How to Read the Psalms

We are encouraged in Ephesians 5:19 to continue “speaking to one another with psalms.” Not with just a verse or two from the psalms, or even only one psalm—but with a plural of psalms.

The why of reading from psalms enables us to exhibit our confidence in God outwardly, seeing through God’s eyes how He wants the world to be actualized in its failures and successes. What we see in the psalms is the good, bad, and ugly of the nature of mankind, seeing expressions of grief or sorrow, concerns, even complaining to God. Yes, the negative and the positives of our lives, affirming that God is at work in all areas of our lives.

There is a hesitancy in the church to look at the lament psalms usable for us in the church because we have been trained that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity. We have thought that confession of what “we” consider negative is somehow an act of being unfaithful to God’s character, as though what we say can cancel out or cause God to lose control of His creation and His sovereignty.

This is contrary to the “why” of the psalms. The psalms of lament are expressions of faith in God.

First, they are directed to God, rather than simply complaining to others about God.

Second, psalms that express confidence in God, such as; God “will not let your foot slip” (Psalm 121:3) with the result that you will be kept “from all harm” (Psalm 121:7). Does this happen every time, the answer is no, sometimes God does protect us, but not always. We do not know or understand why the protection of God comes to some, and not all, we don’t understand the “why’s” of God, of course, that is part of the mystery of who God is.

Our consolation can be found in the psalms of lament. For instance, consider Psalm 22. It would help if you read the entire psalm; here is an excerpt of verses 1-5;

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
Our ancestors trusted in you,
    and you rescued them.
They cried out to you and were saved.
    They trusted in you and were never disgraced.

The psalmist using Hebrew poetry parallelism to lament then follows it up with a statement of trust. If you read only a portion of this psalm, you might think that there is no hope.

These psalms are structured in such a way that they turn from a moment of complaint or petition to a moment of praise and trust in who God is and His faithfulness to us in the past.