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I called on the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies. The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. But in my distress I cried out to the LORD; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.
Psalm 18:3-6 NLT
I love this psalm because it not only puts into words something I feel all the time (being tangled up in and swept away by floods of emotion) but also gives me hope that God understands and can pull me out of those stormy seas.
Sometimes, getting stuck in a stormy sea of emotion is the only thing that pushes me to admit I need some help. no matter how lost I am, God will immediately go to work to bring me relief.
The Bible tells us that we will experience storms in life (see Matthew 7:24-27). These storms could include any number of things, from hard outward circumstances to painful internal battles. One thing that storms tend to have in common is that they bring waves of strong emotions:
- Anxiety: What if God doesn’t protect me from the worst possible outcome?
- Anger: Why is God letting this happen to me? Why am I being treated unfairly by people in my life?
- Sadness: Did God forget about me?
- Guilt/shame: Can God forgive me for the mistakes I made that led me here? Can he forgive me for the sins I’ve turned to as a way to handle my stress?
I think these emotions are normal human responses to difficulty, but sometimes they overpower me, and I start to believe that the things I feel are true (God won’t protect me from the worst outcome, he must not care about me, he must not see my struggles, and he can’t possibly forgive me). My emotions roar so loudly in my ears that I have difficulty processing anything I read in the Bible when I open it or read it.
Left unchecked, these emotions eventually eat away at my faith in God:
A sound mind makes for a robust body, but runaway emotions corrode the bones.
Proverbs 14:30 – The Message
Over the last year, I’ve been working on being more honest about my high anxiety levels. My anxiety is not just nervous tension or worries; it’s a way of thinking that can make life feel dark and gloomy. I approach everything assuming that my worst fears are going to happen. The future seems bleak and negative (even when it’s not).
That’s why I like Psalm 18:28. God can help me see clearly and find a way out of my tunnel of negativity, even when (or especially when) I can’t find my own way out:
You light a lamp for me. The LORD, my God, lights up my darkness.
Psalm 18:28 NLT
We can find this “light” by reading God’s Word:
Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.
Psalm 119:105 GW
The Psalms are a collection of prayers from people who felt strong emotions and let God turn their darkness into light. By reading and imitating their prayers, we can do the same; we can look at even our stormiest days with faith that God is working for our good.
If you can relate to experiencing overwhelming emotions as I do, I’ll give you a few key Psalms to read that will guide you to God in these stormy moments. Whether you’re feeling stressed, afraid, angry, guilty, or any other strong emotion, these passages can bring light to your dark moments and help you face your storms with faith that God will work everything in your life into something good.
Psalm 6: A prayer for gentleness
Please deal gently with me; show me mercy, for I’m sick and frail. I’m fading away with weakness. Heal me, for I’m falling apart. How long until you take away this pain in my body and in my soul? Lord, I’m trembling in fear! Turn to me and deliver my life because I know you love and desire to have me as your very own. I’m exhausted and worn-out with my weeping. I endure weary, sleepless nights filled with moaning, soaking my pillow with my tears. My eyes of faith won’t focus anymore, for sorrow fills my heart. There are so many enemies who come against me! Go away! Leave me, all you workers of wickedness! For the Lord has turned to listen to my thunderous cry. Yes! The Lord my healer has heard all my pleading and has taken hold of my prayers and answered them all.
Psalm 6:2-4,6-9 TPT
When our emotions are overwhelming, we can ask God for gentleness! I tend to feel embarrassed when my emotions are strong. I already feel weak, and I feel the need to protect myself from potential rejection or judgment, so I stuff my feelings and pretend I don’t have them. But stuffing feelings stops me from humbly pleading with God for help and seeing him answer those prayers, like the psalmist did.
Over the course of the pandemic, I started having panic attacks for the first time. I’ve always had a lot of anxiety, but panic attacks were new. I felt out of control and very ashamed of having such high anxiety over seemingly small things. I didn’t want to pray or read the Bible during or after a panic attack because I thought it would make me feel worse, pointing out my mistakes or telling me not to be anxious (which I felt I couldn’t do). The whole experience was so scary that I couldn’t even talk about it, and I wanted to pretend it didn’t happen.
Pretending brought me no relief, though. I only felt increasingly anxious until I started talking to good friends who compassionately listened and gently helped me figure out ways to take care of myself when panic attacks came.
