PRAYING THE PSALMS

Praying the word – The Psalms

What a fabulous subject to talk about! We are going to have a look at praying The Psalms – God’s hymn book, and how to use their endlessly rich treasures to enliven, invigorate, stimulate and – dare I say – transform our prayer life.

In order to understand how fundamental this source material is to our whole Spiritual walk, our church life and our praise and worship we need to have a look at what the Psalms are. We will also touch on the type and structure of the book (books), the different type of Psalms and how we can use them to pray.

If we understand the role of the Psalms in our prayer life – truly understand it – we will stand tall as the beautiful bride of Christ, fully confident in the hope we profess. Just as a taster for what is to follow, here are what I think are some helpful quotes from past Godly saints, saints who came to an understanding by the Holy Spirit why the Psalms are so important and useful:

The more deeply we grow into the psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayer become.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It has been said by church historians that in those periods of Christian history where renewal, revival, and awakening took place and the church was at its strongest, that coincidental with those periods in church history, there was a strong focus on the psalms in the life of God’s people–particularly in the worship of God’s people.”
― R.C. Sproul

The psalms, like no other literature, lift us to a position where we can commune with God, capturing a sense of the greatness of his kingdom and a sense of what living with him for eternity will be like.”
― Gordon Fee

In the psalms, we have a collection of 150 prayers that were inspired originally by the Holy Ghost. If you want to know how God is pleased and honoured in prayer, why not immerse yourself in the prayers that he himself has inspired?”
―R.C. Sproul

What are the Psalms?

Historical context

We clearly see from the structure of the book of Psalms that it is a collection of poetry and/or songs which have been compiled from various writers and sources (the actual compilation was likely to have been post exile (1st temple period), but the writings would have certainly existed both orally and in written form prior to this). It is important to note that the Psalms cover at least 900 years of the history of the Jewish people as evidenced by the historical references and recollections of actual events. Pretty much all of these can be cross-referenced elsewhere in scripture; and that is without mentioning the fulfilled Prophetic events which have been documented in the New Testament.

It is thought that this collection of ‘writings’ was put into the form we know now in the third Century BC. As such it served as the prayer book for the Second Temple and for use in the synagogues, and they have been used in Jewish worship ever since. The Psalms are the cornerstone of Judeo-Christian worship.

Structure

Let’s have a look at the meaning of the word ‘Psalms’ as it gives us a clue as to their purpose and their importance:

HEBREW: Tehillim, “praises”

GREEK WORD: psalmoi, meaning “instrumental music” and, by extension, “the words accompanying the music.”

Nearly half of the 150 Psalms are attributed to King David. We know from scripture David was a musician, (1 Samuel 16 has him soothing the troubled King Saul with the melody of his harp) and a prolific songwriter. In addition to the many Psalms, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls attributes 3600 tehilim (songs of praise) plus other compositions to him.

Other Psalms are attributed to Asaph (12), Sons of Korah (11), Solomon (2), Moses (1). Many more have no author attributed to them.

The book is subdivided into five ‘books’ and each book finished with a doxology

(a hymn or form of words containing an ascription of praise to God).

  • Book 1 (Psalms 1–41)
  • Book 2 (Psalms 42–72)
  • Book 3 (Psalms 73–89)
  • Book 4 (Psalms 90–106)
  • Book 5 (Psalms 107–150

Many psalms are clearly written as songs with music as over a third have superscriptions (secondary titles) that provide musical direction. For example:

Psalm 80: To the chief Musician upon Shoshann-im-Eduth, A Psalm of Asaph

Psalm 49: To the chief Musician. A Psalm for the Sons of Korah

Psalm 19: To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David

Types of Psalms

We can categorise the Psalms to some extent, and some clearly have a distinct purpose for their existence. So we are going to have a look at some of the major categories with some examples. This will give us some insight on how to use the Psalms in our praying. However, what has stuck me as I have prepared this talk tonight that is there are elements of multiple categories in most of the Psalms.

