Confession time. I used to not like to read the Psalms. I just didn’t get them. Give me some history like the book of Acts or the book of Genesis. Give me the story of Jesus found in the Gospels. Give me doctrine to wrestle with in Paul’s letters to churches like Ephesians and Romans. Even give me apocalyptical literature like Revelation or Daniel.
But the Psalms! Poetry. Long lines of verse. That just did not connect with me.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1
What we call the book of Psalms is a collection of lyrics for worship songs. These are the songs that the people of Israel sang to worship God. We have 150 psalms in our Bibles. King David wrote seventy three psalms. The shepherd who became king. David was also a musician. This man, after God’s own heart, loved to sing. He loved to sing to God.
The rest of the Psalms were written by other God followers, some famous like Moses, and others we have no idea who they were, like Asaph.
“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” Psalm 94:18-19
The collection of Psalms is organized into five books.
The main literary themes of the Psalms can be summarized as:
- Hymns in praise of God’s character and deeds,
- Community laments coming from national disaster that was a result of national sin,
- Royal psalms, originating in some special occasion in the life of the reigning king,
- Personal laments – crying out to God in the midst of pain and suffering, and
- Personal thanksgivings.
“I will be careful to lead a blameless life, when will you come to me?” Psalm 101:2
So I have taken to reading 30 psalms (one a day for a month) between my reading of other bible books. This is what I have discovered:
1. The Psalms are more about the heart than they are about the head.
Sure, there are many things to learn about God, ourselves, and life in The Psalms. They are theology rich. But the psalms were intended to speak to the heart. I am learning to be more heart aware, to be more heart strong than headstrong. Working through the psalms has helped me grow in my heart strength.
2. Pay attention to the little notes attached to the psalm.
There are some things that are said about the psalm that gives you a clue as to the purpose of the psalm. There are some things that we have to guess about – like the word “sela” which is some type of musical term that we have no real clue as to its meaning. Some psalms will tell you who the author was which may help set the occasion as to why the psalm was written. Like Psalm 51, which says, “A psalm of David. When Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” Some of the psalms will have a note about when it is meant to be sung. Like the psalms of ascents. These were songs to be sung when pilgrims made their way up (ascending) to worship God in the temple in Jerusalem. These notes all help in setting the context of the psalm in order to help understand the purpose of the psalm.
3. Remember it is poetry.
Poetry is the use of figurative language to make a point. Figurative language means metaphor, simile, hyperbole, and alliteration. That means be careful not to take things literally but instead look to feel the emotion the imagery invokes. Joy. Depression. Hope. Anger. Love. Confusion. Faith. Let the lyrics speak to the heart. Don’t be too quick to get through the reading; instead, listen with your heart. I think that is why it is good to read the Psalms aloud.
4. Go slow…
Working through the Psalms exercises my “ponder muscles.” I am Didi-the-speedy. I want to go, go, go. I am moving on to the next thing before I have had a chance to complete the first thing. Working through the psalms forces me to slow down. It forces me to listen more. It forces me to take deep breaths and let the beauty of the words come to life. Those few minutes in the morning when I work through the psalms have been oxygen to my soul. God has captured my attention while He works on my heart.
Read the Psalms. It takes work. Heart work is hard work. But I can tell you that it is worth it.
“Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.” Psalm 105:4