Around that same time, I read Psalm 6 and realized that what I needed from God in those moments was not cold instruction but warm gentleness—just like I needed from my friends—and I could ask him for it. I didn’t have to figure out how to pull myself back together, and I could express to him that I felt pain in my soul. God, a healer, could carry the exhausting emotions I felt and respond to me with compassion.
The words of Psalm 6 guide me in being vulnerable with God when my emotions are overwhelming instead of turning away and pretending my feelings aren’t there. They help me understand God’s heart and come close to him instead of turning away.
Try reading this Psalm when your feelings of weakness are overwhelming. Read the words to God as a prayer, adding any specific details, needs, or requests from your life. Ask him for gentleness, express your weakness to him instead of trying to pull yourself together, and you will find hope even in the midst of difficult times as you see him bring answers to your prayers.
Pause and reflect:
- Do you believe God will respond to your weaknesses with gentleness? Why or why not?
- What are some emotions in your life that make you feel weak?
Psalm 13: A prayer to be seen
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 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? Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. 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 13:1-6 NIV
Psalm 13 is a great passage to read when it feels like God has forgotten us (key word: “feels”)—and that’s usually what I feel when my emotions are strong. If you see me, I wonder, why aren’t you pulling me out of this pit?
I especially relate to the part of this passage about wrestling with my thoughts. A trusted mentor of mine once expressed that it was hard to help me because my first response to any feedback was to think I failed. When I feel a strong fear of rejection or failure, my thoughts start racing with negativity and accusations:
- You didn’t do that right.
- You’re not trying hard enough.
- You’re not good at this.
- People are frustrated with you.
- You always do that wrong.
- You should have (fill in the blanks with everything I didn’t do).
Even when there is some truth to these thoughts, my emotions blow them up to be more catastrophic than they are. I start to feel sorrow in my heart (sometimes self-pity, sometimes discouragement, sometimes insecurity… but sorrow nonetheless) because of my negative thoughts.
I hated feeling barraged by all these negative thoughts, so I would defend myself quickly and go down a road of self-pity when any of my friends gave me suggestions or advice. I would put up this same wall when I read the Bible and saw truths about myself that I needed to change. My negative thoughts were contributing to a wall of pride that kept God and my most trusted friends at a distance.
This was one of the first times I realized I needed to work on being honest with God about the battle in my head so he could change it. It’s an ongoing battle, and when I get tired of fighting it, I need to go back to Psalm 13. I need to know that God sees the battle in my mind and cares about it, and then I need to trust that he loves me like the psalmist does in this prayer. Once I do that, I have more room to hear what God wants to say to me through his Word.
Pause and reflect:
- What kinds of thoughts do you wrestle with when your emotions are strong?
- How does it help you to know that God won’t forget the battles you face inside and loves you unfailingly?
Psalm 35: A prayer for when you’ve been wronged
O LORD, oppose those who oppose me. Fight those who fight against me. Put on your armor, and take up your shield. Prepare for battle, and come to my aid.
 Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about.
 O LORD, you know all about this. Do not stay silent. Do not abandon me now, O Lord. Wake up! Rise to my defense! Take up my case, my God and my Lord. Declare me not guilty, O LORD my God, for you give justice. Don’t let my enemies laugh about me in my troubles.
Psalm 35:1-2,11,22-24 NLT
One of the most overwhelming emotions I experience is anger. If I feel I have been treated unfairly or wrongly accused of something, my anger sweeps me away from understanding or seeing reality.
Recently I got into a fight with my husband over how we were parenting our daughter. I thought I had expressed my view and felt he was ignoring me. I felt so angry at not being heard that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I even tried to pray, but my anger was so strong that I was just spewing my feelings and arguing with my husband in my head, building my case against him and not really talking to God.
Eventually, I talked to my husband and resolved our argument (and it turned out he wasn’t blatantly ignoring me like my emotions had led me to believe), but the situation reminded me of how overwhelming my anger can be. If I feel like someone is misunderstanding me or mistreating me, I can hardly think straight. If I can’t immediately resolve it with them, this anger usually festers into bitterness, resentment, and criticism.
Passages like Psalm 35 help me understand how to take these emotions to God. Because people are imperfect, there will be times when I feel wronged. In fact, there are many, many psalms about this experience (Psalm 55 is another good one). Sometimes people hurt us intentionally, and sometimes they hurt us unintentionally. Either way, we need to learn to deal with our emotions so that they don’t interfere with our relationship with God:
For if you forgive others their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others [nurturing your hurt and anger with the result that it interferes with your relationship with God], then your Father will not forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15 AMP
How do you forgive someone when your anger is boiling hot? I take from Psalm 35 that we have to start with knowing that God fights for us. Whether we are wrong, or we have been wronged, we can always know that he will keep fighting for our good and we don’t have to fight ourselves. He doesn’t want to harm anyone, but he has our back and will rise to our defense.