Now these categories are not exhaustive, and I would need a series of talks to cover this subject properly, but I have somewhat crudely divided the Psalms into these categories:

Praise & declaration

Worship

Petition

Prophetic / Messianic

Special occasions

And then two very interesting categories as far as prayer is concerned:

Repentance

Lament

Now, as I said – many Psalms could fall into more than one category, but we’ll go ahead and have a look at some examples…….

Praise & declaration

This is the fundamental purpose of the Psalms of course and with the exception of a very few examples (which we will come on to look at), praise and the declaration of who God is impregnates the entirety of the wirtings – even those that have a note of despair and petition. Here are SO many praise & declaration Psalms, but some of the purest are Psalms 47, 98 and 150.

Lets look at Psalm 47:

Psalm 47

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.

1 Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph!
2 For the Lord Most High is awesome;
He is a great King over all the earth.
3 He will subdue the peoples under us,
And the nations under our feet.
4 He will choose our inheritance for us,
The excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah

5 God has gone up with a shout,
The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
7 For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with understanding.

8 God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne.
9 The princes of the people have gathered together,
The people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is greatly exalted.

Psalm 47: (NKJV)

Worship

The Psalms have set the pattern for worship in the Christian church over the centuries, and as we have already learned are a central part of Synagogue life for the Jewish people. Some traditional Puritan / Protestant congregations (to this day) ONLY sing the metrical Psalms. I saw a service on BBC ALBA a few months ago in a Gaelic speaking Scottish Islands church. The worship to our ears would be a dirge like drone through the Psalms! – BUT – this was a Spirit filled Church as evidenced by their heartfelt worship and an amazing sermon. I mention this because…..

Many of our modern worship songs (the best ones in my opinion) are grounded in the Psalms. For the older among us – remember ‘Scripture in song’? Just the words of Psalms and scripture set to music just like the ultra-traditional Scottish church I mentioned. The Psalms unify very different worship streams into one unified body!!

Lets looks at Psalm 95 as a pattern for worship:

1 O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.

2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.

3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

4 In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also.

5 The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land.

6 O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.

7 For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,

8 Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:

9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.

10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:

11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.

Psalm 95: (KJV)

v1 Praise

v2 Come into His presence with thanksgiving

v3 Declaration of who God is

v4-5 Declaration of what God has done

v6 Worship

v7 We are His people

v8-9 Be reconciled

v8-10 Be obedient

The NKJV version of the Bible entitles this Psalm ‘a call to worship and obedience’. Sums it up pretty well. Isn’t that what we are called to as the body of Christ? I would be going off topic if I unpacked this any more but there is a lot in there we can learn!

Singing and praying the Psalms therefore ensures our patterns for praise, worship and prayer are grounded in the principles of scripture. Without this resource to keep us in line we could go off in all crazy directions….. unfortunately some churches and ministries have, but not here!!

Lets briefly look at another couple of important categories before we start looking at how to use the Psalm as a rich prayer resource:

History and Prophecy

The Psalms are constantly looking back to historical events, both good AND bad and use them as a teaching lesson and a reminder of the moving of God’s hand in the course of history. Let read Psalm 114:

1 When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;

2 Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion.

3 The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back.

4 The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.

5 What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?

6 Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs?

7 Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;

8 Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.

Psalm 114: (KJV)

This is of course looking back at the monumental events of the Exodus from Egypt. It’s purpose? To remind us of the Awesome intervention of God. What a powerful device in prayer! To be reminded that the same God of yesterday is the God of today and of tomorrow!!

Talking of tomorrow, the Psalms contain Prophetic signs and signals. They clearly signal the coming of the messiah, the so- called Messianic Psalms; not just foretelling His existence, but also His death and His Kingdom reign:

Psalm 22 – I won’t read it now, but that is the clearest prophetic / Messianic Psalm and describes his crucifixion.

Psalm 110 – Describes the Kingdom reign of the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus

and so it goes on…..

The final categories are very relevant as we think about how to pray the Psalms as these are Psalms that include at their core PRAYER.

