Playing Psalms: Games and Goodness — Red Light, Green Light

My friend proudly took her place at the front of the gym, standing with her given authority before our class. With hands on hips, she twisted her body around and hollered, “GREEN LIGHT!” Her back to us, we ran toward her with all our might from the back of the gym, hoping to tag her before she turned around. But as quickly as she had turned the first time, she whipped around toward us in full grin, shouting, “RED LIGHT!” And we froze. 

Well, most of us did. There were a few who got greedy and took another step or two. Enjoying the power she held, my friend quickly pointed at those movers and sent them back to the starting line. And so the back-and-forth of our game went until someone finally tagged her and became the new leader.

Photo by Wesley Armstrong on Unsplash

Several years ago, I was at a crossroads, and I thought back to that “Red Light, Green Light” game from elementary school, wishing for someone in that moment to tell me whether I should “go” or “stay.” I desperately desired direction.

After all my wishing in that season, I did, at last, turn to the One with all wisdom, who knows what’s best for me. And, in looking to God, I discovered that I can cry out to Him, and He will respond. While He’s yet to speak audibly to me, He can (and does) nudge, prompt, and lead me in a variety of ways. I actually recognize Him in those moments — when I’m paying attention. 


The practice of looking to God for direction and help is well-documented in the Psalms. King David, especially, spent hours and lots of ink pouring his heart out to God. And, very often his prayerful poems poured forth as Psalms of Lament. Interesting note — about two-thirds of all Psalms are laments, so it’s a good idea to understand a little about what a lament is.  

NT Wright defines a lament as “an appeal to God based on confidence in His character” (from this site). A lament is not a complaint but a cry for help, anchored in hope. I learned from Jen Wilkin’s study on the Psalms that laments generally have three elements: 1) crying out to God, 2) asking for help, and 3) responding in trust and praise. 

Keeping that in mind, we’ll look at Psalm 25 as a model for prayer in times when we need God’s help. We’ll see a back-and-forth flow as David, our Psalmist, spoke his faith and hope then made his pleas for help. Though I take some liberties doing this, I thought it’d be fun to use the red and green theme of our game to visualize this ebb-and-flow.

Read it through. See if you agree with my color coding — green being David’s statements of faith and hope, red capturing his cries for help. Here we go!

Psalm 25

1 In you, Lord my God,
    I put my trust.

2 I trust in you;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.

3 No one who hopes in you
    will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
    who are treacherous without cause.

4 Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.

5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.

6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,

    for you, Lord, are good.
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
   therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.

9 He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.

10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.

11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
12 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
    He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
13 They will spend their days in prosperity,
    and their descendants will inherit the land.

14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
    he makes his covenant known to them.

15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
    for only he will release my feet from the snare.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.

17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish.

18 Look on my affliction and my distress
    and take away all my sins.

19 See how numerous are my enemies
    and how fiercely they hate me!

20 Guard my life and rescue me;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    for I take refuge in you.

21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
    because my hope, Lord, is in you.
22 Deliver Israel, O God,
    from all their troubles!

Psalm 25 (NIV)

Do you feel the back-and-forth pull between hope and lament, statements of faith and pleas for help?

This prayer of David’s can be ours. We can model how this “man after God’s own heart” went to God with sincerity, humility, and honesty. Like David,

  • We can pour out our fears and tears, our frustrations with injustices. 
  • We can turn those cries into asks, giving space for God to work. 
  • And, along the way, we can speak words of faith and praise, letting God (and ourselves) know that we trust Him. Because He is good. And faithful. And trustworthy.

A Pouring Forth

It helps to start with putting words to our pain when we find ourselves stuck or lost, hurting or helpless. Pouring out all we feel as honestly as we can gives us a starting place. It helps us identify where we are so we can look to God for direction on where to go next. 

If I’m not processing out loud what I’m feeling with a trusted friend, then I’m journaling with God. And sometimes I do both. Getting it all out there is important, but we don’t want to get stuck there, or our laments can turn into complaints.

Photo by Ximena Ibañez on Unsplash

Red Light

Therefore, it’s important to stop, look, and listen. Be intentional to stop the crying out and look to God, being sure to listen for His response. 

In that season when I stood at a crossroads, wondering which way I should go, I cried out to God with my frustration then turned to Psalm 25. I resonated with verses 4-5a and set out to memorize them because they captured the cry of my heart:

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,

These imperative statements became my pleas. Instead of worrying this decision to death as I had been, I made the choice to look to God for decision-making help. Every time I was tempted to worry, with wonder I repeated these verses.

My answer didn’t come in minutes or hours or even days. But while I waited for direction, I was able to stop my spiraling thoughts and palpitating heart by asking God for help in a concrete, succinct, and productive way.

