We often think of Psalms as hymns of praise, and many are. But we might also want to consider the lament Psalms. There are more lament Psalms than any other kind in the Psalter. Why? The lament Psalms give voice to the disorientation of an individual when she finds her experiences are in conflict with her beliefs. This disorientation is as common now as it was in biblical history. But more importantly, God invites us, through lament Psalms, to come into His presence with this disorientation and allow Him to gently and lovingly reorient us – to Him.
This disorientation can happen individually, or as many of us are now experiencing, culturally/corporately. Consider the familiar ring of Psalm 22:1-2 in this time of our shared experience of insecurity about our health and/or safety: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (ESV) Lament Psalms give voice to our spiritual distress.
Contrary to the surface understanding of the lament Psalms, however, they do not show a lack of faith in God or His promises. Actually, quite the contrary – all but one (Psalm 88) of the lament Psalms turn to praise in the end.
Consider Psalm 13, a typical lament. The structure, you will notice, is lament/petition/trust/praise. The Psalmist experiences honest dismay: “How long, O Lord?” This question echoes all over the bible (Isaiah 6, Jeremiah 12, Habakkuk 1, Hebrews 13, Revelation 6, etc.). We should neither run from this complaint nor flippantly dismiss this cry in another. The Psalms of lament legitimize this question! Life is hard, the world is full of sin and evil, and we do suffer.
Now watch for the turning point in 13:5: “But I…” Here we are guided by the Psalmist to turn our attention away from the struggle and towards the Lord. Trust in His love. Rejoice in His salvation. Don’t forget who He is, no matter what is going on around you. In this way, the lament Psalms can be our road map, our encourager, our teacher. They show us that God wants us to come into His presence in all the complexities of life.
Read in Psalm 70:5, “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay,” and see that the lament Psalms remind us who God is, and who we are in relationship to him. The lament Psalms have this spiritual movement from despair to praise. They give a voice to our spiritual distress, but they also encourage us to hope, pointing to God’s character as a reason for faith. They remind us that despair is not the final word. What Christ accomplished on the Cross destroys despair forever.
The lament Psalms knew it thousands of years before: It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.
The lament Psalms give us spiritual guidance to express our cultural disorientation from the will of God and also drive us collectively toward rightful orientation to God in praise and worship. While difficult at times, recognition of the sovereignty of God must always result in His praise, regardless of our circumstances. The lament Psalms guide effectively during times of spiritual distress to this necessary end: surrender and submission to the will and ways of our heavenly Father, and trust in His faithfulness to deliver us either here or in heaven.
Consider a daily devotional of the lament Psalms any time your life feels disoriented or distressed, but maybe especially now. Here is a list (incomplete) of some Psalms that you might find a surprising blessing to you as you navigate dark waters. Look for the complaint/lament, the petition(s) to God, and the turn towards trust and praise because of who God is. If you’d like, join us on the Facebook group where we will do this devotional together for a while. Comment there or here and let us know how the lament Psalms are blessing you.
Corporate Lament (useful if you feel a community or social burden):
Psalms 12, 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129
Personal Lament (useful when you feel personally afflicted): Psalms 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 17, 22, 25, 26, 28, 31, 39, 40:12- 17, 41, 42-43, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 69, 70, 71, 77, 86, 120, 139, 141, 142
Holly is a Bible teacher at Study With Friends Ministries. You can listen to any of our Bible studies by tuning in to your favorite radio station, listening to our podcast on iTunes, or listening through TuneIn, Stitcher, or Spotify online radio. Check out our current study and hear Holly teach on justice here.