Petition, repentance and Lament

The Psalm are full of prayers, personal heartfelt prayers, sometimes downright uncomfortable prayers and pleadings before Almighty God. There are agonising cries for help, for deliverance, for the Hand of our Lord to be moved. There are yearnings and longings for His presence His intervention….. and it goes on.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means but Psalms 4,10,13,17,25,42,70, 130, 143 are all prayers of petition for example. Look at the language used here in Psalm 4:

For the choir director; with stringed instruments; a psalm by David.

1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness. You have freed me from my troubles.
Have pity on me, and hear my prayer!

2You important people, how long are you going to insult my honour?
How long are you going to love what is empty and seek what is a lie? Selah
3 Know that the Lord singles out godly people for himself. The Lord hears me when I call to him.
4 Tremble and do not sin. Think about this on your bed and remain quiet. Selah
5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness by trusting the Lord.

6 Many are saying, “Who can show us anything good?” Let the light of your presence shine on us, O Lord.
7 You put more joy in my heart than when their grain and new wine increase.
8 I fall asleep in peace the moment I lie down because you alone, O Lord, enable me to live securely.

Psalm 4: (God’s Word Translation)

Pretty passionate and heartfelt! The Psalmists are not timid before God – and this should give us confidence to pray in a similar way.

 

 

 

Repentance too is common thread in the Psalms. What is interesting is that personal repentance is expressed, but IT IS ALSO CORPORATE. There are pleas before Almighty God for sins of the nation of Israel. We too must be prepared (as Sue Sinclair so powerfully testified the weekend) to offer prayers of corporate repentance. By far the most obvious example of a penitential Psalm (in this instance personal repentance) is Psalm 51. Just a snippit:

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 51:1-2 (NKJV)

Finally, and we’ll get into applying this knowledge in just a moment I need to cover the category of Lament, because it is misunderstood and rarely is given a place in the Christian church. To lament is to “to express sorrow, regret, or unhappiness about something”

Is that ‘having a whine’ at God? No, not a whine, but it is BEING REAL BEFORE GOD ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT SOMETHING. We don’t have time to read in detail but in your own time read Psalm 79 – entitled in the NKJV of the Bible as ‘A dirge and prayer for Israel, destroyed by enemies’.

 

Here the Psalmist laments Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. He prays for the nations spiritual needs, curses their enemies (that sits uncomfortably with us today doesn’t it?) and prises God’s anticipated actions. This psalm helps the believer express his anguish in a situation where God does not seem present.” (MacArthur Student Bible – notes)

How to we use the Psalms to pray?

Use the exact words

Just reading our the words of the Psalms has power – after all it is God’s word!!

This is especially applicable when it comes to praise and worship. These Holy Spirit inspired writings have been brought before our dear Lord countless times over the generations and I can guarantee you he does not tire hearing them!

As we discovered when I spoke about the power of praise a few weeks ago, praise, worship and prayer are all about the heart attitude and using pre-written words are a good way to express ourselves; especially when we do it with God’s unadorned and unadulterated powerful word.

Use the exact words but contextualise and personalise them

Here’s another idea; use the framework of a Psalm for your own personal prayer by adapting it to your own circumstances: Here’s a great example using a famous Psalm, 23:

Lord you are my shepherd, I do not want for anything.

You make me lie down in green pastures, you lead me besides still waters.

You restore my soul, you lead me in the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake……. Etc.

Use the themes

As we have seen Psalms fall into categories, and many Psalms cover multiple themes in one Psalm. So for example Ps:116,

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

3 The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”

5 The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
6 The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me.

7 Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

Psalm 116:1-7 (NIV)

Sooo.. we go from thanksgiving, to faithfulness, to deliverance, to petition, to praise and then to petition all in seven verses!!! This is quite an extreme example, but what I mean about praying thematically is using the way a Psalm is constructed as a prayer guide (Praise to petition to praise for example).

Pick out key phrases and themes and expand them

What I mean here is we can use the LANGUAGE of the Psalms to energise our prayers. Actually this is what a lots of modern Christian songwriters do. So for example Psalm 95:1 says Oh come let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our Salvation (NKJV). So your prayer might start:

Lord, I shout joyfully to you for you are the rock of my salvation, you are worthy to hear the joyful cries of my heart and you, my rock I stand…… etc.

