Psalm 51: We Need to Sigh in Worship

psalm 51

Psalm 51

Have you ever considered why we sigh? You know, the cleansing breath the comes along from time to time and seems to accompany a time of stress or punctuates frustration or exasperation.

Researchers have identified sighing as a deep breath roughly twice the size of our regular breathing pattern. It is an interruption of irregular breaths. It can be brought on by stress, anxiety, fear, or frustration. It is a reset for our breathing pattern that puts us back into a healthier breathing rhythm.

There are times in our Christian pilgrimage when we sigh. Frustration can overwhelm us and immerse us in self-pity and stress. Just as the physical challenges of life can bring fatigue and anxiety, spiritual struggles can paralyze our faith.

Psalm 51 is a sighing psalm. You can almost visualize David struggling to regain his spiritual respiratory equilibrium—his regular spiritual breathing. A serious lapse in David’s commitment to God had damaged his pursuit of God’s heart. You can hear the frustration in the first half of his lament:

vs 3: I can’t get my mistake out of my head/heart.

vs 5: I have been a screw-up all my life.

vs 6: I know better than what I did.

vs 8: I want to hear joy and gladness again.

vss 10-12 God, don’t give up on me; fix my spirit so I can experience joy again!

David needed a reset. He realized there was nothing he could do to regain his footing—to right his way. “There is no payment or sacrifice that will heal this; I realize now, that laying aside my huge ego is what is needed.” (My paraphrase of verse 16) His spirit was broken.

There are times in our spiritual pilgrimage when we are broken. We have stumbled, and the bruises keep hurting. Our home remedies and salves aren’t healing us and we sigh. We have reached the end of ourselves and we find ourselves in Psalm 51. We have surrendered to the moment. We may not have orchestrated a murder like David had, but we are crippled with guilt and we sigh.

Sighing is that physical release of breath that almost sounds like our last. Exhaustion, frustration or catastrophe have slowed us and we have no ready answer but to let out a wordless breath of air. We are signaling God that we are out of strength.

Part of corporate worship is sighing. We need to go beyond the traditional view of confession and sigh. Spiritual sighing, just like the physical respiratory act, is a collective reset. We need to release and interrupt our desperate breaths and allow God to restore a rhythm and pace that reflects steadfast steps of faith. Further, we need to listen for the sighs. The faith family of God experiences and enjoys a peace this world does not understand when we are healing agents. There are times when we need to sigh collectively and breathe together. The church needs to release the frustration, despair and anxiety of living in enemy territory (our world this side of heaven) and reset our souls’ breathing—taking in God’s Spirit to feed and refresh His new creation within us.

Notice in the final verses that David turns his attention to the congregation of Israel. His journey from despair has taken him from a lone view of his sin to a healing unity of his people.

If Psalm 51 is the sighing song, then Psalm 23 is that breathing reset that brings renewal and a steady pace to our often hectic lives. The benediction in Psalm 23 is a beautiful picture of reassurance and comfort. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psa.23:6


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John is married to Paula for almost 47 years and has 3 children and 4 grandchildren. A graduate of Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN, John has been a life-long music and worship leader in churches in Florida, Tennessee and Ohio. His passion is thoughtful and passionate congregational worship leadership. He writes a weekly blog, "Words from the Friar" which is an insightful look at corporate worship, or what he calls, faith family worship. His emphasis is reconnecting a congregation to a unifying worship time that works regardless of worship style or resources. His writings reflect a creative and fresh look at Christian worship.