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Learn to Pray the Psalms

“Lord, teach us to pray,” was the request that prompted Jesus to offer again His most famous and familiar prayer (Luke 11:1). 

Centuries later, many good intentioned pray-ers are still grappling with the same question: How exactly do I pray? Frustrations vary for Christians when it comes to praying. Have you ever felt as though your words bounce off the ceiling, going nowhere? Have you ever felt like you can’t quite seem to find the words to even get started? Have you ever felt as though your prayers are nothing more than lists of things you want from God? Like He is a drive thru where you can pick and choose and order what you’d like? 

Aligning our prayers to the will and worship of God often feels complicated or out of reach. Even people who have been Christ-followers for years, or decades, sometimes still struggle with the discipline of prayer. How do we pray? For what should we pray? 

For centuries, the Book of Psalms has served believers as a guide in meditation and worship. The Psalms have been sung, memorized, meditated upon, preached, and written about. Perhaps no other book in the Bible has played such a central role in Christian worship. This is not surprising since the Psalms invite us to reflect deeply on the love of God, to ponder His nature, to celebrate our redemption and rescue, and to poetically verbalize the triumphs and heartaches of life. The Psalms are a deep well from which we are invited to drink. 

But the Psalms can serve as our guide in one more very important way: by praying them. By using the Psalms as our guide and language in prayer we can orient our minds, hearts, and words to a deeper experience with God.  

Here are three reasons why we as believers should pray the Psalms.

First, the Psalms require worship, thanksgiving, and gratitude to be ever-present in our prayers. The love and goodness of God are on full display throughout the Book of Psalms. God is generous in forgiveness and mercy toward the sinner. He is a refuge for the hurting. He is a healer for the sick. He is a guide for the lost. The Psalms remind us that God is the masterful Creator and the sustainer of life. As we pray the Psalms, our thoughts are God-centered and full of gratitude for who He is and what He is doing. If you feel that your prayers are only about you, praying the Psalms will lift your eyes to God, fostering genuine worship and thanksgiving as you pray. 

Second, we are forced to deal with God as He is and not as we want Him to be. Do your prayers sometimes sound only like a wish list of desires you want God to answer? Or maybe your prayers are little more than griping about how God has acted or questioning why He hasn’t done what you wanted. As believers, we often try to manipulate God with promises of what we will do if He answers our requests. If we aren’t careful our prayers are opportunities to construct and create God into who we want Him to be. Praying the Psalms, however, helps us to pray to God as He is since we are using His words, delivered through His people, to communicate with Him in prayer. 

Third, the Psalms can verbalize feelings, emotions, pains, and triumphs we can’t put into our own words. As we read through the Book of Psalms, we see and experience the full rollercoaster of the highs and lows of life. There is resounding success and victory, but also defeat and fear. We see the heartbreak and shame of a guilty conscience. We see the writers’ loss and grief, which are no strangers in the Psalms. Have you ever had a hard time finding the right words to express those high or low moments to God in your prayer life? Have you ever felt the words you said to God didn’t match what you really wanted to say to God in prayer? When we read, and especially when we pray the Psalms, God graciously provides a language to pray when we can’t verbalize our pain or emotions. The Psalms can be an unmistakably honest and direct way of praying to God when we struggle to find words to express our own feelings. 

So how do we get started praying the Psalms? Here are a few suggestions:  

Pray one Psalm every day for the next month. Don’t complicate the process. Simply pick one Psalm a day and pray through it. Set a goal to pray a Psalm every day for the next month. 

Linger line by line. Praying the Psalms takes some time. Don’t rush. As you read a psalm, pause at every line or verse to turn it into a prayer to God. You may be prompted to affirm a truth about God. That verse or line may help you express your own feelings, fears, or doubts, or it may cause you to confess a sin. You may want to express thanksgiving to God because you are reminded He is your shield, comfort or refuge. Move slowly through the psalm and pray line by line back to God as you are prompted.   

Pray through questions as you read. As you read, pray through important questions that psalm raises for you. For instance, Psalm 31:14-15 reads, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘you are my God.’ My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.” What kinds of questions does this psalm raise about your own life? The questions may sound like this as you pray Psalm 31, “God, do I really trust you? Are there areas of my life where I don’t trust? What would change if I fully believed ‘my times are in your hands’”?  These are powerful moments in our prayers to have honest communication with God about our own lives. 

Silence is golden. Take your time as you pray the Psalms. Create space line by line or verse by verse to be silent and listen. 

Don’t hide your emotions. The Psalms are full of emotions that range from anguish to overflowing joy. The despair of Psalm 55:4-5 is striking, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.” These are deep, real emotions of fear and worry. Many of us struggle to express such honest emotions to God in our prayers. Try to not suppress emotions but let the psalm prompt you to pray those feelings honestly to God. Many times, the anguish and despair found in the psalm is soon met with hope and joy. The Psalmist’s despair turns to trust in Psalm 55:22, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” Praying the Psalms can give language to your emotions to verbalize your feelings to God. 

Here is my challenge for you: over the next 30 days, pray one psalm every day. Taking the time to pray intentionally and slowly through a psalm will align your prayers with God’s Word. For these next 30 days, you will be giving yourself a journey in prayer that you may never have experienced before; one that deepens and sweetens your relationship with God. 

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by Michael Gunnin, Walk Thru the Bible’s Chief Growth Officer.

This month, we are reading through the Book of Psalms. Go here for more Psalms Challenge resources, such as a free e-devotional, a daily Bible reading schedule, and free Psalms study tools.