These verse-prayers also built my faith because they gave room for God to speak. I was no longer telling God what to do specifically. Instead, I was asking Him to show me what His ways looked like. 

These verses become a prayer of holding life loosely. As Carrie Underwood sings, it’s giving Jesus the wheel.

Photo by Portuguese Gravity on Unsplash

Green Light

My memory verses didn’t stop at verse 5a. I actually memorized all of verse 5, which concludes with this statement of faith:

 for you are God my Savior,
   and my hope is in you all day long.

And, looking back, I know it was this part of the verse that made the most difference. I asked. But I also trusted. I trusted because I kept reminding myself that God was, is, and always would be my Savior. To hear myself say that my hope is in Him all day long, anchored my faith. 

Willing Participant

Admittedly, saying words doesn’t change us, nor does that act change our circumstances. But. When we speak words of honesty to a God who listens and acts on our behalf, we can know that we’re acting on our faith. We’re trusting this relationship with God to work. We’re releasing the results to a God who is good, loving, and trustworthy. And, that does change us.

But. To pray with faith means we also wait with faith.

Did you notice that David’s first words in this Psalm were about trust? I suspect those were words of faith even as his faith wavered. He spoke… 

In you, Lord my God,
   I put my trust.
I trust in you…

Psalm 25:1-2

…to remind himself that he does, in fact, trust God.

He laments. He asks. He trusts. Then he waits.

Waiting in faith is active. I picture our pleas to God being a lot like planting seeds.

When we plant seeds in a flowerpot, we trust something is happening in the dirt. We can’t see it happening, but we trust life is percolating just beneath the surface. Then one day, our faith is rewarded when a plant appears!

Prayers of faith work similarly. We speak them, burying them in the heart of God, believing that He’s at work. Even when we can’t see results right away, we know answers are coming. We can anticipate God’s response.  

Our time of waiting is not passive. We’re meant to anticipate. Trust. Listen. Watch. 

And, when we hear from God, however that looks, we act. We obey.

Just as in a game of “Red Light, Green Light,” we need to be willing participants, keeping our eyes on the One with all the power. We can choose to trust Him when He says, “Go!” We can be confident in Him when He says, “Stop!”

Photo by Evelyn Mostrom on Unsplash

Help and Answers

God did finally answer my prayers. As I stood at those crossroads, wondering if I should keep moving forward on the path I was on or if I should make a turn, he showed me what to do. 

On one particularly stressful Sunday, I entered worship greatly anxious for an answer. But instead of asking again, I simply surrendered. I worshiped my heart out and held my hands open.

One moment I was singing. The next I was seeing myself on a white water raft. “What is this, Lord?” I silently asked.

His whispered response told me everything I needed to know. “Stay in the boat. But hold on tight. It’s gonna be a rough ride.” Despite the unique, even odd, reply, I knew it was of God. I’d gotten my answer.

Decision made. I stayed the course. I trusted His way. I praised Him for His help. 

I’d love to say that I learned this lesson so well that I never worry anymore or never forget to ask God for help before I get stressed. I’m still a work in progress. 

But, I will say this experience with God changed me. I know without a doubt that God hears. And He answers. In all sorts of ways, He helps, directs, and leads. All of this builds my faith. It anchors me to the One who is worthy of my full, abiding trust. 

Psalm 25 models for us what it’s like to go to God with all our feelings, to ask for help, and to trust Him with the answers. And, as David shows us, it’s not always linear. It’s more of an ebb and flow. The catch is to remember that our lament is, more than anything, a trusting cry for help. A release that leads to response. A hope that leads to the best kind of help because it’s from the best God — the One who is always near, who always hears, who always wants to work all things for our good.

This week’s game reminds us God is our focus and leader. And we can trust His direction!

Ready to trust, Shelley Johnson

The header photo is by Ramin Talebi on Unsplash

PS’s — 

  1. If you’d like to read ahead, check out Psalm 73 — another lament, so see if you can spot the crying out, asking for help, and affirming of faith in this Psalm.
  2. Invite friends to come play with us!
  3. Don’t miss a post. Sign up to receive them in your email.
  4. Music is a great way to play with the Psalms, so I’ve created a “Playing Psalms” playlist on Spotify. There are two songs based on Psalm 25 in the list, both focusing on the phrase, “Show Me Your Ways!”

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

2 thoughts on “Playing Psalms: Games and Goodness — Red Light, Green Light

  1. God’s timing for me with Psalm 25 is amazing!! Your blog kept my eyes focused where they need to be; waiting on Him!! ❤️ Love the play list too!! TY!!

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