Praying the Psalms
Praying the Psalms
By Gabriel Jasso
Learning to Talk
Do you remember the first time you prayed to God?
I can’t remember the first time I prayed, or with who I first prayed. I feel like it was when I was a kid growing up in Portland, Oregon—my mom at my bedside, showing me how to hold my hands together and repeat after her—but I can't be sure.
Later in life, I would be taught to pray similarly at a young Anglican church plant in the heart of London. Week after week without fail, we would have two corporate prayers in which we would pray aloud together: a prayer of confession and a prayer to receive communion.
This is a posture of prayer that we never outgrow. Following after another, and repeating the things that they say. That is how we learn to pray and how our hearts are formed more into the shape of Christ's heart: by repeating after our heavenly father.
Previously, we loosely defined prayer as a two-way conversation in which we listen to and talk with God. That order is essential. To speak to God, we need to be listeners of God, since he spoke first. This is a topic we will explore in a future week.
The purpose of this blog, however, is to give some practical thoughts on our talking to God. Praying the book of Psalms can help us reimagine what our speaking to God looks like. By no means am I attempting to dictate a singular way of praying, but rather to give one practical way in which we might reimagine our prayers to God.
Maybe you have come to a place in your prayers where you seem to pray the same laundry list of things, or maybe you are daunted by how much there is to pray for, or maybe you can't seem to find the starting point to pray. Whatever the case, I want us to see how praying the words of God is one formative way to learn how to talk to God.
Here are a few reasons why this is a great place to start or continue in our talking to God.
Praying the PsalmS…
1. Teaches us to pray
It might seem obvious that the Bible teaches us to pray. But more specifically, praying the Bible teaches us to pray. It’s interesting that when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray in Luke 11, his introduction to prayer goes: “When you pray, say…” When God became human he taught us to pray by repeating after him.
Likewise, we can repeat after God with his own words in the Psalms. The Psalms specifically have prayer language built in. All of the Psalms are directly addressing God.
2. Puts words in our mouth that wouldn’t normally be there.
One thing I will always thank my high school English teachers for is having me read poetry and literature aloud. There is nothing like the words of dead authors flowing from the mouth of a pubescent teen.
There exists certain power and life that comes when you read aloud the words of someone important in your own voice. It's hard to read aloud MLK's “I have a dream” speech and not feel inspired. It's hard to read Pablo Neruda and not fall in love. Likewise, with God’s word, and the Psalms in particular, it's hard to read it aloud and not be captivated by the array of emotional colors and theological truths.
However, we must not mistake the words of the Psalms as the power of God. The power is not in the words; the power is in the author—by author here we do not mean David, we mean divine author—God. If the words of the Bible have any power at all, the power of those words resides in the divine author. (This is important lest we treat our Bibles like spellbooks.)
3. Shows us a complete spectrum of prayer
There are all kinds of prayer in the Bible: prayers of adoration, confession, supplication, thanksgiving, praise, faith, imprecation, and the list goes on. Praying the words of God is one way we can be formed in all of these types of prayer. The Psalms specifically take us through a spectrum of emotions, moods, topics, and requests.
Praying the Psalms helps us to not just pray for our survival in a mad world (bills, health, etc.), but to delight in all that God would have us bring to him in prayer.
4. Helps us to pray in accordance with Gods will
1 John 5:14–15 says,
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (ESV)
As we learn to talk to God we will grow increasingly fluent in the language of prayer. This is not to say that there are certain words we must use to talk to God, but there is a mandate that we pray in accordance with his will. Praying scripture helps our hearts to pray in accordance with God’s will. Praying the Psalms helps us to pray for God’s will with specificity.
Ultimately, our talking to God shapes our hearts and moves the hand of God. David was a man after God’s own heart. And so we do well to pray alongside David in seeking the things that are in accordance with the heart of God, his will.
5. Helps us find our story in the Bible story
More often than not we are always looking for ways to apply the Bible to our life. Praying the Psalms is a way for us to do the opposite. Rather than looking for a few applications, praying the Psalms helps us to slow down and find our story within the Bible story. To apply ourselves to the Bible, so to speak.
This is important because we don’t want to simply apply Gods word like a bandage to our life, we want it to become a part of us. So the psalms help us to find our story within the Bible.
6. Teaches us to pray with confidence
It's amazing to think that David talked to God with such Confidence. Indeed, we are called to draw near to God with the even more confidence because Jesus has bridged the gap between God and us. Hebrews 4:16 says because of that gap being closed by Christ “let us approach with confidence the throne of grace.”
If we gain anything from praying the Psalms, would it be confidence that Gods hears us, loves us, and always answers our prayers. A wiser man once said, “This is our comfort because God answers every prayer, for either he gives what we pray for or something far better.” Søren Kierkegaard
How to Pray the Psalms
For all these reasons, I want to introduce us to a practice of praying the Psalms that is far from new. Many other Christians have practiced this through the ages. But for us to shape and change this practice for Providence in 2018 would be a beautiful thing.
So, how do we do this? Are we to merely read the Psalms and call it a prayer to God? Sort of.
What we mean by the physical practice of praying the Psalms is to pray along with David but as our minds begin to wander take full advantage of those wanderings and link our prayers to the prayers of David as promptings from the Holy Spirit.
To get very practical here is a sort of step-by-step guide on praying the Psalms (or at least one way.)
Find a place you can speak freely
It's important to find a place where you can raise your voice without feeling embarrassed. This will vary depending on your personality type. But in general, your living room will do fine. Any place you feel comfortable lifting your voice.
Find a Psalm to pray through
If you are like me and don’t know the overarching outline for the Psalms, I’d suggest starting at Psalm 1 and then working your way through the Psalms day by day. There are 150 Psalms. So theoretically you would pray through the Psalms twice in a year (given that some of the Psalms are much longer than others)
Another practice for finding a Psalm that seems to match your current life is to take the day of the month and go to that Psalm and to keep adding thirty to that number until you find one that seems to invite you in.
Spend some time in silence listening to the Lord
Take a second to remember that God has spoken to us first! If you stop and remind your heart of that truth, your time spent talking to God will be much more meaningful. As mentioned earlier, we will be looking at this more in-depth in a later week.
Beginning reading the Psalm
No need to rush. Read as you would to a child, bringing life to the text. Every Psalm will have a mood or theme. Some will demand more joyful tones, while others more reflective and somber tones. Whatever Psalm you are reading will reveal this to you.
Should your mind begin to drift
This is where we should feel the freedom to go with our mind. For instance, should the Psalm say “why do the nations rage?” And an image of a nation comes to mind, pray into that, “father comfort _____ nation who is in turmoil” then return to reading the Psalm. Or should the psalmist say, “break the teeth of my enemies” and you can’t help but think of that dentist appointment scheduled for next week, pray for your dentist and then return to the Psalm.
It should be noted that any practice is only as good as the frequency in which you practice it. Our prayers are no different. If we want to be shaped by God, molded into the shape of his heart, we have to pray often—“always,” as the Bible says. I hope that this mode of praying the Psalms will be one of many ways in which we encounter and align our life with God and His will. In our prayers would God be glorified and our hearts to his more closely stitched.
Jesus, shape us by your word, even in our talking to you. Amen.