From the cross, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In the very depths of his suffering and sorrow, he quotes Scripture: the opening lines of Psalm 22.
This psalm is a lament, a form of prayer to be used in times of trouble. It consists of several parts, sometimes repeated: a cry to God, an outpouring of our heart, a remembrance of God and his works, prayer requests for our situation, assurance that God has heard, and declarations of worship, thanksgiving, and prayer. The order can vary, as can the length of each section. Some laments skip one or the other of those aspects of prayer. It is therefore not a rigid structure to be followed religiously; rather, it is a multifaceted conversation with God that follows a form that is highly adaptable and flexible.
As Easter approaches, I invite you to meditate on Psalm 22, divided into each of these facets. You can express your meditations aloud or write them out. The important thing is to express them clearly, openly, fully. Invite the Spirit to make this psalm come alive for you. Ask him to direct your thoughts and speak deeply to your heart as you ponder the mystery of Christ ‘s lament.
Psalm 22 — The Lament of Christ on the Cross
A Cry to God
1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
2My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
Meditation Questions: Do you feel like God is far away, unresponsive to your prayers? Do you feel tired, burdened, in peril? Tell God so. Reflect also on Christ's cries of anguish, his repeated prayer in Gethsemane. He has suffered and been tempted in all ways, as we have (Hebrews 4.12-16).
A Remembrance of God and His Works
3Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.
4 In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.
5To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Meditation Questions: Who is God? Where is he seated? How has he worked throughout history and in your own life? How do his past actions comfort you right now? What qualities of God apply to your situation? Express this to God.
An Outpouring of Our Heart
6But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8“He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
Meditation Questions: Have you ever felt this way? Do you feel that way right now? Express how you feel about who you are to God. Then reflect on the fact that a sinful world treated the perfect Son of God in this horrid manner. What does that teach you about mankind and its ability to judge people?
A Second Remembrance of God and His Works
9Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Meditation Questions: In the midst of his complaint, the psalmist turns his eyes back to God. Who is he to God? Who are you to God? Thank him for who you really are.
A Second Cry out to God
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
Meditation Questions: Do you feel alone, with no one to help? Remember that God never leaves you or forsakes you, thanks to Christ’s work on the cross.
A Second Outpouring of Our Heart
12Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.
14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.
15My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
16Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.
17All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.
18They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
Meditation Questions: Have you ever felt the way Jesus felt on the cross? How does this description of his pain and sorrow affect you? What does the fact that it was predicted so long before tell you about God? Take time to reflect on your own suffering in the light of Christ’s, out loud.
Prayer Requests for Our Situation
19But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
Meditation Questions: What do you want to ask God to deliver you or others from right now? Bring all your prayer requests to him freely, knowing he cares for you and has invited you to do so (Philippians 4.1-8).
Assurance that God has Heard
22I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly, I will praise you.
23You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
Meditation Questions: Thank God for hearing you; remind yourself of his great power and love. Thank him also for having heard the cries of Christ, and for having raised him from the dead to be your source of help and life forevermore.
Worship, Praise, and Thanksgiving
25From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you, I will fulfill my vows.
26The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him— may your hearts live forever!
27All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
28for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.
29All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
31They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!
Meditation Questions: This is an amazing description of Christ’s victory. It is a prophecy that we are seeing accomplished as nations come to him. Praise God for this amazing, worldwide salvation! Praise him for all that he will produce out of your own time of suffering and struggle. Praise him for the perfect eternity that awaits us all.
Then, go out and share with someone how God has touched you through his Word and his Spirit today!
By meditating on the Psalms of lament in this way, you will grow in your ability to express your heart and focus on God's power, presence, and promises. Dare to go deep with God! It delights him to spend time with you, beloved child of God.