The Gymnasium Of The Soul

The Gymnasium Of The Soul

In the Bible, the book of Psalms is a collection of prayers written down and gathered by God’s people over twenty-five hundred years ago. What’s interesting about the Psalms is the wide range of human emotions they express.

In Psalm 25:1 we find someone tenderly praying, “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul,” but in Psalm 74:1 we find someone else screaming, “Why have you rejected us forever, O God?”

I believe one of the reasons the Psalms were included in the Bible was to teach us how to take our discouragement into the presence of God. That’s probably why in the fourth century, St. Ambrose called the Psalms the “gymnasium” of the soul.

The Psalms have always been the place where hurting Christians have gone to work through their feelings of rage and frustration.

One thing I encourage you to do if you’re walking a difficult road is to read the book of Psalms from beginning to end. Since there are one hundred fifty Psalms in all, you can read five Psalms each morning or evening and finish the whole collection in one month’s time.

The Psalms are for the Hurting

When you do this, take special notice of the “Psalms of lament.” Biblical scholars use that term for those Psalms prayed by those living in pain. Our English word “lament” comes from the Latin word for weeping. Psalms 6, 13, 22, 35, 42, 43, 88, 102, 109, and 137 are examples of this type of Psalm. You’ll know you’ve come across one when you feel like you’ve turned the corner in a hallway and bumped into someone kicking, punching, and screaming at a locked door; the Psalms of lament are that intense.

When you find a Psalm of lament that expresses what you’re feeling, take that Psalm and read it out loud to God. Pray that Psalm. Read it with as much force and anger and depth as you can muster.

A mentor of mine once told me that when I’m unable to pray, I should let someone else pray for me—let the Psalms become your prayers.

The Psalms Will Teach You to Pray

The reason I think it is so important to pray the Psalms while we are struggling is to learn how to be honest with God. Looking back, I’m amazed at how honest I was with God before I became a Christian. Before my conversion I held nothing back; whatever I felt at the time, I expressed it to God.

After becoming a Christian, however, it was as if someone slipped me a little note that told me to use my manners when I approach the Almighty. For quite some time, when I was troubled or angry with God, I never told him about it—I didn’t think I was allowed. This resulted in an inconsistency between what was in my heart and what came out of my mouth.

The Psalms of lament gave me the courage to be real.

The Psalms of lament gave me the courage to be real.

The Psalms Will Teach You to be Real

When we read the Psalms of lament we notice that those praying felt free to accuse God of not caring about them. Their accusations are, at times, brutal. In Psalm 44:24, God is asked, “Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” When I first read that, as a new Christian, I couldn’t believe someone could be that brash with God and live to write it.

Yet, Psalm 44:23 is even worse: “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.” The author essentially tells God to wipe the sleep from his eyes and quit being lazy! How could these Psalm writers talk that way?

I think the reason they were so bold is because they were willing to be honest. This is how they felt.

If the Psalms are the gymnasium of the soul, then I think the Psalms of lament are the personal trainers—pushing us to shed our inhibitions and false humility and encouraging us to express what we genuinely feel in our hearts toward God.

If the psalms of lament teach us anything, it is this: Christians can love God and feel immense hatred toward him at the same time. God doesn’t want tamed down, sanitized, forcibly dishonest prayers.

God wants us to talk to him from our hearts, and sometimes that involves screaming and using words we wouldn’t repeat in public. Sometimes anything less than this is dishonest.


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