Psalms of Lament

A Swahili proverb says, Muvumbo wa kañonyi ye witubula kajo ko aja, meaning, “The beak of the bird is what tells us the things it eats.” In other words, the kind of person that you are is shown by your words.

Psalm 77 is a typical psalm of lament. The writer is in deep trouble and crying out to God. Like a bird’s beak, the psalmist’s own words describe him as crying out and shouting (Psalm 77:1), troubled (Psalm 77:2), moaning (Psalm 77:3), searching for God (Psalm 77:2), longing for help (Psalm 77:3), and so distressed he cannot pray or sleep (Psalm 77:4). Some Christians think that showing these kinds of emotions is a lack of faith, that a person of deep faith only expresses positive emotions like joy and peace. Some people teach that the emotional words found in this psalm show that a person is spiritually weak and does not trust God. But the psalms of lament teach us something different. The very fact that over one-third of all the Psalms are laments or complaints shows us that God is ready to hear our cry. He chose to include an important number of these kinds of prayers in his holy Word so we could learn how to express our distress.

Lament psalms follow a pattern with certain characteristics, some of which can be seen in Psalm 77. Four of the main parts are calling out to God and asking for help (Psalm 77:1-3), expressing the lament (Psalm 77:4-10), then choosing to remember how God acted in the past, and then praising him on that basis (Psalm 77:11-20).

Verses 10 and 11 are the turning point of the psalm. The writer was so discouraged that he wondered if God had turned against him, but then he chose to start thinking about all the wonderful things God did in the past and it changed his outlook.

God does not ask his children to pretend to be something they are not or to be dishonest about their struggles. He encourages us to tell the truth about our distress and trouble, to give voice to our doubts and fears. But we should not stop there. We must go on to remember with praise and thanksgiving all the ways God has proved himself in the past. Those memories and offering praise for God’s great deeds give us hope for the future. Let our words show that we are weak and struggling people who choose to trust in a powerful and faithful God, even when all seems dark around us! 

Taken from the Africa Study Bible