Praying with the Psalms
I have been studying the Psalms over the last several months and have found them to be great sources of joy and comfort, as they explore the heights and depths of human emotion and model how to turn toward God in any situation. The Psalms teach us how to pray with openness and honesty. Not only that, they help us hear God and see ourselves as part of a larger community of believers.
The Psalms are prayers in themselves. Like hymns and contemporary worship songs, the Psalms can give us words when we don’t know what to say. Through the Psalms, we can have deeply personal conversations with God, even when our thoughts don’t seem particularly “godly.” While some Psalms are filled with shouts of praise and adoration of our powerful God, others are full of anger, fear, and even despair. The Psalms teach us to come to God in prayer no matter what – even when we doubt God’s presence, love, or goodness.
Psalm 44:23-24 says, “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” We may be tempted to try to squash our doubts and will ourselves to trust God. But the Psalms of lament, like this one, show us that honesty in our relationship with God is far more important than constant “faith.” Paradoxically, we show greater faith when we are willing to share our doubts and imperfections with God, trusting that God will not reject us. Psalm 55:17 reminds us, “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” God hears us when we pray with honesty and truth.
For some, bringing complaints and worry to God may be challenging. For others, it may be more difficult to remember to thank God for the good things we have received. The Psalms give us example after example of praise and worship. Even many of the Psalms of lament include a verse or two of praise. For those of us who find it difficult to give voice to our thankfulness, praying through the Psalms of praise may be helpful. See Psalms 145-150 for great examples of Psalms of praise.
It is a tremendous gift to be able to speak to the Lord through the Psalms, but it is not one-way communication; God speaks to us, as well! As with all forms of prayer, it is vital that we take time not only to talk, but to listen. For visual learners (with overactive brains) like me, the Scriptures can be particularly helpful in hearing God. Seeing the words on the page makes it easier to stop, listen, and process. Even more, The Holy Spirit works through the Scriptures to help us understand the words God would have us hear.
This is true not only of us as individuals, but as part of the larger community of believers throughout the ages. The Psalms connect us to followers of God from thousands of years ago, from the time of Christ, and even to today! We are not alone in our struggles – or in our joy. We are on a journey that billions have followed, are following, and will follow in the future. When we read passages like Psalm 46:2, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,” we can think of all those who came before us. Just imagine the challenges they faced in times of captivity, famine, illness, loss. There is something powerful and beautiful about joining our voices with theirs, proclaiming God’s power to drive all fear from our hearts in the face of unimaginable trials.
The Psalms provide a beautiful framework for honest conversation with God, in which we are free to speak to Him about our hope, fear, joy, and sadness, being reassured that God hears us. We meditate on the words that God has for us to hear. And we marvel at our deep connection to the larger body of Christ in all times and in all places.
Praise God for the gift of the Psalms as a wonderful tool to help us grow in relationship with Him! “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).
This article was written by Becky Gleason, Children’s Minister.