Reading psalms like this calms my anger so I can respond to my hurt feelings in a helpful spiritual way. Once I know God has my back, I don’t have to be malicious or self-protective toward other people. I can move forward to forgiving them, loving them, and not taking their actions personally so that my anger doesn’t interfere with my relationship with God or hurt my faith.
Difficult interactions with people can actually build my faith because they can push me to ask God for help and see him moving to repair our relationship in ways I couldn’t do by myself.
Pause and reflect:
- How do you respond when you feel you’ve been wronged? What emotions come up?
- How does it help to think about God rising to your defense?
Psalm 51: A prayer for forgiveness
God, give me mercy from your fountain of forgiveness! I know your abundant love is enough to wash away my guilt. Because your compassion is so great, take away this shameful guilt of sin. Forgive the full extent of my rebellious ways, and erase this deep stain on my conscience.
Psalm 51:1-2 TPT
In addition to fear and anger, one of the most overwhelming emotions I experience is guilt, and one thing I do NOT want to do when I feel guilty is read the Bible. I usually want to hide away from God instead of coming close to him and believing he can take my overwhelming feelings of guilt away.
But because we all sin regularly (see Romans 7:14-25), we are going to experience guilt on a regular basis. When I don’t have faith that God is big enough and strong enough to remove my guilt, I try to get rid of it by justifying it away. Got snappy at my daughter and husband? Well, I was tired. Got envious of my friend’s success? Well, doesn’t everyone? Spent a little too much time on social media when I knew I should stop? Well, I could be looking at something worse!
If our conscience is tender, we’ll be regularly aware of the ways we fall short and the ways we need God’s help:
Therefore, my dear ones, as you have always obeyed [my suggestions], so now, not only [with the enthusiasm you would show] in my presence but much more because I am absent, work out (cultivate, carry out to the goal, and fully complete) your own salvation with reverence and awe and trembling (self-distrust, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against temptation, timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ).
Philippians 2:12 AMP
Learning that God is a “remover of guilt” can help us keep a tender conscience instead of getting overwhelmed by and wanting to ignore our sins.
Psalm 51 is a great passage that tells us God’s love is big enough to handle anything we feel guilty about, so we can come to him honestly with our sins instead of turning away from him. Then he can help us move forward, take responsibility for our choices, and make things right however necessary.
A little later in Psalm 51, we learn that God can even use our guilt for a good purpose. As we experience his love and mercy, we’ll be able to help other people find it too.
Let my passion for life be restored, tasting joy in every breakthrough you bring to me. Hold me close to you with a willing spirit that obeys whatever you say. Then I can show to other guilty ones how loving and merciful you are. They will find their way back home to you, knowing that you will forgive them.
Psalm 51:12-13 TPT
I’ve found that every time I share my guilt with others, they relate to it and feel freed up to share their own guilt. Finding purpose is one way that God builds my faith in the midst of storms of guilt; he can work through anything I experience to give hope to others who are in the same situation.
Pause and reflect:
- How do you handle feeling guilty?
- What are some things you feel guilty about today and need to talk to God about?
- How do you think God could use your guilt for a good purpose? Who could benefit from hearing how you find forgiveness in your relationship with God?
10 additional passages for emotional times
I had a hard time narrowing down my list, so I included 10 other psalms you can read to find faith when your emotions are high.
- Psalm 18: A prayer for help
- Psalm 32: A prayer for relief
- Psalm 40: A prayer when you’re stuck in a pit
- Psalm 42: A prayer for faith when you’re discouraged
- Psalm 61: A prayer for strength
- Psalm 62: A prayer to calm down
- Psalm 90: A prayer for protection
- Psalm 103: A prayer of gratitude
- Psalm 139: A prayer when you feel lost or misunderstood
- Psalm 142 & 143: Prayers for times of depression
God’s Word is powerful enough to help us through any strong emotion. When we turn to him, he can help us find hope and faith in situations that feel overwhelming. The Psalms give us great guidance on how to turn to God with strong emotions so that we get closer to God and stronger in faith instead of farther away in times of distress.