1. Say Them Out Loud. Just read the Psalms slowly and thoughtfully, assenting to what they say with as much understanding as you have, intellectually and emotionally. Don't just read them, pray them; say them from the heart. The Psalms contain both the Word God has to say to us about prayer and the words he wants us to say to him in prayer. "This is pure grace," exclaimed Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "that God tells us how we can speak with him and have fellowship with him."
2. Festoon Them. Think of a psalm as a Christmas tree. Read it and then festoon it with your own prayers, as you would decorate a tree. Your prayers are answers to what God says to you in the psalm. One way to understand a psalm's intent is to read it through the lens of the "three Rs": Rejoice: What do I find here that gives me cause to rejoice, to give praise and thanks? Repent: What do I read here that brings to light sin in my life? Request: What in this psalm can inform the way I pray for others and myself?
3. Paraphrase Them. Meditate on and study a psalm until you understand it well enough to put it into your own words. Then paraphrase the psalm as you have come to understand it, and pray your paraphrase. No one need read or hear what you have written but you and the Lord, who delights in the prayers of his people.
4. Learn Them by Heart. Memorize the Psalms—but not by rote. Rather, learn them by heart; make their words your words. Come to understand them so well you can recite them—by inflection and tone—as though you had written them yourself. This is by far the best way I know to learn to pray the Psalms. I can think of no more powerful way to allow the Word of God to change who you are and how you think. Over the years, the prayers of the Psalms have offered incomparable comfort and clarity in desperate, murky, and confusing situations, when I didn't have a worthwhile word of my own to say—when I quite literally didn't have a prayer.
5. Marinate in Them. Some people use the Bible like they use spice to liven up the taste of food—a little Tabasco here, some salt and pepper and oregano there; a particular psalm to read when you are (check one) sad or glad or afraid or lonely or struggling with doubt. But it's better to use the Psalms as you would a marinade. A spice touches only the surface of the food; a marinade changes its character. The soul should marinate in Scripture by repeated, thoughtful, slow, comprehensive, and Spirit-enlightened reading.
— Abridged from God's Prayer Book by Ben Patterson.
Copyright © 2008 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
This sidebar was published with "Schooled by the Psalms."
Previous Christianity Today reviews of books on prayer and the Psalms include:
Praying the Psalms | James Sire teaches us to Pray Through the Psalms. (January 30, 2007)
When You're Sick of Prayer | Two books that make a delightful difference. (December 21, 2006)
Devotions on the Run | Help for going short and deep. (May 19, 1997)
CT also has a slideshow of hymnals found across the world.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.