Psalms of Praise

Full of spiritual depth and emotional expression, the poetry of the Psalms is an encouraging resource for any walk of faith. The book of Psalms reveals to us the character of God and serves as inspiration for our own prayers to our Creator. One of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament and the Ketuvim in the Hebrew Bible, which all center around teaching humans how to live well in the world and how to know God, Psalms is an essential book. 


Today we spend some time reflecting on one of the most common and most beloved types of psalms, those centered around praising and glorifying God. We’ll consider what aspects and attributes characterize a psalm of praise and explore a few key examples in depth.

Overview

By way of general overview, the book of Psalms is most importantly about worship and the trials and triumphs of a life lived in pursuit of God. The psalms were written by various authors (read more, “Who Wrote the Book of Psalms?”), over many many years, with psalms spanning across a wide emotional spectrum. Through beautiful and creative poetic expression, the book of Psalms explores how humanity processes the experiences of life within the context of its relationship with God.

Types of Psalms

As we consider different kinds of psalms, we are operating within an interpretive framework established by the scholar, Hermann Gunkel. Gunkel was one of the first to develop an outline for categorizing the psalms into different types. What set Gunkel’s framework apart was that he proposed categorizing the psalms not according to their assumed authorship or chronology, but on the basis of genre.

Closer look to the beach
According to Gunkel, there are five major categories of psalms:

  • Hymns
  • Communal Laments
  • Individual Laments
  • Psalms of Thanksgiving
  • Royal Psalms

Gunkel’s form of categorization leaves room for psalms that do not fit neatly into just one category. Some psalms are a kind of hybrid, combining elements of multiple types. When we speak of psalms of praise, we are primarily referring to psalms categorized as hymns or as psalms of thanksgiving.

Praise Psalms Explored

With this understanding in mind, let us reflect on a few examples of a psalm of praise. We’ll consider what all of these examples have in common, as well as where they are set apart.

Psalm 145

Ducks at beach

A psalm of praise of David.

I will exalt you, my God the King;

    I will praise your name forever and ever.

Every day I will praise you

    and extol your name forever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;

    his greatness no one can fathom.

One generation commends your works to another;

    they tell of your mighty acts.

They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—

    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

They tell of the power of your awesome works—

    and I will proclaim your great deeds.

They celebrate your abundant goodness

and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,

    slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all;

    he has compassion on all he has made.

10 All your works praise you, Lord;

    your faithful people extol you.

11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom

    and speak of your might,

12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts

    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,

    and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises

    and faithful in all he does.

14 The Lord upholds all who fall

    and lifts up all who are bowed down.

15 The eyes of all look to you,

    and you give them their food at the proper time.

16 You open your hand

    and satisfy the desires of all the earth.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways

    and faithful in all he does.

18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,

    to all who call on him in truth.

19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;

    he hears their cry and saves them.

20 The Lord watches over all who love him,

    but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.

    Let every creature praise his holy name

    forever and ever.

Psalm 145 is perhaps the most popular psalm of praise. It begins and ends with a declaration—a statement of intent. The psalmist declares that they will praise God unceasingly and calls all of creation to do the same. The majority of the psalm makes the case for why God is deserving of praise. Statements celebrating God’s character (“The Lord is gracious and compassionate”; “The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises”; “The Lord is righteous”) remind listeners and readers that our Creator is good and loving and urge them to worship God.

Psalm 100

Playing with sand

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

2     Worship the Lord with gladness;

    come before him with joyful songs.

3 Know that the Lord is God.

    It is he who made us, and we are his;

    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving

    and his courts with praise;

    give thanks to him and praise his name.

5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Like Psalm 145, Psalm 100 urges us to praise God. But where 145 focused on lauding God’s nature and character, Psalm 100 focuses on humanity’s relationship to our Creator (“It is he who made us, and we are his”). The worship and praise advocated for here comes not just in response to the majesty and wonder of God, but out of the knowledge that this majestic and wonderful God loves and chooses us.

Psalm 42

big waves at ocean

For the director of music. A psalm of the Sons of Korah.

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,

    so my soul pants for you, my God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

    When can I go and meet with God?

3 My tears have been my food

    day and night,

while people say to me all day long,

    “Where is your God?”

4 These things I remember

    as I pour out my soul:

how I used to go to the house of God

    under the protection of the Mighty One

with shouts of joy and praise

    among the festive throng.

5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?

    Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God,

    for I will yet praise him,

    my Savior and my God.

6 My soul is downcast within me;

    therefore I will remember you

from the land of the Jordan,

    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep

    in the roar of your waterfalls;

all your waves and breakers

    have swept over me.

8 By day the Lord directs his love,

    at night his song is with me—

    a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,

    “Why have you forgotten me?

Why must I go about mourning,

    oppressed by the enemy?”

10 My bones suffer mortal agony

    as my foes taunt me,

saying to me all day long,

    “Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?

    Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God,

    for I will yet praise him,

    my Savior and my God.

As a psalm of praise, Psalm 42 is set apart from the previous two we’ve considered. This psalm reflects praise, not in response to a great blessing or joyful season, but in the midst of gloom and struggle. The psalmist writes out a place of despair (“My bones suffer mortal agony”) and it is from this place that they glorify and worship God (“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him”). This psalm illustrates that turning to and calling out to our Creator is not merely something we do when life is good. In fact, it is in our darkest moments that we need God most. Psalm 42 urges us to hold on to hope—to remember that God is faithful.

More Psalms to Explore

In addition to these three examples, the book of Psalms contains many hymns and prayers of praise. To read more Psalms of this type, consider reading some of the following.

Psalm 103

“Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.”

Psalm 65

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”

Psalm 150

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.”

Psalm 89

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.”

Psalm 111

"Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever."

Sunset at beach

Closing Thoughts

The book of Psalms is one of the most-read books of scripture for a reason. No matter the season or circumstances of our lives, the psalmists encourage all the earth to give praise to our Creator. These praise psalms help us to fix our eyes upon God and encourage us to give thanks for the blessings we have received.

To learn more about the book of Psalms and the rest of the wisdom literature of the Bible, take a look at the Wisdom Collection. Or consider the entire collection available from Alabaster.