Patterns of Praise in the Psalms

By Joanna Sheppard

The book of Psalms is vast and varied. Its 150 chapters are full of human joy and trials and rich in the consistent provision of a faithful God. As we watch David in the Psalms, we see him openly wrestle with God about his feelings, which ultimately turns to praise, a framework for how we can approach our God. 

One of the things I love the most about the Psalms is the open expression of God-given, human feelings. The various emotional expressions found within these pages are at least familiar if not personal. There are intimate portrayals of human trial and suffering alongside a gamut of joyful expression and peaceful content. 

The emotional declarations of the Psalms are not mere worldly ventings but genuine cries of humble dependents upon the One who sees and can do all things. There is a beautiful safety in approaching God this way, as we see in the examples of those in Scripture. We, who are secure in the family of God, have access to communicate with the Creator of the universe in every season of strength or weakness.

This truth brings to mind Hannah from I Samuel 1. Heartbroken by her barren state and the constant taunting of her rival wife, Penniah, Hannah became depressed and despairing. But as her family traveled to the temple to worship, she brought her burden to the Lord in faith. The depth of anguish in her prayers was so great that the Priest Eli thought she had been drinking and gave her a sharp rebuke. But Hannah answered:

“No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

Confusion with God, anger over injustice, desire for judgment upon the wicked, faltering faith, physical weakness, pain, distress, depression, and anxiety are not usually issues we want to shout from the rooftop. However, God is a loving Father, who delights to respond when His children seek His help. Like Hannah, and the examples in Psalms, we are encouraged to pour out our souls before the Lord. The pouring out of our hearts’ deepest dregs leads us to remember the greatness of God.  

As we read through the Psalms as a framework for approaching our God, yes, we can confidently bring all our emotions to Him, which like the psalmist will bring us to a point of praise. Over and over, we see the psalmist come to God with a struggle or question and end with acknowledgement of God’s character in praise and worship. This week we see a glimpse of how our psalms give us a steady account of the many wonderful attributes of God’s character.   Here are just a few examples:

May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth! — Psalm 115:15

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. — Psalm 116:1

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. — Psalms 116:5

For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord! — Psalm 117:2 

The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. — Psalm 118:14

In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. — Psalm 120:1 

Remembering the awesome works of God and recounting the intimate ways He loves us, inspires the praise of our Creator. May you follow in the footsteps of the psalmist this week as you come boldly to the throne of grace with confidence with every thought and God-given emotion, and may it result in praise of the One who loves us.

For application, take some time to think about the framework the Psalms offer for praise.  

  1. Cry out to the Lord like the psalmist.  

Write in a prayer journal or pray aloud. Dump out everything in your heart and mind.

  1. Remember the character of the One you approach.

Write a list of the attributes of our God that you see in this week’s psalms.

What qualities about Himself has He shown you personally this week? How has He cared for you in the past? What can you trust Him with today?

  1. Praise Him with song.

Listeners of the Psalms are instructed to sing with joy, make a joyful noise, play skillfully and shout to the Lord. Music is balm for the soul holding power to express the highest joys and deepest woes of life. Learning songs of Psalms help us memorize Scripture and build a powerful arsenal for godly perspective in every season of life. Play an instrument, sing, or listen to a worship playlist. Think about ways to add musical praise to your daily life.