Praying Through the Psalms
The Psalms teach us how to approach God.
Monday, July 3, 2017
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Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever, for your love for me is very great. You have rescued me from the depths of death. — Psalm 86:11-13
If you've [followed my Daily Reflections on TheologyofWork.org] for a while, you know that my pattern is to focus on some particular book of the Bible during the week, with weekend reflections based on the Psalms.
I thought it might be helpful for me to explain why I focus on the Psalms each weekend. There are many reasons. In part, I am imitating a centuries-old Christian tradition of regular prayer based on the Psalms. In part, I'm sharing with you my own personal discipline, started about twelve years ago, of praying through the Psalms on a regular basis. But, one of the main reasons for focusing on the Psalms is that they can teach us to pray more truly, authentically, and honestly. As the sixteenth-century theologian John Calvin wrote in his commentaries on the Psalms, "A better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise [of calling upon God in prayer] cannot be found elsewhere than in the Psalms … whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God is taught us in this book."
The Psalms do indeed teach us God's ways, so that we might live according to his truth. The Psalms help us to become pure in heart, so that we might honor God. The Psalms teach us to praise God and to glorify his name forever. They consistently remind us of God's great love for us, so that we might live our whole lives in response to God's grace.
Decades ago, the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave a series of talks on the Psalms. These were later collected in a book that is called, in English, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. In this small volume, Bonhoeffer says, "Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power." By regularly allowing the Psalms to guide our prayers, we are keeping this incomparable treasure from being lost. Moreover, we are opening ourselves to an experience of God's unsuspected power as he teaches us to pray with thoughtful minds and open hearts.
Mark D. Roberts is the author of several books including Can We Trust the Gospels? His article is adapted with permission from the original article "Why the Psalms?" at TheologyofWork.org. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures quoted are taken from the New Living Translation.
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