Singing that pleases God: Psalms, even the sad ones

[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]

Psalm 42 begins with “As the deer pants for the waters so my soul longs after You”. This Psalm has spawned many songs, expressing our desperate thirst for God. But most of them ignore the core-context of this Psalm: ‘Lonely Depression’. They don’t even seem to notice the refrain, repeated 42:5,11; 43:5.

Loneliness and Depression are very common among the population, and Christians are not immune. So why do contemporary song-writers avoid these themes?

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As I enquire around, I am told by some that “We must sing songs of Positive Confession. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). So we can speak life with positive lyrics, but negative lyrics cause death.  I read a book by a worship-leader which discourages singing Wesley’s song-line “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”, because this is a “negative confession”. Yet Proverbs 8:7 encourages a mouth that will utter TRUTH, not one that lives in denial of reality.

Others are concerned about the mood engendered by our singing. “We want to sing songs that lift our spirits. No-one wants to sing songs about gloomy themes”. They come to church to be comforted by the songs they sing. Jeremiah lambasted those who wanted comfortable messages of “peace, peace, where there is no peace” (ch 6:14).  Amos spoke against those who wanted to live “at ease in Zion, singing idle songs” and did not sing songs that grieved over sin and the ruin of their nation. (ch 6:1,5,6).

Perhaps those reasons explain why 90% of all the Psalms which have been set to music in Contemporary Worship Songs are “Praise and Worship” songs. Upbeat songs, songs that make us happy.

That’s where God’s own Song-book (The Psalms) gives the puzzling, surprising direction we need: The Spirit of God inspired David, the Songs of Korah, Asaph and other psalm-writers to cover ALL the real-life themes of human experience, and speak God’s truth into them. Sad Psalms as well as Happy Psalms.


Do not edit God’s choice
If “Confessing our sin and weakness” is Negative Confession then God made a terrible mistake when He told us to sing Psalms confessing our sins (32, 51, 130). See how  He actually gave us songs to complain against God Himself when we feel He is distant (e.g. 6,10,13, 73).  Psalm 22 was so depressing that Jesus quoted it when He suffered extreme “Lonely Depression” on the cross. The Psalms allow us to sing Songs that fit every reality of life. Don’t pick and choose among the Psalms. Do not edit God’s choice of Songs!

God’s people often find that these “Lament Songs” articulate their inner feelings. They find God’s answer to their needs as they meditate on their words. If they are God’s Word when we READ them, why object when we SING them?  Why select only the “nice” Psalms for our songs?

Ensure that ALL of the Psalm-themes are included in your Church’s music repertoire.  Confessing our sins. Lamenting our circumstances.  God wants us to sing Psalms ~ on every theme He has inspired. Next month we’ll discover more of God’s treasure-riches in the Psalms, ready to be sung on Sundays!

We parents know a balanced diet makes a child complete,
but children pick and choose the foods that they would rather eat.
If they could have their way they would get sick, and be obese ~
they need a balanced diet.

Sing the balanced Psalmic diet!
Sad or Happy, don’t keep quiet.
Sing God’s Word, and don’t deny it:
a Psalm for each occasion.

The balanced diet God prescribes will certainly include
the happy psalms and sadder psalms – all for our highest good.                  
But, like our children, we prefer to choose our favourite food,
and lack a balanced diet.

We say that ‘all the Psalms are God’s complete inspired Word’,
yet pick and choose the happy Psalms we person’lly preferred.
We push aside the awkward ones, lest consciences be stirred,
so lack a balanced diet.

Let all of us devour ev’ry morsel from the Lord,
the tasty Psalms as well as sadder Psalms that we’ve ignored.
We’ll eat the food He serves us, and receive His good reward: 
a healthy, balanced diet.

Words: Hugh G Wetmore © 2013 (adapted from 34j to suit this Psalms column)
Tune: “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (American traditional)


  1. Neziswa N Kanju

    “and did not sing songs that grieved over sin and the ruin of their nation.” Thank you uncle Hugh! This is such a relevant word and so true!!!

  2. Amen! Amen! Thanks, Hugh!

  3. Maggie Steinmann

    Thank you Hugh. This has been of great concern to me for a very long time.
    I think we have become caught and confused between God praising songs and popular concerts.