“What can miserable Christians sing?” someone once asked. Short answer: the psalms (read the long answer).
In the psalms we read raw human responses to and about God—be they the heights of praise as in Psalms 148-150 or the depths of despair in Psalm 88. The psalms teach us to praise God, in particular for His work of salvation (see Psalm 105); they give us words for praise when our prayers are answered (see Psalm 30). They also teach us to lament.
The lament psalms are among the most quoted in the New Testament. Jesus prays Psalm 22 on the cross; the early church quotes Psalms 69 and 109 (Acts 1:20); one of the prayers of the saints in heaven (Revelation 6:10) echoes Psalms 79:10, 94:3 and 119:84.
This certainly gives us warrant to use them today, one, because not every Christian is happy all the time. Two, by praying the laments, those among us who are happy can learn to empathise, as the apostle Paul exhorted us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
So the next time you feel on top of the world—or utterly crushed by it—pick up your Bible and simply read out a psalm or two aloud. If you’re particularly diligent, perhaps you could start the discipline of reading a set number of psalms a day. The God who came to the psalmists’ rescue is ready to respond to your cry.
- Praying the Psalms with Eugene Peterson
- Praying the Psalms, 4-page extract from a book by Ian Stackhouse (PDF)
- George Guthrie interviewing David Howard on the lament psalms: