Why pray the Psalms?
Praying the Psalms is a practice dating at least as far back as King David. Fifteen hundred years later the Psalms became the heart of medieval Christian life and worship for a thousand years.
Today the Psalms are prayed most often in the liturgy of the Anglican Church. It’s an especially sublime experience at Evensong sung by college choirs like King’s and St. John’s, Cambridge. I count it a lifetime treasure to have attended several hundred of those services, each one bringing the Psalms home to my soul.
Praying the Psalms is a wonderful way to pray, or at least to begin your prayer. One big spiritual plus is the Psalms provide words that transcend my own feeble and often repetitive words. Praying the Psalms can transport my soul from my current needs towards the loving heart and larger will of God.
“Pray about everything,” (Phil. 4:6 LB) for sure! And any words will do! Praying the Psalms however can enhance our conversation with God and expand our hearts into larger spiritual territory.
I invite you to take this journey with me this fall into that larger territory! Each week you’ll receive a suggested Psalm you may pray. I hope it’ll encourage a practice that helps take you closer to the heart and will of God!
Let’s Exalt His Name Together!
Pray Psalm 5: Lead Me in Your Righteousness
Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.
2 Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.
3 O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you[a] and watch.
4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
5 The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
6 You destroy those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
in the fear of you.
8 Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.
9 For there is no truth in their mouth;
their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongue.
10 Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield.
How majestic is your name!
One of our dear friends from the Bay Area who visit us and vice-versa several times a year, remarked one day while looking out at the sky eastward over the waters of Liberty Bay where we live. What she said is such an appropriate description of what we see almost daily here in the beautiful northwest. “You have a ‘3-D sky’”!
This week’s Psalm praises God for the majesty of creation in all of its many D’s! But it doesn’t stop there. It compares the glory of God’s majesty, the absolute wonder of the created universe with the even more incredible wonder that the Creator, God Himself, is mindful of us…and that God cares for us!
You could say this Psalm helps us see the bigness of God as well God’s little-ness; the glory of God’s creation as well as the intimacy of God’s love. It’s a prayer worth praying.
Suggestion: Take one of the key phrases of the Psalm each week and make that your many-times-a day prayer. From last week’s Psalm 5 the phrase for me was “Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness.” This week’s Psalm 8, it’ll be “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Sure beats other stuff looping through my mind!
Pray Psalm 8, How majestic is your name!
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings[b]
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You make known to me the path of life!
It’d be accurate to say that the golden thread running through the variegated tapestry of western civilization since the time of Christ has been what is referred to as “Judeo-Christian values.” Based on the Ten Commandments, detailed in the Pentateuch, described practically in the Book of Proverbs and throughout the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels as well as the Epistle, these Judeo-Christian values show us what Psalm 16 calls “the path of life.”
This week’s Psalm affirms that staying close to the Lord and living the life He desires for us makes our hearts glad, puts our whole being in a rejoicing mode and brings a sense of security, plus joy and even pleasure!
One of the gospel songs I grew up singing in church put it this way: “Living for Jesus a life that is true; striving to please him in all that I do; yielding allegiance, glad hearted and free; this is the pathway of blessing for me.”
Drawing close to the Lord, living for Jesus a life that is true can bring personal peace and joy for sure. But it can also put us in a frame of mind and heart to extend that joy to our anxious, discouraged world.
Pray Psalm 16.
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
How long, O LORD?
There’s no one, including Jesus Himself, who hasn’t experienced the silence of God. No matter how strong our faith, how fervent our prayers, how godly our ask, how righteous our life (see James 5:16) there are times, seasons and even years that our prayers seem to go no further than the ceiling.
This week’s Psalm is a shorter version of the Psalm from which Jesus cried out in agony on the cross: “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). Theologians may (rightly) want to discuss if God indeed turned His back and forsook His beloved Son during His moment of deepest need. The Apostles Creed does say "He descended into hell." But the sense of God’s absence during a time of crisis is not primarily a theological matter. It’s personal. And even the strongest, including Mother Teresa, have experienced the feeling that God seems absent right now. Maybe that’s how you’re feeling yourself today.
G.K. Chesterton writes in The Everlasting Man, ”there is, of course, the absence of the presence of God. But there is in a very real sense the presence of the absence of God.” This can sound a bit “wordsmith-y,” of which Chesterton is a master. But I for one have come to appreciate his naming “the presence of the absence of God.” Which is to say in retail terms, “I feel God is absent, it seems to me God is absent, I don’t see any “God things” right now! Or in the opening phrase of our Psalm, "How long, O LORD?"
