The Psalms: Our Book of Prayer
I wanted to give some practical advice/exhortation about psalm reading since I’ve mentioned it a lot recently. Having our church be a people reading and praying the psalms was basically the point of last week’s sermon. Here is more information about what I’m intending.
1. Psalms of the Day
Today is February 8. According to the schedule I am using, my psalms for today are Psalm 8, 38, 68, 98, 128. You just take the day of the month and keep adding 30 till you run out of psalms! On the 31st of the month you can read Psalm 119 (so skip that on whatever day that usually falls). If you do this you will get through the whole psalter in one month.
2. Reading & Praying the Psalms
There is a difference between reading and praying the psalms, and both are important.
READING (and listening to) the Psalms is about being surrounded by them. By doing this you start to see the world through them. Do you have a crappy boss you keep chewing out in your mind? Well, that sounds like “plotting” and the psalms are clear about the kind of people that do that! See how that worked? The psalms can become a window for your experience. I love having my car ride filled with the psalms instead of Trump, North Korea, or healthcare.
PRAYING the Psalms means using their words and categories to speak to and meet with God. One way to do that is praying on the fly: read with your eyes but switch pronouns and words to speak to God personally. Another way is to read 1-2 lines at a time as they are written and repeat back a one line prayer based on the content. I don’t usually do this with all 5 in a day because it is slower, though this is by far the most meaningful to me. And I suggest praying out loud or at least in a mumble, after all we are not gnostics!! See the Sunday School for that reference.
3. No Pressure (super important)
Do this as it best fits you. I never read one first thing in the morning even though that sounds holy. I don’t like to meet or talk with anyone in the morning and sadly that includes God. I figure that if God wanted to talk to me first thing he would have made me happier in the morning. The earliest I typically read a psalm is in the parking lot of school after I drop my little angels off, or I play them on my phone between school and work. LA, on the other hand, has a very rigid schedule of sitting with her coffee and the Psalms and praying every morning (but even that is only after little angels leave the house).
You don’t catch up! This is NOT about checking Scripture off a list, as if we are reading the Bible through in a year. If you skip a day, then skip a day. If you can’t read 5, then don’t read 5. You just keep going with the day. I even read them in random order since I know the first 30 psalms pretty well, so if I skip one I get to know new ones. CONFESSION: I have only made it through every single psalm in one month a few times over the last year. I am not a goal oriented person so I loose zero sleep over that.
4. Awesome Accountability
I started this a few years back on my own. Now that I’m talking about it I know other people are doing it too. It was encouraging to me to read Psalm 68 today and know that several others in our church are reading/praying that same prayer. Did any of y’all notice that the women in Psalm 68:11-12 proclaim the victory of God? It made me think of the empty tomb and the command, “Go tell my brothers…” Anyway, I love knowing the names of the people that might be reading that today (so let me know if you want to join us!). And sometimes I’ve even kept reading because of this great cloud of witnesses, so thank you.
5. The Delivery System
- Obviously, you can use a regular Bible, it will have all of them. :)
- Get a Psalter (it's also available in Summer Garden). I will buy a psalter for anyone that needs it; I can think of no better use for my book money at church. I carry mine with me always and I consider it my book of prayers. Ask to see mine sometime to see if you like it.
- Phones work too. I use the ESV app because it has a man with a husky voice read them to me while I drive.
- I have not found a podcast with the Psalms organized this way but the ESV does have one with the Lectionary Readings.
WHAT NOT TO DO (though this is personal)...
1. Don’t read to be inspired, read to meet God. I used to read psalms for the sake of beauty, like we might read Emerson or Shakespeare. That isn’t God’s original intent! These were included to train people to worship God and interpret their world. Psalm 109 never makes it into a Bible that is trying to be beautiful, it is ruthless! Some people hide from God by having a personal relationship with the mental kick that comes from learning, others hide from God by getting that same kick from feeling inspired or their emotions. Don’t hide from God regardless of how you might do it. That may have “the appearance of wisdom but is no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
2. Don’t even remember what you read. This is a bit hyperbolic, but I actually find it helpful. I meet God through these psalms, I don’t fish for quotes. Certainly, Colossians encourages us to share psalms with each other, but another way to hide from God is to wait for a “good quote” to roll around. I have a rule that I do not write in my “prayer book.” If there is something amazing I want to remember (i.e. Psa 68:11-12) I will mark it in my real Bible when I am done praying. If I forget it, oh well, I met God through it!
3. Not the Proverbs. Some people include the proverbs in this reading system but I don’t. I am sure the Proverbs are helpful but I struggle to read five psalms and the proverbs overwhelm me in minutia. If you love the proverbs then go for it, but they are intended for advice. My primary goal for our church right now is to worship God throughout the day, not be people who know what to do with their money or with fools.
I don’t do well at pouring my heart out before God, but now I have 150 prayers that can do that for me. I'm not a real chatty person but now I know exactly what to say. This really has changed my life, even though there have been long seasons where I have set it aside. I am coming off one of those seasons and, as I climb back into the psalter, I want to take as many people with me as possible. I hope you will consider trying this too.