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How To Pray the Psalms

January 23, 2018 15 Comments

How To Pray the Psalms

Context matters in the Bible. When we read a single verse without understanding what came before and what comes after, we can seriously misunderstand what God says in his word. There’s a fantastic comic from Sacred Sandwich, that illustrates how funny this can be. A man is working hard to open a jar. Sweating, he shouts, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” His wife replies, “It’s a pickle jar...Twist the lid, not the scriptures.”

When we pray the Psalms, some might expect the context to work against us. The Psalms were not written by Christians, but they were written by Jews. They worshipped in the temple. They brought sacrifices to the altar of God. They ate kosher and worshipped in the way of the Old Covenant. The Psalms, then, were written for a different people at a different time for a different purpose than we would use them.

You can see this especially when the Psalms refer to God’s promises to the city of Jerusalem or to the nation of Israel. In Psalm 46, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.” The city is Jerusalem. The river makes a city glad, because it prevents a city dying of thirst when an enemy attacks. This passage points to God’s promise to protect Jerusalem. The context points us to a different time and a different set of promises than what Christians have.

But that should not prevent Christians from using the Psalms as their own prayers any more than it should prevent us from understanding God’s actions toward us through the events and prophecies of the Old Testament. We can use them as our own stories and our own prayers.

The Key Is Jesus Christ

The key to understanding the whole Bible is Jesus Christ. His birth, life, death, and resurrection drive us to view the Old Testament in a different light than the authors would have. He is both the fulfillment of the promises that God gave Israel and the one who brings those promises to the church.

The Apostle Paul describes this relationship best when he writes to Christian churches who are filled with Jews to show how Jesus is a continuation of the faith of the Old Testament. In 2 Corinthians 1:20, Paul writes, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” Everything that God promised Israel comes true in Christ.

In Galatians 3, Paul describes how the church is Israel, because we are one with Christ. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” The promise that God gave Abraham in Genesis 12 comes true through Christ in the church.

When You Pray The Psalms

That means that we can pray the Psalms just as they are written, but we interpret them in light of Jesus Christ. In many ways, we can do that by switching out Old Testament words with New Testament ones.

  • When we read “Israel” you can substitute “the church,” because we are Israel through Christ
  • When we pray about Jerusalem, we know that the Psalmist sees the city as a representation of all of Israel. So, we can read, “the church.”

In other places, we have to take the promises of God to the nation-state of Israel and make them cosmic instead of local. Here’s an example: Christians interpret the Exodus from Egypt in the light of Christ by making it about more than freedom from slavery under Pharaoh. We understand that the sacrifice of the passover lamb points us to the sacrifice of Jesus. The passover is not just a momentary passing over of the angel of death. It is now universal, because Christ’s passover sacrifice destroys the power of death that held us captive in slavery.

In the Psalms, then, we regularly see the Psalmists calling on God to deliver them from human enemies, whether individuals or other nations. We can interpret that call in the light of our cosmic enemies, death, Satan, and sin. We call on God to protect us from these greatest of evils.

Gloria Patri Or Glory Be to The Father

One of the ways the church taught it’s people to read the Psalms in light of Christ was by adding a Trinitarian doxology to the end of each Psalm. It’s often called “The Gloria Patri,” in reference to the first two words in the Latin version. English hymnals typically use one of two forms:

“Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and will be forever. Amen.”

Some older English hymnals use this version:

“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.”

Some Practical Tips

Here are just a few tips for making the Psalms a part of your regular prayer life:

  • Consider beginning your own daily prayers with a prayer from the Psalms
  • Set aside a time each day for regular prayer with the Psalms
  • Memorizing Psalms can make praying them feel more like a prayer and less like reading a shopping list
  • Pray through them slowly. Just as you would not want to rush a prayer, do not rush through a Psalm. Let the words sink into your heart as your pray them to God.
  • Consider using a guide, such as Reading the Psalms with Luther , that will help you understand what you’re praying

Like any habit, praying the Psalms takes time and practice. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you miss some time or forget, keep going on the next day. After some practice, praying the Psalms will become a natural part of your prayer life, and you will join your prayers with those of the faithful who have prayed these passages for millennia.

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15 Responses

Theofore Hunt (storm of God)
Theofore Hunt (storm of God)

September 20, 2018

love this blog. Very informative and enlightening. I am always looking for more in the scriptures. This really helpps. as for me being storm? when satan comes in like storm I go aftter him like a storm with the power of Daddy (God) Jesus and the Holy Spirit within me. all I can learn of God’s word the better prepared I can be to be a better servant of Christ and a better warrior against the forces of darkness. Thank you for this. Always looking for more of this type of information and insperation.

Nancy LeMaster
Nancy LeMaster

September 20, 2018

Thank you all so much, and God bless you all for all you do and offer to us!!

Yolanda Cruz
Yolanda Cruz

February 21, 2019

To be honest i don’t really don’t know how to pray can you help me to pray i really want to learn THANK YOU YOLANDA

Patti Mixdorf
Patti Mixdorf

July 01, 2018

Nice article, except that, at the end of the “Church Age”, God reverts back to Israel again. The church has not replaced Israel, that is called “replacement theology”. Thank you.

Irma Buckles
Irma Buckles

April 19, 2018

Since I lost my Middle Son, TroyDale,I kinda don’t know where I stand .But I find myself constantly hanging on to the words of GOD.But it’s really hard .

Doris Howell
Doris Howell

April 19, 2018

I love this so much, would like more of them. God bless you guys.

Roberta Gavin
Roberta Gavin

February 19, 2018

I have given up Facebook for Lent. The first time I did it it was hard. Last year I failed and started back in about 2 weeks. I am doing better this year and now that I have found your blog it’s helping me stay more focused on Christ.Thank you.

Susan Snow
Susan Snow

February 16, 2018

I thought I understood everything about the first commandment but after reading your enlightening blog, I have the desire to read it over and over again. This blog has not only helped me but now, I have what I need to help others. Thank you for one of the finest gifts I’ve ever received.

BETTY HICKSON
BETTY HICKSON

February 09, 2018

Thank you so much for the topic on Psalms. I certainly learned a great deal on this. Our Heavenly Father, and Our Lord Jesus Christ never ceases to amaze me how he uses different sources, people, etc., to bring clarity to so many different things, scriptures, etc. Thank you again, and praise and glory be to our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.

Beulah. Hilton
Beulah. Hilton

February 08, 2018

Again Awesome Reading. Blessings.

Carol McCarty
Carol McCarty

January 31, 2018

I have always had difficulties in understanding and relating to the Psalms.
Thus, would skip through or ignore them entirely.
Thank you for providing some enlightenment. Very welcome! Will there be more?

Melba Worley
Melba Worley

January 31, 2018

Wonderful article, thanks for sharing.

Sharon Rader
Sharon Rader

January 31, 2018

Great blog this will be a big help in my prayers

Lin
Lin

January 31, 2018

I truly LOVE this.
Thank you my God & Jesus

Phyllis Hendrix
Phyllis Hendrix

January 31, 2018

I have ordered several things through your company and I’ve always been well satisfied. You have some beautiful items and I’ve always been treated with respect and kindness, and that means alot to me.
I hope your around a long time, because I have other items I still want to order.

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