This I think is where the terminology and language of the Psalms can be most helpful in our prayer life. If we immerse ourselves in the language of the Psalmists then we are unlocking the power of scripture in our praying

Charles Spurgeon, in his preface to The Treasury of David writes “The delightful study of the Psalms has yielded me boundless profit and ever-growing pleasure; common gratitude constrains me to communicate to others a portion of the benefit, with the prayer that it may induce them to search further for themselves.

Sing them as praise, petition and lament

Finally we are not so much talking about sung worship as prayer tonight, but given the Psalms are a book of songs, it would be remiss to mention the power that is found in singing the Psalms. We have already touched on in my earlier talk this and I do not feel the need to further expand on this here – but there is real power is singing the Psalms in all it’s forms.

And finally…….. I want to give you a guarantee; if you employ some of the teaching we have heard tonight and apply it to our prayer life it WILL be enriched, it WILL be empowered, it WILL be invigorated and it WILL transform our lives, the life of our church and the life of others.

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continual worship

Psalm 34 vs 1

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Psalm 146 vs 1-2

Praise the Lord.

Praise the, O my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life,

I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

The Bible is full of praise to the Lord. And it’s not just the 2 hours we manage on a Sunday morning. Its more than trying to do the right thing in church, it’s an attitude of life. It comes from our hearts. The Psalms tell us to praise with everything, and at all times. It is constant.

Psalm 145 is a whole song of us recognising and worshipping God because we can see how He is full of love and what >He has done for us through the giving of His most treasured Son. We can trust God and know His love will never fail. Doesn’t that make us want to praise at all times? How hard are our hearts when we read how much He loves us, created us, cherished us, died for us, defeated death for us.

Praise doesn’t have to be only when we are with other people, only for when we are at church or a meeting. It is something we can do in our private times, the same as our private times of reading the Word and praying.

LaMar Boschman says in his book A heart for worship

“How do you know you are a worshipper? Worshippers spend time in Gods prescence. They like to linger thwere. They are not in a hurry to leave His prescence. They worship often because they delight in Gods prescence and in giving Him honour, reverence and exaltation”.

I want to spend more time just sitting and being in the prescence of God. To feel Him with me and sitting in silence together. That level of intimacy is what  I myself am aiming for. I want to be there, and know its up to me to get there through worship in my life

Captivated

Psalm 113:4-6 says,

“The Lord is high above all nations,

His glory above the heavens.

Who is like the Lord our God,

Who dwells on high

Who humbles Himself to behold

The things that are in heaven and the earth?”

LaMar Boschman says in his book A heart for worship, that he wanted to look for new words to describe the Lord. Words we don’t use normally, that we havn’t repeated so many times we forget how awesome our God is. He found these words, and I think they truly do describe God in new and exciting ways. LaMar uses them before services and shouts the to the Lord as part of his worship.

Lord, You are unrivalled, unparalleled, unequalled and unsurpassed.

You are peerless, matchless, faultless and flawless.

God, you are choice, fine, elite splendid,

marvellous, glorious, fabulous and wondrous.

Phenomenal, sensational, spectacular, majestic, fantastic and terrific is my King.

Your presence is amazing, awe-inspiring, astonishing, outstanding, stirring, stimulating and electrifying.

You are so large, grand, great, immense and massive.

You are magnificent, brilliant, radiant, resplendent and transcendent.

Your Person is superior, superb  and sublime.

I have discovered you to be excellent,  exquisite, exceptional, extraordinary, remarkable, incomparable,

impeccable, irreproachable and unimpeachable.

There is absolutely none like You.

You stand alone.

How good is it to be able to recognise the Living God in all of those words. He does indeed stand alone as the only One worthy of these descriptions. Thank you God.

Psalms are our prayers

Psalms is the only book in the whole Bible that is really written to and for God Himself. All the other 65 books are for our growth, learning and development as well as warnings of what will come and what will happen in the future. Psalms was written mainly by King David and King Solomon, and is the heart of a worshipper. It is psalms of longing and love. It is full of worship and praise of who God is and how Amazing He is.

