years or five decades, we stand each week before our people never fully knowing what they might be walking through and how they are coping. While it is true that the longer we serve any group of people the better we will know them, it is equally true that there will always be much we are never made aware of, regardless of how well we shepherd.
Every week, sitting before us to receive the Word of God are men and women, children and teenagers with varying levels of physical, emotional, and spiritual hurt. Some have been betrayed by friends and family. Others are wearied from fighting and losing the battle against sin. Many are afraid of what the future holds for them. The question for us as pastors is — “Is it possible to effectively counsel so many people with so many different troubles through sermons?”
While no pastor can — or should even try to — specifically address every possible hurt in every sermon, much of the brokenness and hurt that people are experiencing can be addressed by applying the Psalms.
What exactly are we seeking to accomplish in counseling our hurting people with the Psalms? We want to show our people the various ways the Psalms speak directly to their hurt. We want them to see that their suffering and brokenness are not final because God offers healing and restoration. We want the worry and pain that is overwhelming our congregation to disappear as the hope, joy, and peace of the Psalms are brought to bear on their circumstances. We need to help our people see that God is everything they need, which the Psalms do in beautiful and powerful ways.
3 Ways to the Psalms Counsel the Hurting
1. The Psalms remind us who is in control. Whenever people experience hurt, sometimes the pain, anger, and shame overwhelm them to the point that they lose sight of the most basic scriptural truths, such as — God is always in control. In the middle of their suffering, our hurting congregations do not need all the answers as to why they are suffering; they need to be reminded that they can still trust God because He is in control.
The Psalms are a tremendous place to reassure our people that God is still on His throne. The world around our people might be crumbling, but “The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved” (Ps. 93:1, ESV). And rather than running from their suffering, we can encourage them that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). While our people may not have all the questions about their hardships answered, we can encourage them to say with David, “But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God’” (Ps. 31:14).
2. The Psalms offer a realistic picture of a fallen world. No one can read through the Psalms and accuse the psalmists of being pie-in-the-sky idealists. Instead, what we find from psalm to psalm are real-life people writing out of real-life issues. Applying the Psalms to counsel those who are hurting wouldn’t be effective if no one could relate to them. But precisely because the Psalms were written by fallen people in a fallen world, we can effectively use them to bring healing to those who are hurting.
For those facing constant trouble from real-life adversaries, counsel them with the cries of David. “O LORD, how many are my foes!… But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Ps. 3:1–3, ESV). What about those who receive terminal diagnoses? Take them to Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Even recently in our nation, we have witnessed the destructive power of political idolatry in the life of Christians. Yet Psalm 146 counsels believers not to “trust in princes” because they are mortal and their plans perish. Instead, believers are to rejoice and place their hope in the LORD who reigns forever. Again, the Psalms give an accurate picture of the world we live in. But they also help readers understand that even in a fallen world, there is always hope and help in the LORD.
3. The Psalms offer hope. Though they might not admit it to us, many of those hurting in our churches have lost hope. Maybe they live in the sins of their past, and they wonder if God is really able to forgive them. Maybe their life has recently been characterized by loss and sadness, and they wonder if they will ever be happy again. Or maybe the future genuinely terrifies them because they just can’t imagine things ever getting better. There are hundreds of reasons our congregations might lose hope. Thankfully, the Psalms offer us important truths that encourage us to hope, no matter what we are currently facing.
For Christians who are wrestling with the shame of a sinful past, help them to find the hope of forgiveness in God — who is merciful, steadfast in love, able to blot out transgressions, and wash the dirtiest sinner clean (Ps. 51:1–2). For those who have walked through dark clouds of despair for far too long, encourage them with the words of Psalm 30: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (30:5). Christians who have no peace about the future should be reminded of the song of Asaph, “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars” (Ps. 75:3).
All of Scripture is sufficient for counseling the various hurts of God’s people. And yet, there is something unique, beautiful, and powerful about the Psalms and how they can counsel those who are hurting.
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