So, back to the types of Psalms as per Longman’s suggestion that there are “roughly seven basic types”, these being “the hymn, the lament, the thanksgiving psalm, the psalm of remembrance, the psalm of confidence, the wisdom psalm and the kingship psalm.”
So far we have considered, even if only briefly, the first two. Although, if you have been following my posts you may think that I had a lot to say about the Psalms of Lament. I was tempted to continue but decided to move on. The reason for the time I did spend on these psalms was that I have found them very inspiring and relevant, and maybe as Brueggemann suggests, “because that is the part of the Psalter that has been most neglected in church use.” He also considers that in the present situation we find ourselves in, in the church and in the world around us, “it may be the part of the Psalter that is most helpful, because we live in a society of denial and cover-up, and these psalms provide a way for healing candor.” (see references # 2)
So let’s now consider the third one mentioned, the psalms of thanksgiving. A nice change from lamenting, although, generally, they follow on, and the thanks are usually related to having come through a time of trouble and lament. Brueggemann refers to this as moving from a place of disorientation to new orientation, and I’m sure we have all experienced this at certain times in our lives.
Longman suggests that “the thanksgiving psalm is a response to answered lament…to answered prayer…[and in] thanking the Lord for answered prayer, [the psalmist] bears witness to God’s great work in his life. He even calls on the rest of the congregation to join him in thanking the Lord.” (see references # 1)
Psalm 30 is a good example:
“I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths…I called to you for help and you healed me…you brought me up from the grave…to the Lord I cried for mercy…You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
In fact, in this psalm, the psalmist’s experience has been that he has moved from orientation – “…I felt secure, I said, ‘I will never be shaken’…you favoured me, you made my mountain stand firm.” (vs 6-7); to disorientation – “but when you hid your face, I was dismayed…to the Lord I cried for mercy…O, Lord, be my help.” (vs 7,8,10); and finally to new orientation – “You turned my wailing into dancing…I will give you thanks forever.” (vs 11,12).
I get the feeling that there have been times in all our lives when we could identify with this psalmist. In fact, I am presently somewhere between disorientation and new orientation. At least, at this time in my life anyway, I am heading in the right direction! The reason for this in my life is related primarily to the changes that are happening all around me where I serve in ministry. We have recently gone from a College fully accredited and soon to celebrate 60 years of training and ministry, to finding ourselves no longer able to operate in the way that has proved effective over this last decade. It’s time for a change, but a change that is inevitable (i.e. not what we would have chosen to do at this stage in our history). Yet, we have seen that God has provided the right people to enable that change, and we are moving on, but we are not there yet. There are still some hurdles to leap over before we reach the finish line. But, we sense God’s leading us on into new and good things, and as we depend on Him, we will undoubtedly be saying in the near future that He “turned our wailing into dancing…and clothed us with joy.” And to Him we will give all the thanks and praise. He is an awesome Father.
It is an interesting thing about life with God, and that is, as I have said many times, ‘He is full of surprises!’ And in these psalms of new orientation, they “regularly bear witness to the surprising gift of new life just when none had been expected”, as Brueggemann puts it. The reality is, life and the psalmist are never the same again. Have you found that? Each time we have a situation in life when things have been difficult and we have lamented before God and then he has surprised us with provision of grace abundant to meet our needs, we grow a bit more, mature a bit more, are transformed a bit more into the person God desires us to be. That is the way it is supposed to be, if we cooperate with the Spirt at work in our lives.
In the words of Brueggemann, “That new orientation is not a return to the old stable orientation, for there is no such going back. The psalmists know that we can never go home again. Once there has been an exchange of candor, as there is here between Yahweh and Israel, there is no return to the precandor situation.”
So, the thanksgiving psalms move from “wretchedness to joy”, from the problem to “the resolution, culminating in praise and thanksgiving.” Although at times, we are not told what the resolution was or even how it occurred, only that it was “wrought by the inscrutable power and goodness of God.” And so the psalmist testifies in amazement and gratitude, ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’.” (see references # 2)