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.