This week at the worship gathering we looked at Jonah chapter 2, which is a Psalm or prayer of thanksgiving. Many of us can look at Jonah’s prayer and compare it to our own prayers, and think, “My prayers don’t sound like that.” Truth be told my prayers don’t sound like that either. Here’s the spoiler alert, Jonah’s prayer wasn’t all original either.
When it comes to prayer, many of us find ourselves at a loss for what to pray or how to pray. I am not trying to write as someone who has figured this out, but I think that there is lesson on prayer for us to learn from Jonah 2. Much of Jonah’s prayer was taken from the Psalms (120:1, 42:7, 31:22, 69:1, 142:3, 31:6, and 3:8). The book of Psalms is a book of Prayers that were written by various men, at various times, and in various situations. Jonah was so familiar with the Psalms that it was very natural to include them in his prayer.
We can follow Jonah’s prayer as an example of including scripture as we pray. I am not as familiar with the Psalms as Jonah was, but I do have the Bible right in front of me, and so do you. The beautiful thing about the Psalms is that as we read them, whether we have been in the exact situation or not, we can relate with them. We can use the Psalms in our own prayer lives as either prayers that we pray, or as an outline with prompts to help us pray. Knowing what Psalms to look at for different occasions can be challenging because the book of Psalms is made up of 150 psalms and contains many different types of psalms.
The most common types of psalms are: hymns of praise, laments, psalms of thanksgiving, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms.
- Hymns of praise: characterized by their exuberant praise of the Lord. God is praised for His attributes, i.e. power, mercy, etc., or for His actions, i.e. creation, the exodus, etc. Many of these songs were used as part of Israel’s worship in the Old Testament. These include: 8, 19, 24, 29, 33, 46, 47, 48, 65, 67, 68, 76, 84, 87, 93, 96-100, 103-105, 111, 113, 114, 117, 122, 135, 136, 139, 145-150.
- Laments: express an emotion opposite of praise. Generally the psalmist opens his heart honestly to God, expressing emotions like sadness, fear and even anger over things that they are experiencing personally or that their community is experiencing. There is always a cry for God to intervene and they generally end by turning to the Lord with confidence. These include: 3, 5-7, 13, 17, 22, 25-27, 28, 31, 35, 38, 39, 42-44, 51, 54-61, 63, 64, 69-71, 74, 79, 80, 83, 86, 88, 102, 106, 109, 120, 125, 130, 140-143.
- Thanksgiving Psalms: generally characterized by the psalmist thanking God for his deliverance. This type of psalm is appropriate when the Lord answers a lament, and generally concludes with the psalmist declaring that they will give a thank-offering to the Lord. These include: 8, 18, 19, 29, 30, 32-34, 40, 41, 65, 66, 67, 68, 81, 92, 100, 103, 107, 116, 118, 124, 129, 138.
- Royal Psalms: these psalms are concerned entirely with kings, generally God, the King of the universe, and David, the king of Israel. They were generally composed to highlight a specific event in the life of the king. These include: 2, 18, 20, 21, 24, 45, 47, 72, 89, 93, 96-99, 101, 110, 132, 144.
- Wisdom Psalms: make use of themes found in the wisdom books of the Bible (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon). Those themes include a contrast between the righteous and the wicked, fear or the Lord, etc. They often include instruction. These include: 1, 37, 49, 73, 91, 112, 127, 128, 133.
The first three categories, hymns, laments, and psalms of thanksgiving, are probably the most relevant in our personal prayer life. When you find yourself right with God, consider reading and praying through a hymn. If you are out of harmony with God, read and pray through a lament. And when the Lord reestablishes His relationship with you, or delivers you from your lament, read and pray through a psalm of thanksgiving. I hope this helps you as you continue to seek the Lord both in His word and in prayer.