“Do not worry… Do not worry… Do not worry…” The Psalmist repeats his counsel three times in Psalm 37. (vv 1, 7, 8) Just like Jesus did in Matthew 6. (vv 25, 31, 34)
“Do not worry.” This is not the empty reassurance of “Don’t worry. Be happy!” The Bible never advises denial of emotion. The Psalmist understands our emotional struggles and he shows us the way to work through them in prayers of lament so that we can experience God’s peace.
The wisdom of the Psalmist runs counter to the way of the world. God would not have us internalize or invalidate our real emotions. Neither would he tell us just to “get them out” by venting. Worry or any negative emotion are not something to “get rid of” — that’s self-rejection, if not self-hatred. Instead, the Spirit of Jesus wants us to open the hurting part of our self to receive his comfort and grace.
Emotions become “negative” when they are internalized or acted on in ways that harm yourself or others. Then they quickly become an energy drain.
Expressing our emotions to a trusted friend provides the empathy, validation, and comfort that strengthens us to be able to carry our burdens. (Galatians 6:2) Receiving and giving empathy are expressions of trusting faith in the God of all comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3)
The Psalmist’s therapeutic process also helps us to feel, understand, and pray through our worry and all our distressing emotions. (Psalm 139:23-24)
David’s prayer in Psalm 37 helps us offer all our negative emotions to our Good Shepherd, trusting in his care and submitting to his kingdom rule. No matter what emotions we feel, we can do what is good and right as we wait for God’s provision and guidance. Even in troubles and hurts and injustice we can delight in knowing the Lord!
Do not worry…
Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
Trust in him and he will do this: he will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
Do not worry… Do not worry… (Psalm 37:1-8)
“Trust in the Lord” includes the idea of verbalizing our emotions and needs to God and to safe people who help us connect to God. Bringing our emotions to a tender-hearted friend is how we learn not to ruminate with worry, react in anger, or spiral down into shame.
With this in mind, try praying Psalm 37 by substituting for the word “worry” whatever negative emotion(s) you are struggling with.
Feel your emotion. Imagine the situation giving rise to it. Then release it to the Lord by praying: “Do not fear… (or… hurry… envy… remain angry… be ambitious… be competitive… lust… be greedy… be ashamed… judge yourself or others… feel ashamed…). Trust in the Lord…”
This emotionally honest faith is delighting in the Lord and committing your way to him. As we do this, David says we come to shine like the rising sun!
Here are some other Soul Shepherding tools to help you with negative emotions:
- The Enneagram addresses the big three negative emotions of anger, guilt, and fear, which when repressed become resentment, shame, and anxiety.
- The “Feeling Faces” chart illustrates over 50 emotions.
- “Jesus is a Feeler With 39 Emotions” helps you experience intimacy with God in negative and positive emotions.