But the fact is, God is indeed present in this moment. In this situation. In this trial in which I’m feeling so alone!” He's in the house! Like a good parent who hears through the cracked open door of their child's pitch back room at night, with for sure monsters under the bed ready to attack, a whimper or an increasingly audible "Mahhhm!" and lovingly doesn't go in there right away, if at all that night. (I speak from childhood experience1)
Turns out that prayer is not always 1+1=2: I ask in faith, God answers in requested detail and the sum comes out as I might expect. In praying Psalm 13…or Psalm 22, which is much more arduous, things are much different and often disillusioning, if not de-faithing. To me its assuring that we join all the saints plus even Jesus Himself in this incredible lifting our hearts to what sometimes seems to be a silent, absent God, when 1+ (seemingly) 0 = 0. But by God’s grace and in God’s timing and for God's greater purpose for our life we often, if not always in this life, discover that 1+1=3; or....100!
Psalm 13 is a good one to keep handy, because we’re going to need it sooner or later, and more often than we’d prefer! I think that’s why it’s called prayer. And why the Apostle Paul essentially says in 1 Thess. 5:17, “No matter how you feel, don’t stop praying!”
P.S. Pay too attention to the "where is your God?" scoffers mentioned in v 4. They'll praying themselves soon enough 🙂
Pray Psalm 13.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Create in me a clean heart!
Psalm 51 is commonly referred to as “The Penitential Psalm.” In most Bible translations the subtitle for this Psalm reads: A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he (David) had gone into Bathsheba.
One of the most heinous sins recorded in the Bible was committed by none other than a person described as “a man after God’s own heart:” King David! The whole sordid tale is described in incriminating detail in 2 Samuel 11. How could he???
Referring to the phrase “miserable offenders” in the liturgical Prayer of Confession, C.S. Lewis makes this observation: “I think that…we probably find it much easier to understand and believe this about other people than about ourselves.”
The fact is, when all the lights are turned on our own lives, there are more than a few cockroaches scampering for cover. Not that we’ve exactly duplicated David’s sin, but what’s scampering isn’t pretty, let alone godly.
Praying this week’s Psalm doesn’t let us just say “I’m sorry!” and be on our way. It’s a full-on confession that takes some time. Takes some specificity. Takes probably more than anything some humility. Not easy stuff! But it’s essential to clearing the way for God to create in me a clean heart and renewing a right spirit within me, which is what I need God to do…daily!
Pray Psalm 51.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right[ spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
I will yet praise him
We all go through times when we feel emotionally and spiritually caught between remembering the unmistakable blessings of God in our life and thinking, "OK...looks like that may be it for me! I pray not! Actually I'm confident it's not!"
This is the feel we get with the prayer of Psalm 42. It begins with one of the dearest, most memorable images in the Bible, especially in the King James version: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” It’s the beginning of a prayer expressing how much I long for God, especially when I feel He’s not as close or as obvious in my life right now.
Watching a bit of the World Series this year reminded me of Yogi Berra’s famous phrase about the game of baseball: “It’s not over ‘til it’s over.” As someone who thinks baseball’s a lot like life, I’ve had to repeat Yogi’s phrase to myself many times. Especially when it feels like I'm down 5 runs in the fifth inning and personally not hitting or even fielding all that well.
Praying Psalm 42 is one we have to pray more than once. And perhaps way more than we’d like. Because, truth be told, we more often than not find ourselves “between praise and praise.” Between praise for the blessings of God already on the board, and praise for blessings yet to be posted. I’m thinking that’s at least 90% of the time. A perfect time to pray Psalm 42!
Pray Psalm 42
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.
Relieve the troubles of my heart!
The late, great skipper of the LA Dodgers, Tommy LaSorda, was once quoted as saying, “I don’t tell anyone my troubles…because 80% of the people you tell don’t care, and the other 20% are actually glad you have troubles!”
A little cynical for sure. But there’s some truth in his statement. If you’ve ever begun to share some hurt and pain in your soul with another person, you’ve already discovered there are indeed very few who absorb some of that pain with empathy or at least a degree of sympathy.
