God placed a rich and precious prayer book at the heart of His Word for His people. The Psalms are filled with raw honesty, calm reflection, and deep wisdom – they contain words we can pray to God when we cannot find our own and words God can speak through when we long to hear His voice.
The Psalms teach us not only what and how to pray, but they invite us into God’s presence just as we are.
5 REASONS TO PRAY THE PSALMS
1. THE PSALMS TEACH US TO PRAY.
The Psalms are God’s Word, given to His people, to be spoken, sung, and prayed back to Him – and they were the prayer book of His son, Jesus.
“It would not be difficult to arrange all of [the Psalms] according to the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, and thus to show how the Psalter is entirely taken up in the prayer of Jesus.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
2. THE PSALMS VOICE THE FULLNESS OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE.
The Psalms reveal our deepest hurts and longings, our anxious and angry struggles, hidden shame and guilt, genuine thanksgiving, and joyful praise. They teach us what it means to be fully human in an honest, intimate relationship with our powerful, mysterious, and intimately loving God.
3. THE PSALMS TEACH US TO TRUST GOD.
The Psalms show that God is good, faithful, sovereign, and undeniable. Regardless of the outcome, whether our circumstances change or not, God is God and in complete control.
4. THE PSALMS TRAIN US TO BEAR THE CROSS.
The Psalms “teach and train us to bear the cross … so that the affections which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us because they proceed from [Christ].” (John Calvin)
5. PRAYING THE PSALMS MOVES US FROM ME TO WE.
Praying the Psalms unite us with one another throughout the world and across time. These sacred words have been spoken, sung, read, and studied millions of times by millions of people in more than 689 languages.
HOW TO PRAY AND WRITE PSALMS
The Psalms articulate the full spectrum of human emotion across every time and season of life. Almost one-third of the psalms are songs of lament, which:
- articulate what is wrong.
- speak honestly about what is wanted or needed.
- express implicit trust in God and His faithfulness, even when the outcome is unknown, even if the circumstances do not change.
Faith doesn’t preclude us from wrestling with anguish, illness, anxiety, pain, or suffering. Those emotions can and often do co-exist with worship, joy, laughter, and praise.
THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER
The Book of Common Prayer (published in 1892) divides Psalms into morning psalms and evening psalms. Consider praying two psalms a day for the next five months, one to begin the day and another to complete it.
As you pray through each psalm, write out the verses you connect with. When you’re ready to write your own psalm, pull out your list, and you’re all set!
QUESTIONS TO THINK ABOUT AS YOU PRAY THE PSALMS
- What emotions are you feeling?
- What do you want or need from God?
- Where have you experienced God’s help in the past?
- What has caused you pain?
- How has God blessed you?
- What are you celebrating?
- What is the condition of your relationship with God?
- What is the condition of your relationships with others?
- What are you grateful for?
HOW TO WRITE A PSALM OF PRAYER
What is your favorite psalm? Why?
When did you choose it?
What was happening in your life at the time?
Have you ever considered writing your own psalm?
Howard Vanderwell asks, “If the psalms of Scripture breathe out of the anatomy of the psalmist’s soul, as Calvin says, then why can’t our own psalms do much the same?”
A PLACE TO BEGIN
- Choose a psalm as your template. If you have a favorite psalm, turn to it. If not, open your Bible to Psalm 61.
- Read the psalm slowly. Savor the words. Notice the phrases. If possible, read it in several translations. (You can read 30 versions at Bible Hub and 223 versions in 73 languages at Bible Gateway.)
- Read the psalm out loud. Listen to the poetry.
- Who is speaking?
- What is being spoken about?
- What do you feel?
- Where do you connect with the psalm?
- What words or phrases catch your attention?
- Pray about the emotions you feel, your current situation, the people involved, healing, and/or resolution.
- Now write your own psalm. Write the first line of your favorite psalm or of Psalm 61. Personalize it with the details of your current circumstances. Continue line by line until you’ve completed the psalm.
- Read your personal psalm back to God.
NEED A LITTLE MORE INSPIRATION?
Read Psalm 16 by author Karin Fendick, from her book From Ashes to Glory: A Psalm a Day.
You suffered through
all that I can imagine
every tear, drizzle
each prick of pain, jagged
sharp and raw
You felt it, carried it
before I noticed
and You whisper low
into my cloud
“come, let’s talk about it
I’ll take that from you”
why then do I sit reluctant
almost afraid to release what I
let it go
Your hands far more
capable than mine
What makes the Psalms great for prayer is that they do not hide the truth from God. They give honest voice to what is actually going on in our minds and hearts. (Rev. Ron Rolheiser)
HOW TO PRAY & WRITE PSALMS
The Psalms invite us into prayer just as we are. Timothy Keller writes, “There are other prayers in the Bible, but no other place where you have an entire course of theology in prayer form, and no other place where you have every possible heart condition represented, along with the way to process the situation before God.”
Use the tables on this free printable to help you keep track of which psalms you’ve read and the questions to get you thinking as you write your own psalm (or psalms) of prayer to God.
Praying & Writing the Psalms
What is your favorite Psalm? Why? When did you choose it? What was happening in your life at the time? Have you ever considered writing your own Psalm?
Considering its great size and power, an elephant must exercise self-control and restraint to effectively navigate and thrive. Likewise, breath prayers help us navigate and thrive through the elephant-sized gift of our breath (and the One who is with us in every breath).
10 Ways to Pray Continually
Put simply, prayer is a conversation with God. It is also so much more than that: it’s a connection to the very one who breathed life into us. If we want to know who God is and the secrets to life that only He has, we must learn to pray without ceasing.
The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms
The book of Psalms is known as the Bible’s songbook. Jesus knew all 150 psalms intimately and relied on them to face every situation, including his death. The Songs of Jesus is based on Keller's accumulated years of study, insight, and inspiration recorded in his prayer journals. Inviting readers into the vast wisdom of the Psalms, Keller guides us in finding distilled meaning in each verse.
Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible
Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer
Though not from a liturgical background, Karin felt led to celebrate the holy through the period from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection Sunday. From Ashes to Glory is a collection of forty-seven brief psalms written as a daily offering of worship that will encourage and draw you closer to God in any season.