a Psalm for every occasion
by Robb Brewer
Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.Psalm 96:1–3 (NKJV)
A massively talented actor once hosted an arts symposium. Many of his fans attended— all begging him to perform. Many suggested scenes from their favorite movies and TV shows. As the group quieted, an older clergyman in the back suggested he recite Psalm 23. Intrigued, the actor agreed, but only on the condition that the clergyman recite it himself afterwards. Using perfect tone and intonation, the actor recited the psalm, drawing great applause from his audience upon completion. The clergyman then reluctantly began his recitation, with voice cracking and muddled tone. When he finished, the room was silent. Every head was bowed and eyes glistened with tears. After a moment of silence, the actor said, “I may know the twenty-third psalm, but this man knows the Shepherd.”
Worship is a process of coming to know our Shepherd. The deeper we go in worship, the deeper we grow in our knowledge of Jesus. And when our worship deepens, so does our intimacy with Him. The writers whose songs make up the book of Psalms understood this principle well. They used everyday events to craft hymns and poems expressing their joy, sadness, gratitude, fear and anger. These psalms express every emotion the writers felt as they purposefully and continually drew nearer to God. And in the process of coming near to God through worship, He revealed Himself to them.
While there are many kinds of psalms, five types in particular prove useful in expanding our boundaries of worship and helping us draw near to God and experience maturity in the knowledge of the Son of God.
PSALMS OF PRAISE
These are psalms of celebration, overflowing with joy and excitement. Often the result of victory, this type of psalm declares God’s goodness and exhorts all of creation to worship. Many of our contemporary worship songs are based on praise psalms. When we as believers worship through this type of psalm, we connect with the testimony of God’s goodness. Dancing (Psalm 49:3) and singing (Psalm 47:6) are two excellent practices when worshipping through a psalm of praise.
PSALMS OF THANKSGIVING
Closely related to the praise psalm, thanksgiving psalms emphasize gratitude for what God has done. In difficult times, this type of psalm is particularly helpful for remembering God’s faithfulness. Lifting your hands (Psalm 63:4) and utilizing instruments to lay a foundation (Psalm 33:2) will often help you connect with God more easily as you worship with psalms of thanksgiving.
PSALMS OF CONDEMNATION
At least 30 psalms contain a clear condemnation asking God to curse or destroy an enemy. These are the psalms we don’t know how to handle, because they feel offensive or loaded with hatred. These emotions expressed in condemning psalms seem contradictory to the teachings of Jesus, so we generally assume they aren’t really applicable for believers. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see the prayers found in these psalms often come from the innocent crying out for justice. God’s nature is justice; so when we see injustice, it’s appropriate for us to worship with this style of psalm as well. Standing (Psalm 119:120) and speaking (Psalm 34:1) are two helpful practices when worshipping with psalms of condemnation.
PSALMS OF ROYALTY
Royal psalms describe how God reigns supreme. They paint a picture of an earthly king being like a son of God and therefore ruling with unlimited power and justice, and ultimately, these psalms point to Jesus as our supreme ruler. Their impact for modern-day believers is significant. Hebrews declares believers are a royal priesthood. The book of Galatians points out believers will inherit the kingdom of God. Through Jesus, we each fulfill a royal function by carrying the authority of heaven and enforcing God’s justice. These roles make the royal psalms deeply meaningful for us. The Bible points to clapping (Psalm 47:1) as a significant way to worship through psalms of royalty.
PSALMS OF LAMENT
Lament psalms are the single most popular type of scriptural poetry. They are characterized as an address to God involving a complaint, a request and end with an expression of trust. Lament psalms are powerful tools, because they teach us how to express our concerns about how we perceive God’s action or inaction without losing trust or expressing unbelief. We can grow in the depth of our worship through practicing shouting (Psalm 27:6) and bowing (Psalm 95:6) as we worship through psalms of lament.
There is a song for nearly every season of life in the Psalms, and knowing how to worship with each style of psalm will bring you in closer intimacy with the Shepherd as you express your heart to Him.
Psalms should be prayed in their entirety since they mirror life with all its ups and downs, its passions and discouragements.Deitrich Bonhoeffer
Lord, thank You for providing a psalm for each season of my life. As I examine and meditate on each style, I ask You to draw me closer to You, revealing facets of Your nature I’ve never seen before. Speak deeply to my soul and let Your songs of scripture resonate in my spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
- Examine the praise and worship songs done at your church. What kinds of psalms do those praise and worship songs tend to revolve around?
For Further Study
- Psalms of Praise—18
- Psalms of Thanksgiving—30
- Psalms of Condemnation—35
- Psalms of Royalty—47
- Psalms of Lament—3