Playing Psalms: Games and Goodness — What It All Means

I saw a meme this week of a harried-looking guy hollering, “I’m getting pretty tired of living through historical events!” I needed some humor at the time I saw it because I was feeling it — that depth of, when is this gonna end? Lord, when will You answer our prayers and bring healing to our bodies and land? 

Then I heard my words — cries of lament. Ah. I recognize them. I now see them for what they are and embrace them for what they do. Laments give us voice to the depths of thoughts and feelings that are too often wordless, unspoken, hardly recognizable. Yet they’re so needed. For too long I’ve hidden from harder, darker feelings for fear of them taking over or revealing something like shame. Now, I’m learning to go to God with them, pouring them out like an offering at His feet, trusting that He’ll take them and remake them into something better — like a lump of clay that the Potter makes into a useful vessel.

Out of the release from lament flows praise. Somehow the miracle of letting truth rise up and out makes room for freedom and gratitude. Honesty gets us to a place of raw humility that quickly finds its place of rest in the arms of thankfulness. Something new is pouring forth — a fountain of phrases that splash into my thoughts and spatters onto my heart then sprays from my mouth to the heavens. Praise. Thanks. Holy wonder for all He is and all He does.

And, just like that I realize these last few months spent in the Psalms have anchored me to the pioneer and perfecter of my faith. The Psalmists have given me words — holy utterances that usher me into God’s presence. Words that help me remember who God is, that remind me of his faithfulness, that point me toward a future that has a hope. 

The Psalms have embodied so much of what I’ve felt and thought over the course of the last year — through a long season of lockdown when the threat of a deadly virus was new and scary, through months of adjusting to social distancing and living life without people close-by, into a big move and a new season of life where unfamiliar feelings and fears still creep up consistently, through an insane political landscape that ripples and reverberates, into the weeks of finally having the dreaded COVID and all the unknowns my weak lungs held, and then through the cold, dark days of a deep freeze that seemed to have no end. 

But I had words. Words that pointed me to a past where God was true to His word, faithful to His promises. Words that echoed my heart’s cries and made space for them to percolate and permeate so that I could give them up, free from their grips. Words that painted a picture full of light and color, warmth and life because of the Spirit’s power and presence. Words full of goodness for a soul that needed to be grounded there.

Psalm 84 reminds us to seek God — even when it feels like He’s hiding. There are reminders all around us that He is present even when it doesn’t seem to be true. The Psalmist reflects on the sparrows — and how if God is sure to take care of such a tiny creature, He’ll take care of us. I giggled this week as I watched the little warblers flit and flutter around our porch, gobbling up every morsel my husband put out for them. And they became my reminder — God cares. God sees. God is always there, walking through every bit of life no matter how cold or lifeless it appears. We can seek God and find Him.

Photo by Erik Karits on

Psalm 25 gives us space for our words to ebb and flow, back and forth as we wrestle with life’s challenges alongside our faith. Like the game Red Light, Green Light, we can keep our eyes on the One with the power — the One who can safely tell us when to run full throttle ahead and when to stop to rest, regroup, and refocus. God guides. He teaches. He shows us the ways to go. We just need to look to Him.

Psalm 73 allows us some room to rant. With permission to speak freely, our words of disappointment, discouragement, and disillusionment with injustices tumble out of our mouths, splattering all within earshot. The honesty purges. Then we stop the reverberating recitations of wrongs when we come into God’s dwelling place. We pause. We pray. We pivot toward faith, away from despair because we remember that He. Is. Just. 

Psalm 143 pulls us into the penitential plane. We lower our gazes and seek God’s forgiveness for our failures, our sin. We realize the depth of need to relinquish our desire for control. Releasing the grip we squeeze so tightly, we discover with some relief that in letting go we land in the holy hands that hold us close, offering us strength, covering, forgiveness.  We bow low in repentance for all the times we’ve tried to tag God. Now we reverently reach for Him in faith and hope.

Psalm 139 sheds light on our need to be near God. He is the Light, after all. The One who sheds light on our dark places, casting away shadows, revealing our need for the cleansing power that only light can bring. We’re reminded that no matter where we go or how we try to hide, God always sees us, always knows us, always loves us. We discover that it’s in His presence, where we are known and He is made known, that love perfects us, transforming us into Christ’s likeness a little more everyday. It’s a bold prayer to ask God to search us and know us, but what we discover is that He already does — rather it’s often we who need a little discovery of self so that we’ll accept all He has for us.

Psalm 23 rounds out our season of Games and Goodness with a little Follow the Leader — our Good Shepherd proves to be one worthy of following. The magic of the shepherd metaphor captures all the ways our God cares for us, going before us in His provision and protection. His tender care is offered. We must only choose to follow, which insists we trust. If we hunker into our stubborn ways, we’ll miss the Way. If we choose paths that look promising but lead to destruction, we’ve missed the better path — even when it looks like death but actually leads to life. Trust. It’s our daily choice to follow our Shepherd in trust.

Photo by Kat Jayne on

Something tells me that despite all we’ve faced in the past year, there will be more yet. So, how do we march forward in full faith rather than retreat in defeat? By claiming the faith of the Psalms as our very own. 

This claiming takes resilience, persistence, perseverance. It takes us choosing God’s ways, trusting in His goodness and faithfulness. It even requires us to get honest with ourselves, allowing ourselves to draw close to our Father who waits with open arms — arms full of forgiveness, love, and tender, tender mercy. The Psalms reflect how hard life can be, but even more so, they give us a vision for what could be — freedom and hope in the middle of a life immersed in the grace of God. For He is able. Always present. Fully for us.

Ready to choose life with God, Shelley Johnson

The header photo is by Ramin Talebi on Unsplash

PS’s — 

  1. I can’t believe our game-playing has come to an end already. Thanks for joining in and taking part! I pray it’s been a blessing.
  2. The fun isn’t over. Next up — a Journey of Joy. Let’s travel!
  3. Invite friends to join us! My website is getting a much needed update, so watch for all the new to come. It’s much easier to point people to this site —!!
  4. Don’t miss a post. Sign up to receive them in your email.
  5. Here’s our Playing Psalms playlist — one last time. Remember, you can follow it so that it shows up in your Spotify Library anytime. I’ll have a new playlist for our next series. 

Published by Shelley Johnson

Follower of Christ, wife, mother of three, daughter, sister, friend. Seeker of ways to share the love I've found in Jesus with others.

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