Prayer is often hard, and suffering only makes it harder.
Some suffering comes as we survey wicked people enjoying success. If you’re like me, it drives you crazy when you observe people advancing their careers through deceit, politicians acting corruptly, and swindlers using the COVID-19 crisis as a pretense to exploit others. Isn’t God going to do anything about their wickedness?
Prayer is a sure and steady weapon for times like these, and there’s no surer guide for prayer than the Psalms. This article shares five Psalms that teach us how to pray when the wicked prosper.
Five Psalms to Pray When the Wicked Prosper
1. Psalm 37 – When Our Hearts Need a New Focus
Psalm 37 is probably best known for verse four, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It’s a great promise, but one often plucked from its context. The Psalm deals with not envying the wicked, and verse four is part of a litany of commands that help us not envy the wicked:
- “Fret not yourself because of evildoers” (verse 1)
- “Trust in the Lord, and do good” (verse 3)
- “Delight yourself in the Lord” (verse 4)
- “Commit your way to the Lord” (verse 5)
These commands are often followed with reasons to not envy the wicked and results for both the righteous and the wicked. The wicked will “fade like the grass” (verse 2) and “be cut off” (verse 9). While the righteous suffer for a time, we know that God will act on their behalf and will make their righteousness plain to all (verses 5 and 6). (This Psalm made Martyn Lloyd-Jones confess he didn’t fear Hitler.)
Verse 34 aptly summarizes the Psalm:
Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.
- Ask God to help you trust Him and not focus on who or what bothers you about your current situation.
- Look forward to your glorious future in Christ, one that will “inherit the land” of the new heavens and new earth.
- Make God your stronghold and refuge in times of trouble.
2. Psalm 73 – When We Grow Envious and Bitter Considering the Wicked
Asaph struggled with envy, anger, and bitterness. To him, it seemed like the wicked faced no punishment or troubles like the rest of us. Such a thought is enough to derail one’s faith and betray God’s people (verse 15). What changed the equation for Asaph was entering the sanctuary of God and discerning the end of the wicked. Our God of perfect justice will give the wicked their deserved punishment (18-20). After confessing his sin (21-22), Asaph voiced his trust in God:
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:23-26)
- When in an overwhelming situation, worship God and fill your mind with His truth. Don’t dwell on that which makes you bitter.
- Remember the justice of God. He will punish evildoers and bring His children safely home.
- Make God your greatest treasure, not a great earthly situation. Often we treasure God more when everything else is taken from us.
3. Psalm 10 – When the Wicked Oppress the Poor and Vulnerable
Psalm 10 opens with the Psalmist crying out to God for seeming far off while the wicked pursue the poor. Filled with pride, the wicked act as if God never see their actions (verse 11) or call them to account (verse 13). And it may seem like that. But the Psalm ends affirming God’s justice and Lordship. It proclaims that He sees the trouble of the afflicted (verse 14), and will “do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more” (verse 18).
- It’s OK to ask God why He seems distant during trouble.
- We can also plead for justice for the wicked (verse 15). I recommend balancing imprecatory portions of the Psalms with prayers for the salvation (and even Christ-centered blessing) of the wicked. Lord, please grant salvation to the wicked, but if he will not turn from his ways, “break his arm” (verse 15) in a way that will cause him and others to see You.
- Pray confidently in the character of God that, even when the wicked oppress many, He will bring justice and vindicate His oppressed children in His timing.
4. Psalm 49 – When Cheaters Prosper Financially
Why does God allow the immoral to get rich while I’m struggling to get by? That’s the question behind this Psalm. The answer is to remember that no matter how rich or powerful the wicked get, they can’t take anything with them to the grave.
Be not afraid when a man becomes rich,
when the glory of his house increases.
For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
his glory will not go down after him. (Psalm 49:16-17)
- Remember all earthly riches, power, and acclaim are temporary, but that our heavenly rewards are eternal.
- Our understanding of the world is based on our relationship with God, not earthly success (verse 20; also see Proverbs 1:7). Thank God for this truth and ask Him for an eternal perspective.
- Remember how God will raise us all from the dead, the righteous for reward and the wicked for disaster. Thank God that Jesus took the punishment we deserve.
5. Psalm 2 – When World Leaders (Including Your Own) Drive You Crazy
When the nations and their leaders plot against Christ and His Kingdom (verses 1-3), God’s response is telling. He doesn’t sit in heaven wringing His hands in despair; He laughs (verse 4). He has all power in the universe and has appointed His chosen King, His Son Jesus, over the nations as ruler and judge.
Our response? Worship and service to this King. As we submit to Him as Lord, the final phrase of the psalm becomes true of us, “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”
- The nations and their rulers will continue to rage against Jesus and His kingdom until Jesus wipes them out in final judgment. Set your expectations accordingly.
- God can laugh at the most wicked people in world history and “will work all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). When we trust His sovereign hand, we can laugh too.
- Finding refuge in Christ leads us to a blessing that the most wicked dictator can never, ever take away.
God Our Refuge
Prayer doesn’t usually change our situation immediately, but it changes us. We grow in trust of our sovereign God, and take refuge that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). Our situation may stay the same or get worse in the short-term, but we are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) in Christ and will see God’s justice in due time. Until then, take refuge in God through prayer.