The Best Psalms Of Lament To Guide Your Grief

What or who are you grieving for right now? And how would you describe your emotions? 

Many people find it hard to put their grief into words. They know they are sad or distraught, but that alone does not represent the totality of the human experience when one has lost something important.

That is why Psalms of lament are so valuable. They give you a vocabulary for what you are feeling. 

But Pslams of lament are not just about describing our times of distress. They help turn our focus to the hope that can be ours in the midst of our pain. 

What is the meaning of lament? 

Lament means to wail, cry out, or mourn.   

“A lament is a prayer expressing sorrow, pain, or confusion. Lament should be the chief way Christians process grief in God’s presence.” (1)

Why does God want us to lament?

It is all too easy to fall into a “woe is me” mentality, robbing us of all the joy that God intended for us to have. God wants us to feel our sorrow because it is therapeutic.

But He has given us a way to step out of it and find hope in His unfailing love. Psalms of lament are a gift from God. They give us a way to process difficult times. 

Lament gives us a framework – “a God-centered structure—so we avoid falling into the trap of self-centeredness, which can take root in times of deep sadness.” (2)

What are the five elements of the Psalms of Lament?

Biblical lament is a form of worship. Unfortunately, our Western Culture has lost the art of lament. Too many people would rather wallow in their pain, or else “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” (3) Neither is helpful.

For people of faith, God has a better approach to guide our grief. 

Most lament Psalms have 5 predictable elements. 

  1. Addressing God in prayer or song
  2. Expression of grief or a complaint
  3. Asking for help
  4. Statement of trust in God
  5. Praise and worship as an act of faith

Prayers of lament can be individual laments or communal laments. King David wrote many of them which are found in the book of Psalms in the Old Testament. 

Photo of an open Bible and the caption, "Sing to the Lord and Bless His Name." Psalms of lament address God in prayer or singing.
Psalms of lament address God in prayer or singing

Many of the Psalms were sung. We know this because they often begin with “To the choirmaster.” In other places, it talks about using stringed instruments. Music has a way of expressing the emotions in our souls like no other medium. 

Composers from the last couple of centuries have written melodies that can help us feel what we sometimes can’t put into words. They bring to life the hidden emotions of our human experiences.

If you don’t believe it, just think about a movie that brought you to tears and you will find a melody line leading you there. Hollywood knows that music manipulates our feelings. 

We don’t know what the Psalms sounded like when they were originally sung, but we do know that singing was encouraged.

“Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!  Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.” Psalm 96:1-2 ESV

So whether we simply talk to God in prayer, or sing our thoughts, we begin our lament in His presence. 

David’s lament was very expressive. He often talked about human suffering since that was his experience for quite a few years until he became king.

The Christian life is no different. Though we don’t face the exact situations as David did, we will express grief at some point in life. It is inevitable. And in such times we can find solace in a form of prayer called a “lament.” 

King David knew that God’s intervention was the only thing that could make a positive impact when facing difficulties. So he called upon God’s name asking for help. 

Do you go to God with your hurt and grief? He is the only one who can give real hope for a brighter future. We can’t change the past, but God can change our outlook for the here and now as well as the future.

David had an unwavering trust in God. He had witnessed God’s actions in so many instances beginning as a shepherd boy, through the hard time running for his life from Saul, and into his kingship.

David knew that God was a God of justice as well as a lover of God’s people. He had personally witnessed God’s faithfulness. Because of it, David became “a man after God’s own heart” and thus could confidently make a verbal confession of trust. 

At the end of the psalm of lament, the writer takes us into the very presence of the God of Israel. Lament can be a form of praise when we bring our Heavenly Father into it, recognizing that He is the source of our hope in times of trouble. 

Specific Psalms of Lament to guide your grief

There are many Psalms of Lament, but we will look at only a couple to demonstrate how to use them. 

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’  lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” ESV

David is addressing God in a song of lament. His grief has been going on for quite a while as he says, “How long, O Lord.” He repeats it several different ways in verses 1 and 2. 

This is a very honest Psalm. It seems like time stands still when we are grieving. David is feeling 

  • overwhelmed
  • forgotten
  • alone
  • humiliated by those around him
  • fearful for his very life

What are you feeling in your grief? It’s ok to tell God about your own experience. Other feelings that you might have are frustration with how long you have been suffering, confusion, inability to make decisions, and fear of the future.

Tell it all to your Heavenly Father. You will not shock Him. He has heard it all from countless other individuals. Call upon the name of God in your grief. 

David is also struggling with his view of God. He has temporarily forgotten all the times in the past when God had been faithful to sustain him. It feels like God has hidden from him.

It’s Ok to express these kinds of things to God. But we can’t stay there. The evil one does not want us to see God as our hope.

In many places in the Psalms we are told that it is for the “sake of your steadfast love” that God comes through in so many ways for us. He wants us to be confident in Him.  His honor is at stake.

David’s lament moves on to asking God for help.

