By Andrew Rutten
This summer Providence Church is spending 10 weeks going through the first 10 Psalms. “A Summer in the Psalms”is by no means a new concept. Churches for decades or more have been spending summer months in the Old Testament book of Psalms. We are by no means innovative in preaching through the Psalms this summer, but we are also by no means thoughtless in preaching through the Psalms this summer.
So why preach through the Psalms? Believe it or not, it is not because we are tired of coming up with new ideas or just want to take the summer off of anything hard. Far from it. In fact, let me give you answers to three basic questions on why we chose to preach through the Psalms this summer.
WHY FOCUS ON THE PSALMS?
First question I think is fair to ask, is why focus on the Psalms at all?
One of the initial answers is that it is the prayer book of the Bible. The Bible has many genres and types of writing. All of which are inspired by God and useful for us today (2 Timothy 3:16).
The historical narratives in the Old Testament are like dramas that slowly unfold teaching about the character of God and how he relates to his people.
The prophets are a collection of truth tellers. They contain God’s will for his people and the real consequences of our rebellion. And they are littered with the grace of God in the midst of judgment and trials.
The gospels show us the beauty of God in the flesh. We see the God-man, Jesus Christ, fulfill all righteousness in his life and die the death we deserve on his cross. There is no greater picture of God in the world than the gospel accounts of Jesus.
We have letters from the early church, that we call the epistles. Think Romans, Ephesians, 1 John and others. These are letters written to churches with similar issues and struggles that we have today. They are a wealth of truth and beauty for how we live today in between Jesus’s first coming and his return.
The Psalms are the prayers of the saints. These are God’s people, through all emotions of life, crying out to God. They are flooded with people who face situations in life like we do, and they are God-inspired, human prayers.
These prayers also give color and imagery to the truths of God and the world. God did not create the world black and white, and we are not purely logical beings. The Psalms give color and emotion to the life we live. And therefore are essential for us to navigate through life with.
Paul may tell us in his letters to preach and believe sound doctrine. The Psalmist says the instructions of the Lord are rivers of life, sweeter than honey, and the strength of the mighty. Both are wanting us to believe the same truth, but are told in different ways.
We focus on the Psalms to unlock the creativity and beauty of God in unique ways that the rest of the Bible does not do. We focus on the Psalms to give words to the prayers that we do not know how to pray. We focus on the Psalms for the good of our hearts and souls.
WHY LOOK AT THE PSALMS IN ORDER?
Another common question many of us have asked: “Aren’t the Psalms a random collection of poems and prayers? There isn’t any real order or method to the madness, right?”
This question should be answered with an emphatic, NO! The Psalms are like any other good literature and any other book in the Bible — it has order, flow, purpose, and a theme. While the Psalms can be confusing and overwhelming because of their size and emotional breadth, there is a flow to the Psalms.
Psalm 1 and 2 are considered by most scholarship to be the introduction to the Psalms. Dr. Mark Futato explains that Psalm 1 gives us the purpose of the Psalms: instructions for a happy life in God. Psalm 2 then gives us the message of the Psalms: The Lord Reigns!
The rest of the Psalms fulfill this purpose by explaining life with God by believing in the message that the Lord reigns above all.
The Psalms are also broken up into 5 sections: Book 1 (Ps 1-41), Book 2 (Ps 42-72), Book 3 (73-89), Book 4 (90-106), and Book 5 (107-150). Each of the books conclude with a doxology, and Book 5 finishes with the final five Psalms as a doxology to the Psalms as a whole.
One other structural note is that the Psalms generally move parallel to the Christian’s life: suffering to glory. From book 1 to book 5 we see a move from lamenting over the struggles of life to praise in the goodness of God.
Psalm 3 (beginning after the introduction of Psalm 1 and 2) begins with David crying out to God in despair because his enemies are closing in around him (Ps 3:1-2). Psalm 150 is a doxological Psalm calling for all to “Praise the LORD!”
If, then, the Psalms have form and order, we believe we should not sporadically pull from the book (although we would not condemn any church for doing so, it can be incredibly edifying at times), but follow its form and structure.
There are many appropriate methods, but our ultimate goal is to be thoughtful and careful in approaching God’s Word. Therefore, we will preach through the Psalms in the order that God has given them to us in His Scriptures.
WHAT BENEFITS COME FROM THE PSALMS?
Although this question may be more “me-centered” than I would like to pose it, it is a fair question. If the Word of God is to be our delight (Psalms 1:2) and a lamp to our feet (Psalms 119:105), then I think we can ask what are the benefits we can expect from it.
Although I could probably give hundreds, let me offer two for our church this summer.
(1) Gives Words to Pray
As a prayer book, the Psalms give divinely inspired words for us to pray. They teach us how to pray, the words to pray, and different emotions in coming to God in prayer. The Psalms are a rich collection of not only truths, but different ways to process truths and pray truths to God.
Through meditation on the Psalms this summer, we will enhance our prayer life. Experiencing the raw emotions and conversations the people of God had in the past will be a guide for us as we develop our own lives of prayer in the present. We can practice by reading through a Psalm and praying the verses back to God. You can do this verbatim, or you can put the phrases in your own words with your own context in mind. Your prayer vocabulary will grow and the depth of your prayers will be aligned even closer with the heart of God.
(2) Training in Worshipful Thinking
The Psalms do a fantastic job of seeing the beauty of God in all of creation. The images, similes, and metaphors used throughout the Psalms are wonderfully vast. As we read through the Psalms, it begins to give us new lenses on how to see our world.
Instead of simply seeing trees, streams, food, and lights, we begin to see how these reflect and image aspects of the character of God and his work in the world. Most of us struggle to see God and his beauty throughout all of creation. Meditation on the Psalms will enhance our ability to notice the color of life and the creativity of creation and reflect that beauty back to our God.
Providence, join us this summer as we begin to journey through the Psalms. Let us read, meditate on, and delight in the beauty of God revealed to us through our family prayer book.
* "Psalm 1" was painted by Aaron Grace (firstname.lastname@example.org)