Even if you experience 90+% empathy or sympathy, you eventually find yourself (at least feeling) very alone. As the old spiritual, which I learned in elementary school, puts it,
We must walk this lonesome valley;
We have to walk it by ourselves;
Oh, nobody else can walk it for us;
We have to walk, walk it by ourselves.
Well, not quite! In fact, as it turns out, not even close. It may feel like a lonesome valley. We do feel at times we’re walking it by ourselves. But, as it turns out, the Lord is with us. We’re not facing troubles by ourselves. This is both the cry and the confidence expressed in the prayer of Psalm 25. I have a feeling you might be with me this week, somewhere between cry and confidence. If so, this is a prayer for us!
Pray Psalm 25
1In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust.
2 I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
3 No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
4 Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
9 He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
12 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.[b]
13 They will spend their days in prosperity,
and their descendants will inherit the land.
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.
19 See how numerous are my enemies
and how fiercely they hate me!
20 Guard my life and rescue me;
do not let me be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope, Lord,[c] is in you.
22 Deliver Israel, O God,
from all their troubles!
I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever
I have just returned from conducting a memorial service for one of our closest and longest-standing friends. We’ve had almost 40 wonderful years of sharing life, travel adventures, and most importantly of all, the ministry of Christ through His church local and beyond. Even with hundreds of memorial services under my belt, it was one of the most emotionally difficult things I’ve ever done.
This week’s Psalm is actually not a prayer per se. It is in fact one of the most beloved single literary works in recorded history. Just the first line alone is worth the whole Psalm: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. But there’s so much more to follow, each strophe expressing confidence, faith and love for God.
I’ve shown it below in the Authorized Version, aka the King James Version. Sometimes, actually many times in Scripture, the Elizabethan cadences with the “eths, thee’s and thou’s” just can’t be surpassed.
As we finished the almost two-hour service, we rose to our feet and sang the fourth verse of “How Great Thou Art:”
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!
The Psalmist was still hundreds of years before Christ. But because of Christ, and in Christ, the last line of Psalm 23, as well as “How Great Thou Art,” is personally assured by God Himself. My dear friend, Tad, is now literally in the house of the Lord…forever. Amazing!
Pray Psalm 23
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Give thanks to the Lord
I grew up in church. During my childhood years just about every Protestant church, regardless of denomination, sang what was called “The Doxology.” In our church it was as the ushers were bringing the offering plates forward to set them on the chancel table. It was a part of worship each Sunday. We’d all rise and sing
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
A………men! (in at least four-part harmony, with great feeling!)
I have to say that during those years even the poorest in our congregation, and there were more than a few, had enough to eat and a roof over their head. For middle class people like our family, food, a 3 BR house and a three-hole Buick were standard equipment. So singing the Doxology, though feeling somewhat holy, was pretty pro forma for me. It was only much later in life I gradually realized that indeed it is God from whom all blessings flow.
As we come to Thanksgiving Day 2021 I do so with the deeper and deeper realization that every day is a reason for giving thanks. Every moment, really. Maybe this Thursday however it's appropriate to make a little extra noise! Joyfully to the Lord. And gratefully for the football!
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!
Pray Psalm 100
1Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
Who is this King of Glory?
What has been called “the world’s most beautiful melody” asks the world’s most important question. The traditional English folk tune is “Greensleeves.” The question, in William Chatterton Dix ‘s sublime text, written in 1865, asks,
What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
The chorus then gives the answer:
This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!
Psalm 24 asks a similar question: “Who is this King of Glory?” Only it starts from a much grander perspective than a baby in a manger. The ancient Israelites had experienced God as “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” Notwithstanding an intimacy with God in passages like Psalm 23 or the Book of Hosea, no one really expected The King of Glory would one day lay aside his “strong and mighty” and arrive “meek and lowly of heart.”
Our new neighbors just installed Christmas lights on their house and on some of the bushes in their garden. So cheerful! But more than cheerful, way more, is the lighted creche on the lawn, a vignette of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. That’s a rarer sight these days, as rare and out of sight as Bethlehem 0000AD. But more welcome than ever in the gathering darkness of the world’s winter 2021AD. As one Christmas card put it, “Wisemen still seek Him!”
So, bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!
(Note: This is the last in this series.)
Pray Psalm 24
The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,[a]
the world and those who dwell therein,
2 for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
5 He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.[b] Selah
7 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle!
9 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory!