Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #3 (Laments)

Thus far, I’ve looked at Wisdom Psalms and Royal Psalms. In this installment we consider a third type of Psalm, and that is, Psalms of Lament. For personal worship and prayer, he Psalms of Lament are, perhaps the most useful of the Psalms, because Lament Psalms touch on situations that are so common to most of our lives – and the definition of Lament Psalms bears this out.

I. What is a Psalm of Lament? Psalms of Lament are generally, psalms that were written and prayed because life is tough – so they speak to God while the writer/singer is in some sort of trouble. Psalms of Lament are to the prayer book of scripture what the Blues are to music – and they are this because in these psalms, the psalmist is crying out to God about fears, problems, sins, concerns, injustices, and seeking God for grace, help and deliverance. And we see this in the Psalm we just read.

There are quite a lot of Psalms of Lament – and some of them are also classed as other types, as well. Psalm 3, 4, 5, 6, 7; 12 and 13 are Lament Psalms.

Other Psalms of Lament are are listed on your outline and include 25-28; 35; 38-40; 42-44; 51, 54-57, 59-61; 63-64 and Psalm 69; 71; 74; 79; 80; 83; 85; 86; 88; 90; 102; 109; 120; 123; 130; 140–143.

Psalm 22 is also Messianic; Psalm 51 is also called a psalm of repentance – or a penitential Psalm along with Psalm 6, 32, 38, 102, 130 and 143; and Psalm 123 is both a Lament and a Psalm of Descent

Psalm 51’s background is given in the heading that appears before the Psalm. Take the time to read the Psalm and the subtitle. Note that the sub titles which are in bold before a Psalm were generally placed there by the translators – BUT, the captions which appear after the translators subheading and before the Psalm are a part of the original – and we gain insight into what Psalms that have these, were written.

Consider the subtitle of Psalm 51. From it we learn the psalm was written, sung and prayed as a prayer of confession after David seduced with Bathsheba, impregnated her, covered it up by having her husband killed and marrying her, only to have Nathan the prophet confront him with a message from God about his double injustice.

Psalms of Lament follow a certain structure – which identifies them as Laments. Ronald Allen, who I studied under at Western Seminary a number of years ago, shows there are three notable qualities of the Laments.

The first notable characteristic of these psalms has to do with how the kind of pronouns used. Psalms of Lament which use plural pronouns are classed Laments of the People, or Community Laments. Psalms 44, 60, 74, 80, 83, 85, 90, 123, and 137 are Laments of the People.

Question: Can you think of any particular way a Lament of the People – a Community Lament, might apply to specific situations today, in our own arena?

Laments of the individual, on the other hand, have singular pronouns – such as Psalm 3, 5, 6, 7, 13.

A second quality has to do with form. Lament Psalms are formed around six elements, in less or more regular sequence – 1) the introductory appeal; 2) the lament; 3) the confession of trust; 4); the petition; 5) the motifs that may justify divine intervention; 6) the vow of praise; and in some, there is a 7th element – a prophetic statement or utterance.

The third quality (and the one most important) of Lament Psalms is that no matter the intensity of the emotion and the depth of the issue faced by the Psalmist, they lead to praise – indicating the faith of the Psalmist that God is still the great treasure !!

II. Lament Psalms Considered: Take some time and read Psalm 22. Psalm 22 follows a very clear structure. The pattern is:

1st, a Cry for help – vs. 1

2nd, a Lament – notice the I/You pattern- vs. 2

3rd, a Confession of Trust – vs. 3-5

4th, another Lament – I/You – vs. 6-8

5th, another Confession of Trust – vs. 9-11

6th, another Lament, this time, with a they/I/you pattern – vs. 12-18

7th, a Petition – vs. 19-21 – Hear/Save

8th, a Vow of Praise – vs. 22-29

And finally, a Prophetic Utterance – vs. 30-31

Psalm 51 follows a similar pattern:

Vs. 1, 2 – Cry for help

Lament – vs. 3-6 (Notice the double I/You pattern – once in vs. 3,4 and again in vs. 5-6

Vs. 7-11 is the Petition

Vs. 12-19 – Vow of Praise

C. Lessons from Lament Psalms: There are many lessons for us in these Psalms of Lament.

1st, Lament Psalms show us that the writers of the psalms lived in the real world and faced real world problems like we do;

2nd, we learn how relevant prayer is to life’s trials, issues and problems; and how God wants to be approached, by us, with our trials and problems

3rd, Lament Psalms show how the proper default for those who trust our Lord is prayer in the midst of our trials; and they are this because the Psalmist knew the sufficiency of God in any and all of life’s issues;

4th, Lament Psalms teach us HOW to pray during trouble; and the penitential Psalms highlight the need for confession as they teach us how to rightly confess sin before God;

5th, they also show us how the Lord is trustworthy

6th, Laments Psalms teach us how to offer up praise, even in the midst of our troubles.

III. Praying the Psalms of Lament: In times of trouble, praying these Laments come quite naturally, if we have learned some go them by heart. I remember when I first landed in hospital during my illness back in 1998, how there was a single line from a Psalm running through my head, as my fever rose and fell, and as I became sicker and sicker – and the line that kept running through my head was:

“Out of the depths I cry to you Oh LORD! Oh Lord, hear my voice!!” These are the opening lines of Psalm 130 – which is a Psalm of Lament – and though I couldn’t remember the rest of the Psalm, that part – the cry for help – was in my mind and I was silently lifting it up to God.

Can you see ways you could pray laments during your own trials and troubles?

A. We can simply pray through a psalm and conform it to our own situation; or

B. We can sing some of these Psalms back to God as a form of prayer.

Laments Psalms are very practical as patterns for prayer, for they run the gamut of human problems. Next time you face a trial, a problem, or are struggling with besetting sin, pray through some of the Lament Psalms – for these Psalms are designed to help us pray more effectively, both in our private and corporate worship.

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