Where do you go for help and comfort? If it is not the living God, you will have much more difficulty navigating your grief. Yet that is the way of the world, to embrace everything except the one who can give us hope. 

Photo of an open Bible and the caption, "How long will my suffering continue? Yet I choose to trust the Lord because He is good." From Psalm 13, one of the Psalms of Lament.
Psalms of Lament end with
trust in God

Next, David makes an expression of trust in verse 5 based on the steadfast love that he has experienced time and time again. He finally ends with his own personal worship service and songs of thanksgiving. 

This Psalm of David is quite a bit longer so I will only cover some of the highlights. It also addresses God in song. You can read Psalm 40 here

The order of this lament is a little different yet covers all the basics. 

He begins talking about waiting for God in verse 1. Those grieving often feel the weight of the wait. We so desperately want answers but don’t always get them right away. 

David then quickly talks about God rescuing him and delivering him from the horrible pit. Whatever it was, it was not pleasant. Our grief often feels like we are in over our heads with no way out.

David also talks about the miry bog which we might call thick mud. Have you ever tried to walk in mud? You feel stuck at times.

You might be feeling stuck in your grief right now. But God will deliver you just like He delivered David and gave him something solid to stand on or to hang on to. 

God was very active according to verses 1-4. 

  • hearing  his  cry for help
  • bringing him out of despair
  • helping him get “unstuck”
  • establishing his steps
  • giving him a song to sing

David goes on to talk about all the many faithful characteristics of God up through verse 11. 

We don’t actually see the details of the lament until we get to verse 12. Evil is all around him. He is so burdened he feels like his heart will fail.

Wow. Have you ever felt that way where your heart feels it will fall apart? Once again there is a cry for help as only God can give. Additionally, there is a plea for justice for the ones who are making his life so miserable. 

But David’s focus returns to the only one who can rescue him. We too need to return quickly to God’s word and the truth found there, repeating the words of David, “You (God) are my help and my deliverer.”  

Do you express faith in God like David did? 

You can read Psalm 55 here. It too is a song to God, and also includes stringed instruments. 

This Psalm of David has many descriptive words for the grief he is experiencing:

  • restlessness
  • moaning
  • oppressed
  • troubled
  • anguished
  • terrified
  • fear and trembling
  • horrified
  • overwhelmed
  • Wishing to escape
  • betrayed by someone

Do any of these terms describe how you are feeling today?

According to Brad Hambrick, Th.M., Ed.D., and Biblical Counselor, this Psalm of Lamnet is especially helpful for victims of abuse, along with Psalms 56 and 57. (4)

So often the perpetrator will threaten the abused causing them to remain silent for way too long. These verses can help put into words their horrifying experience so they can finally begin to let go of it.

Expressing our emotions along with holding tight to hope for the future neutralizes the poison bottled up inside.  

Photo of an open Bible to Psalm 23 and the caption, "Because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need." This is the perfect place to go after your Psalms of lament.
Psalm 23 is a good way to end your Psalms of Lament

While Psalm 23 is not considered one of the Psalms of lament, it is a good place to land when grief has been adequately expressed. It helps turn our focus upward instead of inward.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” ESV

These are wonderful words of encouragement and hope when we are grieving!

  • verse 1-2 God takes care of our physical needs- we lack nothing.
  • verse 3 – God takes care of our emotional and spiritual needs
  • verse 4 – God never leaves us alone and he protects us in so many ways
  • verse 5 – God blesses us and will make all things right – so our enemies know they were wrong
  • verse 6 – God will take us to be with Him someday

When lament turns to anger

One emotion that we haven’t mentioned yet that often accompanies grief is anger. If we are honest, we can be so confused in our grief that we don’t know what to do. Our desperation can turn to anger which gives us a false sense of control in these situations. 

 I know a woman whose husband died leaving her with a handicapped child. What was she going to do now? Life was complicated enough before his death. 

She felt angry about being left alone to try to guide this child into the future. Not only was she angry at him for leaving, she was angry with God for letting it happen. It seemed like an impossible situation. 

Did you know that at one point King David experienced anger with God? The whole book of Psalms is full of emotions, both positive and negative, pleasant and painful. 

In the middle of your grief, if you are feeling frustrated or confused, “Angry with God: An Honest Journey through Suffering and Betrayal” will help you navigate those emotions.

When to get help with your grief

Honestly, almost everyone can benefit from professional help when walking through a season of grief.

For those who feel stuck with no way out, Christian counseling is essential. Not everyone can use Psalms of lament alone and by themselves to successfully process their emotions.

If you are experiencing persistent negative thoughts, symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts, or isolation and withdrawal, you need help.

Various Christian counseling services will help walk you through these difficult moments in life. Here are some to choose from online:

You might also like to read:

References: 

  1. Open the Bible
  2. Crossway
  3. Collins Dictionary
  4. Brad Hambrick (Brad serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, NC. He also serves as an Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and has authored several books including Angry with God: An Honest Journey through Suffering and Betrayal.

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