Shepherding Students Through the Psalms: As we care for students in the complex situations they face, we are so aware that we need resources beyond ourselves—the resources of the gospel. Our students struggle with anxiety and addiction. They face troubling situations at school and family conflict at home. They feel stressed out, left out, and weighed down with heavy burdens. In these situations requiring pastoral wisdom and care, the Psalms are resources of great value for us and for our students. In fact, Jesus himself leaned on the Psalms quite frequently, alluding to them in moments of betrayal (Mark 14, Psalm 41) and deep distress (Matt. 27, Psalm 22). The Psalms remind both us and our students that we can be honest about our struggles before God.
Sometimes parents and youth ministers hear the admission of stress from a student and wonder what teenagers have to be stressed about. Students’ lives – with football games, homecoming dances, and after-school interests – seem so free in comparison to the concerns of adulthood. But this assumption neglects the reality students find themselves in today.
In a 2018 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, teenagers “reported worse mental health and higher levels of anxiety and depression than all other age groups.” In fact, Pew Research has found that 96% of teenagers see anxiety and depression as a major problem amongst their peers, with 70% seeing it as a major problem.
As youth workers, it should not take statistics for us to see the prevalence of stress among our students. Whether it be parental expectations, peer relationships, school, the future, or societal problems, teenagers are bearing a great burden of stress.
In their times of deep stress, students need to know the Lord as a refuge. As youth ministers, we must be constantly pointing them – and ourselves – to the Lord as that refuge. Psalm 62, written in a time of stress by David, can be beneficial as we do just that.
The War with Stress
The psalm begins with David’s reliance on God in the midst of a stressful situation. Although David writes about his external enemies (v. 3), his words apply to students’ internal battle with stress, which wages against their souls. Stress is like a foreign invader laying siege to their walls. It pounds and pounds until the walls are tottering. A student struggling to find a place at school or stressed about getting into the right college can easily relate to this feeling that their hearts are battered, with their defenses failing.
Like David, our students have an Enemy. Satan wants nothing more than to use the pressures of this life to tear them down. In verse 4 David writes that his enemies “take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.” Satan uses the stress of daily responsibilities to speak falsehood. Our students tell themselves they must make their parents happy with performance at school or extracurriculars. They imagine they must conform to the world’s standards of beauty and morality (or lack thereof) to fit in.
Still, in all of this doing, students find themselves doubting that God is sufficient to handle their stress. Timothy Keller writes, “When we are in trouble our soul chatters, ‘We have to have this, or we won’t make it. This must happen or all is lost.’” Under stress, students’ sinful hearts testify that if they were out of school, out of their parents’ houses, and independent, then things would be better.
The Silent Soul
David offers the solution to his stress and our own before he even states the problem. In verse 1 he says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” Then again in verse 5 he commands his soul, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” David’s solution to battle the effects of stress is God himself! He is saying, as Keller writes, “I need only one thing to survive and thrive—and I have it. I need only God and his all-powerful fatherly love and care—everything else is expendable.”
As those ministering to students, we must remind them of the truly counter-cultural reality that in lowering themselves before God, they are raised up to new heights in Him; in recognizing their insufficiency, they will find God all-sufficient. Therefore, in essence, the silent soul is not one that rages against the stress in its life but one that rests in God’s strength through the battle of stress.
Youth workers need a silent soul as much as our students do. We often imagine we must meet every need our students might have. When we are under stress, our sinful hearts testify that our ministry is failing, and that we need to do more to fix it. In order to point our students to God as refuge, we need to experience Him this way ourselves.
The Stressed Out Soul and the Gospel
We can teach Psalm 62 to our students, praying they will begin to rely on God alone (v. 10). We call them to trust in God so that they will no longer rely solely on their abilities, determination, or the opinions of others to hold them secure. David provides three reasons for trusting in God, and we must remind our students of these great truths about God.
First, we call students to trust in God because as David says, “Power belongs to God” (v. 11). He alone has the ultimate ability to provide rest and care in the midst of the stress they face.
Second, we call student to rest in this Lord because to Him “belongs steadfast love” (v. 12). If our students are not assured of God’s love for them, they will not have confidence in His provision in stressful times. But David reminds us that God does love us. He finds pleasure in being our students’ rock and refuge, as a father to his children.
Finally, we invite students to leave their stress in God’s hands because He will “render to a man according to his work” (v. 12). They can rely on his sufficiency for their needs because He is just. He is committed to correcting the wrongs of this world.
Nowhere is God’s power, love, and justice more clearly displayed than on the cross. At the cross, God shows His power in the plan He had been working through history for Christ to be delivered up (Gal. 4:4). He demonstrates His love as He graciously spares His people from the punishment they deserve. And God reveals His justice by punishing sin, as His full wrath is poured out on Jesus. How can we rely on God to provide for us in the midst of the stormy sea of stress that often defines life? He has rescued us from a worse situation before, and He is faithful to do it again.
Helping students to combat stress and to find a silent soul is not easy. It is not a one-time action that remedies all future calamity, but a constant reminder to look to God in the midst of such calamity. Human nature leads us to work independently to secure our own peace, a peace that Christ has already bought for us. But as youth workers we can minister to students through Psalm 62, reminding them to look to Christ in the midst of stress. In the words of the old hymn, we pray they will “stand in Him, in Him alone, gloriously complete.”
A note from the editors: Psalms are meant to be experienced, helping us to take the truths of God’s character deep into our souls. Here’s a song based on this psalm for your encouragement: “I’ll Not Be Shaken” (Psalm 62) by Wendall Kimbrough.
 Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, 4th Print edition (New York: Viking, 2015), 137.