Devotional Thoughts on the Psalms
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Happy is the man who has not followed the counsel of the wicked,
or taken the path of sinners,
or joined the company of the indolent;
rather, the teaching of the Lord is his delight,
and he studies that teaching day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season,
whose foliage never fades,
and whatever it produces thrives.
- Psalm 1:1-3, Tanakh (JPS)
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The Book of Psalms, a five-fold collection of worship songs, has been transformed by its introductory psalm into a book of torah (God’s instruction). Though it is always appropriate that God’s people sing the psalms, their primary use, according to Psalm 1, is that we study them day and night.
The word “study” in verse 2 is often translated “meditate.” The word means to “murmur,” to “recite,” to “speak to oneself” repetitiously. When I was in college and seminary, learning Biblical languages by memorizing vocabulary and various forms and principles of grammar and syntax, I would use memory cards. I would pace for hours at a time, working through those cards, speaking aloud what was written on them, repeating them over and over again in rhythmic patterns as I attempted to carve grooves in my brain that I could recall on the exercises and tests our professor gave us.
The Book of Psalms was compiled and edited to encourage this kind of meditative reading. The individual texts have been arranged into groupings that share common words and themes. As we read through the book from psalm to psalm, we hear these shared thoughts over and over again and it prompts contemplation.
One traditional Christian practice of Bible reading is known as Lectio Divina. This ancient practice follows four steps:
- Lectio—hearing the Scriptures
- Meditatio—ruminating on the Scriptures
- Oratio—praying, having conversation with God through the Scriptures
- Contemplatio—letting the Scriptures lead us into the love of God
Psalm 1 encourages us to let this kind of conversational relationship with God form us as people. The alternative (vs. 1) is that we may find ourselves accepting and being conformed to other voices — voices that lead us along unhealthy and unwise paths, that harden rather than soften our hearts, that put us in the center of the universe rather than the One who created and redeemed us.
The Lord knows us (see vs. 6), which means he understands what is good for us and oversees our lives in such a way that his goodness and mercy follow us each day (Psalm 23:6). In the Book of Psalms, the first psalm says, God has given us a resource by which we may know him better through having regular contemplative and prayerful conversations with him.
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For further reading: Meditating on Scripture