December 15, 2017

Another Look: The Essential Practice of Praying the Psalms

The Essential Practice of Praying the Psalms

It seems to me that there are some essential practices that attend our faith as Christians.

By saying that, I do not wish to imply, or get into an argument about, whether they are obligatory or not. In some senses I think they are, and in others not. All I’m saying is, let’s not get into a fight about: Chaplain Mike says we have to do these things to be Christians, or good Christians. Can we please just skip the whole grace vs. demand/faith vs. works debate this time around?

I use the word essential because I find that these practices signify something of the essence of following Jesus. They go to the heart of “walking in newness of life.” They are also time-tested practices that have found an honored place in the history of God’s people. They haven’t traditionally been emphasized within the revivalistic, doctrinaire evangelicalism I was in most of my adult life. Thankfully, some evangelicals have begun to speak more about them now, but not before a whole flock of us left to find these practices available and organically integrated in more historic expressions of the faith.

One essential practice I’d like to talk about is praying the Psalms.

The Church indeed likes what is old, not because it is old but rather because it is “young.” In the Psalms, we drink divine praise at its pure and stainless source, in all its primitive sincerity and perfection. We return to the youthful strength and directness with which the ancient psalmists voiced their adoration of the God of Israel. Their adoration was intensified by the ineffable accents of new discovery: for the Psalms are the songs of men who knew who God was. If we are to pray well, we too must discover the Lord to whom we speak, and if we use the Psalms in our prayer we will stand a better chance of sharing in the discovery which lies hidden in their words for all generations. For God has willed to make Himself known to us in the mystery of the Psalms.

• Thomas Merton
Praying the Psalms

Elsewhere, I have expounded on my understanding of the meaning and significance of the Book of Psalms. Here’s a brief review:

Psalms contains the prayers of the king and the kingdom. Put together in five “books” like the Torah of Moses, the Book of Psalms is the Torah of God’s Messiah. The first part of the book is filled with the psalms of David, the king, whose prayers represent the laments and praises of the ideal King (Messiah), who is introduced to the reader in Psalm 2. The psalms of David expose us to the heart, mind, and spirit of our King. The book also focuses upon the divine promise of restoring God’s divine Kingdom in the world, by which all nations and all creation will be renewed. It is one of the places in the Bible where Jesus and the Kingdom are most apparent. To pray the Psalms is to learn what it means to pray, “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as in heaven.”

Praying the psalms can be as easy as reading them aloud, directing the words toward God. But I think they are even more effective when sung or chanted.

My church hymnal is one resource for which I, as a Lutheran, am grateful, and one of the best parts of our hymnal is that it includes the psalms. All 150 of them are there, with instructions and markings for chanting them. Any individual, group, or church would find great benefit in praying them in this fashion regularly.

I have also discovered a wonderful site called The Seedbed Psalter. This online metrical psalm-book was put together by Dr. Timothy Tennent and Mrs. Julie Tennent from Asbury Seminary. The great feature of this site is that it gives you a variety of hymn tunes to use when singing the psalms. Here is a screen shot of Psalm 1, as it appears there:

Mrs. Tennent has arranged these psalms to fit with many familiar and accessible tunes. For example, the five tunes above are the tunes for (1) Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee, (2) Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, (3) Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, (4) Come, Thou Fount, and (5) Brethren, We Have Met to Worship (from Sacred Harp).

There are excellent indices, and even the ability to download tunes. I encourage you to make use of this fine and edifying resource.

However we go about it, it is an essential part of our faith to pray the Psalms.

Comments

  1. senecagriggs says:

    My conservative Evangelical church has often emphasized praying the Psalms.

    • That’s great, Seneca. My experience was not the same. Anything beyond “spontaneous” prayers was suspect.

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        I suspect a strong Reformed influence in Seneca’s church. The Reformed have always been great psalm-singers and pray-ers.

        Even to the point of one congregation getting into trouble for reading a deprecatory psalm over a civil business partner that defrauded them.

      • Chaplin Mike, One of my favorite books since I was young is the Last of the Mohicans. One of the minor characters is a Psalms singer who traveled though out the wildness (New York). I think his name was David Gamut but he was good contrast to Natty Bumpo. It seems that that was actually their missionary work to sing the Psalms. Certainly in my life the Lords Prayer and the 23 Psalms are the go to prayers with people of different backgrounds. To simple me the prayer is in your heart, God knows, words are what we use to communicate with. Everyone is different. I have heard prayers offered that seemed to be the alpha with no omega, they needed a prayer writer or a watch.

  2. Thank you for this site! For someone who “can’t carry a tune” this will be a great help for me.

  3. In Catholic circles I have prayed the Divine Office also known as Liturgy of the hours which contains a heavy dose of Psalms. It is something that has resonated with me over the years.

    I have also participated in Vespers and have an interest in participating in this in an Eastern Church setting (Byzantine Rite or Orthodox)…..

  4. Anybody have ideas/devotional/practice for Advent?

    Looking for something non evangelical but deep, too.

    Help?

  5. I really enjoyed “Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer” by Eugene Peterson. It might be out of print.

  6. I have long used the psalms as prayers, prayer starters and for meditation. The Psalms have taught me to mourn, lament and be honest with myself as well as how to worship and celebrate and approach my Creator.