We can use the Psalms to help us pray in a way we have never done before. We can come to God just to praise and worship Him. We dont have to always bring a list of things to say or ask for. We can just bring our hearts cry. Our longing to be with Him. To know Him more.

The Psalms are not always nice, tidy or lovely prayers. They hold cries of pain, anguish and a down spirit. They hold awesome joy and laughter. They can be cries of worship and adoration. They can be bereaved or grieving screams.

At the beginning of each Psalm, there is a title, “of David”, or “of Solomon”. These prayers can be changed to “of Peter”, “of Stephen”. They are our prayers as well. I know I can relate to many of the Psalms at different points of my life. I know a lot of us probably can.

Read the Psalms with a praying and open heart, and see how they become your very own prayers. Who knows where it may lead us.

Praise at all times

Psalm 150 is a psalm full of praise to the Lord. David was probably looking at this as something personal. It was a normal way of living to praise his God in all circumstances.
We are not asked here to praise God, but it is a commandment to praise. We are told to praise God in whatever we are doing and wherever we are. It is kind of expected for us to be doing this anyway, as it was for David and his son Solomon early in his rule of Israel.
David didnt care if his praise was loud or full of instruments or even if it was just him on his own singing and worshipping his Lord. As long as he was praising he was happy. As long as he had breath he worshipped. He wanted to praise his friend and Lord, so why dont we? Do we want to worship our Maker, our friend, our God? if not, then why not?

My Guide

When we look to Jesus and keep our eyes fixed on Him, we never lose our way or our bearings. He is our guiding light and guiding star in all the darkness of the world and our lives. He shines bright in the murkiness, showing us the right way to go. The safe and straight small lane to eternity with Him.

As we look back over our lives and especially over this last year, we can see how His hand has been on us, our lives and our actions. We can see where the decision we have made has led on to amazing things. The right person to talk to at the correct time. The phone call that has encouraged at the exact time and place we needed. We can see how He has shaped events or our reactions to those events. It gives us an idea of how to live in the future. Looking back and seeing His hand guiding us can help us to nurture thankful hearts.

We need to discipline ourselves to be thankful. Its not an easy in a world that is based on Self and self motivation way of life. Learn to “count your blessings”. At the beginning we may seem childlike or unsure of how to start to be thankful. Start small, and practice. God will honour any attempt even for the small things. Its not something most of us are taught to do. Keep being thankful as much as you can. Nurture it and help yourself grow into new depths with our Lord.

Psalm 100

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!

Worship the Lord with gladness.

Come before Him, singing with joy.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God!

He made us, and we are His.

We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving;

go into His courts with praise.

Give thanks to Him and praise His name.

For the Lord is good.

His unfailing love continues forever,

and His faithfulness continues to each generation.

God hurts too

Psalm 51 vs 4 says “Against you, you alone have I sinned.”

Its hard to imagine sometimes that when we do something wrong, God hurts. We may feel that we have to defend our actions, we may be aggressive, we may be sorry, but how often do we say sorry to God for the hurt we cause Him? We may hurt others by our actions or by our words, or in some cases lack of action. Yes we hurt the other person or people, but God is hurting even more. How often are we more concerned with straightening things out with the other person, trying really hard to get back in their good books. How about we straighten things out in a spiritual sense first? We never know, but it may be easier to sort things out with the people concerned.

Does it affect us that our Lord God can be so hurt? My God is full of emotion which we can see right through the Bible. Can we learn to see things in Gods perspective? Can we learn to improve our spiritual reflexes to understand the hurts we put on Him, and when we need to get on our knees first before running to others to get them to “like” us again?

God is “slow to anger and abounding in love”. Thats for us, every day, every minute, no matter what we do. We can hurt Him over and over, but He will never stop loving us. We are made in His image. He set us apart for Himself. Is it any wonder then that we wound Him?

Maybe its time to let God shine His torch into our hearts and let us see the things we hold on to, the things that are wounding us and we won’t let go of. Let His light shine right through all the dark places in us, showing us the things we are ashamed of, so He can clean us out and let us feel new again. Spring clean the dirty, dark, horrible bits.