I love the Psalms.
When my heart is heavy, when my spirit is light, when I don’t know what in the world God is doing in my life, I turn to the Psalms.
My go-to is Psalm 16. I love everything about it—the train of thought, the complete reliance on God, the confidence that He gives counsel. Certain lines stick out to me depending on what I’m going through, but I love all the language that is used:
Refuge. Delight. Chosen. Beautiful. Secure. Fullness. Joy.
I was an English major in college, so I’m partial to flowery, poetic language. But my accounting, engineering, spreadsheet-loving friends often prefer to read books of the Bible that are more logical, more argument-based. These books serve an incredible purpose, and I love studying them—but when I’m bogged down in the depths of my own sorrow and confusion, or when I’m overcome with joy, I turn to the Psalms because that is where I personally find real comfort, guidance, and rest.
I love the Psalms because they’re real.
Of course the Psalms are real, like they exist. But the Psalms are also real, like they’re totally honest and forthright.
The Psalmists don’t hold back anything from God:
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:2)
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? (Psalm 13:1–2)
Is this how you pray? Maybe not—because these prayers are intimidating. They sound like an angry child yelling at her father. To some, the prayers might seem dramatic, over the top, or inappropriate, even.
We should approach God with reverence, yes, but God doesn’t want us to come to Him with a façade that everything is fine and we’re totally fine, yep, no problems—because He knows when that’s not true.
The Psalms can inspire us to be more honest and authentic in our prayers. I often catch myself saying prayers that are stiff, cold, forced, and formulaic. I was afraid to put emotion into my prayers because I didn’t want to seem like I was questioning God—but taking a cue from the Psalms, I recently tried to be more honest in my prayers.
For example, I had recently been feeling angry at God for not granting me the literal exact life I wanted in my mind (lol). For a while, I was just asking God to make me content, whether or not He decided to give me what I wanted.
But one day, I realized that I wasn’t being honest with God. My prayer for contentment was all well and good, but it wasn’t fully honest—so I tried being more authentic. My prayer went something like this instead:
God, this stinks. I really want this, and I’m upset you’re denying me this. I feel like I’m missing out on something you’ve given to everyone except me. Like, I think I’m actually a little mad at you, God.
It was a rough prayer, I’ll give you that. But as I kept praying, God helped me see (a little bit, at least) how He’s working in my life through not giving me what I want. My former prayer to be content wasn’t coming from the heart because I failed to acknowledge why I wasn’t content—and acknowledging my anger with God helped work through that.
The Psalms can inspire you be more real in your prayers in a respectful way. Acknowledging your sadness, anger, or unhappiness doesn’t always equate to questioning God.
I love the Psalms because they’re poetic.
The Psalms contain some of the most beautiful expressions of God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy—as well as reflections on humanity’s sinfulness, waywardness, and hard-heartedness.
Take a look at this example of our sinfulness and God’s forgiveness:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. (Psalm 51:7–8)
I mean, come on! Even if the last poem you read was Dr. Seuss, you have to find this beautiful! There’s the unstated knowledge that, without God, we are unclean, we are the opposite of white snow, we are broken bones. And then God enters, and BAM! We’re clean, white as snow, healed. We rejoice. We’re glad. We’re forgiven.
And the comfort in these verses? What!
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:17–18)
God strengthens our hearts. He inclines His ear. He hears the desires of the afflicted. Look at all of the kind actions God takes towards us!
Maybe you’re the type of person who doesn’t like flowery language—you want a ten-word summary of what you need to know without a lot of adjectives along the way. But try spending time in one Psalm (or even one verse of a Psalm) for a while, thinking about what the words say and meditating on why the Psalmist chose to write with flowery language. (And then try writing a ten-word summary of the Psalm!)
I love the Psalms because they summarize the Bible.
Martin Luther loved the Psalms. He had many (if not all) of them memorized and saw the entire book as a summary of the Bible:
It promises Christ’s death and resurrection so clearly—and pictures his kingdom and the condition and nature of all Christendom—that it might well be called a little Bible. . . . Anyone who could not read the whole Bible would here have anyway almost an entire summary of it, comprised in one little book. (Luther’s Works 35:254)
In the Psalms, we get a complete picture of humanity’s hopelessness without God, God’s plan for a Savior, and the hope we have in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Psalms preach a beautiful message of Law and Gospel. (So, for those of you who like short and sweet, the Psalms are actually perfect! Look at that!)
The Psalms are incorporated into parts of the Lutheran liturgy (Psalm 51 might look familiar) and the readings of the Church Year. After you hear the readings at church, you can meditate on that Sunday’s Psalm throughout the week, incorporating it into your prayer and devotional life.
I love the Psalms because they’re prayers.
Almost everyone has experienced a time when they didn’t know how to pray or what to pray for. During times of extreme struggle, sometimes we can’t even think straight enough to get out a coherent prayer.
It’s during times like this that we can turn to the Psalms.
Whether you are struggling with a sin, facing a challenging season, coping with death, or questioning God, the Psalms can serve as prayers for almost any situation you’re in.
You can start by reading a Psalm slowly, letting each word sink in. You can keep rereading it, or the Holy Spirit might inspire you to venture off into your own prayers. (This is how Martin Luther prayed! He’d read and meditate on a passage of Scripture, and then use that to jump start his own personal prayers.)
Dive deeper into the Psalms with these reflections from Martin Luther.