The Psalms Know What You Feel

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6)

The first and last psalms tell us a great deal about what God wants us to see and hear in all the psalms. The first is quoted far more often than the last:

Blessed is the man
     who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
     nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
     and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1–2)

Psalm 1 tells us that the happiest and most fruitful people, anywhere on earth and at any point in history, will be those who delight most in the words of God. The words of this book — and every other book in the Bible — are meant to be read slowly, wrestled with, and savored. And not just for a few minutes each day, but throughout the day. The psalm is an invitation into the rich and rewarding life of meditation.

If the first psalm tells us how to hear from God, though, the last psalm tells us how to respond. Humble, wise, happy souls let God have the first word, but encountering him eventually draws words out of them. Like the disciples, we “cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). How does God bring 150 psalms to an end? With a clear charge and refrain: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”

The Closing Psalm

Anyone can discern what the last psalm wants us to do in response to what God has said. All thirteen lines make the same point: “Praise the Lord!”

“God doesn’t minimize or neglect our suffering, but his goodness to us always outshines the trials he hands us.”

No matter where we are, and how bleak or difficult our life becomes, we always have reason to praise our God — to stop and worship him for who he is and what he is done. “Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” (Psalm 150:2). Our reasons for praising him — his mighty deeds and his glory over all — always eclipse and outweigh what we suffer, and all the more so now that Christ has come, died, and risen. God doesn’t minimize or neglect our suffering, but his goodness to us always outshines the trials he hands us. And so the psalmist can say to every one of us, at every moment of our lives, “Praise the Lord!”

The psalms, however, are not a simple chorus repeated over and over again, but a symphony, filled with as many experiences and emotions as humans endure and feel. The five books that make up Psalms really are a master class in human adversity.

Praise Through Heartache

When we think of the psalms, we might be tempted to think they’re simple, positive, and repetitive, but they give voice to the entire spectrum of sorrow and suffering.

Do you feel abandoned by God? The psalms know what you feel: “O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14).

Is some fear threatening to consume you? The psalms know what you feel: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:3–4).

Has someone tried to make your life miserable? The psalms know what you feel: “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies” (Psalm 69:4).

Do you need wisdom about a hard situation or decision? The psalms know what you feel: “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart” (Psalm 119:33–34).

Have you ever been betrayed by someone you love? The psalms know what you feel: “It is not an enemy who taunts me — then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me — then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend” (Psalm 55:12–13).

And through mountains and valleys, through trials and triumphs, through ecstasy and agony, we hear one common, beautiful thread: praise. In the throes of fear, praise. In the vulnerability of uncertainty, praise. In the darkness of doubt, praise. Even in the heartache of betrayal, praise. The praise doesn’t always sound the same, but we still hear it, in each and every circumstance. And so the book ends, after every high and every low, with a call: “Praise him. . . . Praise him. . . . Praise him.” Can you praise him where you are right now?

With Whatever You Have

We might be tempted to overlook the verses in Psalm 150:3–5:

Praise him with trumpet sound;
     praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
     praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
     praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

There aren’t as many lutes and harps and tambourines in most modern worship. The specific instruments are not the point, however. The point is that God deserves more than our words.

“The purpose of breathing is praise.”

He does deserve our words: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” God made lungs and vocal cords and oxygen, ultimately, so that we could use them to worship him. The purpose of breathing is praise. But words fall short of his greatness. We feel this when we pray and sing, don’t we? It feels true, and yet so inadequate. We should feel that way. The inadequacy of our worship reminds us God is always better than we can grasp or express, and it drives us to find more creative ways to tell him so.

We might pick up a trumpet or lute or harp. We might shake a tambourine or break into dancing. We might slam a couple of cymbals together. Even more than instruments, though, we “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). We make praise with our lives — with our decisions, our conversations, our spending, our time.

So, in whatever circumstances God has given you, and with whatever energy and resources he has given you, praise the Lord for who he is and for all he’s done for you.