“Psalms: The Christian's Playlist”
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."
You've probably noticed I've been talking a lot about the Psalms recently and that's because I've been reading about Jesus in the Gospel accounts! Jesus quoted the Old Testament all the time but the book he quoted most often was the book of Psalms. Of course, this should be no surprise, seeing as how the book of Psalms acted as the prayerbook of Israel and their guide to public worship and personal devotion.
Jesus directly quoted from Psalms at least eleven times not counting all the subtle references and allusions because they, like all of Scripture, were written about him. When he appeared to his disciples after being raised from the dead he reminded them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Lk. 24:44) The early church used "psalms" as well as other "hymns and spiritual songs" in their regular worship gatherings (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
This got me thinking about the role of the Psalms in our lives today. The Psalms are a collection of 150 song/prayers to God written by various authors in different situations. King David wrote most of them but several were written by a group of priests and temple worship leaders called "the sons of Korah" and a man named Asaph. Solomon and Moses wrote at least one a piece and there are a few written by unknown poets. The book is divided into 5 smaller "books" which may imitate the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch:
- Book 1: Psalms 1-41
- Book 2: Psalms 42-72
- Book 3: Psalms 73-89
- Book 4: Psalms 90-106
- Book 5: Psalms 107-150
The first Psalm acts as an introduction and 'user manual' for the Psalms. The last psalm that ends each book finishes with a beautiful doxology, while Psalm 150 as a whole is the conclusion both of Book 5 and the entire Psalter.
Though some of the psalms are written in response to very specific situations, the wide range of emotions expressed within them can give voice to our feelings today. They do more than simply express our emotions, however. If we study and pray through them carefully, they can also shape our emotions and transform us into people of deep faith and radiant joy! This is the great power of the psalms. The words on the page go beyond the experience of the original authors and speak straight into our own life. They teach us to process how we feel in any given situation through the discipline of prayer. This is one of the reasons why our Lord and the authors of the New Testament quoted them so much. The psalms have much to teach God's people of any day and serve as a practical tool to help us through the general troubles of life.
Because the psalms are poetry and were meant to be set to music (you can see this in some of the liturgical directions at the beginning of some psalms like "To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments." Psa. 4), they should be the soundtrack for our life. These are the words that should fill our hearts and minds as we journey through the wilderness toward our Promised Land. The cadence of poetry within the psalms should keep our feet pressing on toward our goal and keep our eyes on the Lord. The psalms ought to be our spiritual playlist running on a constant loop as we grow and mature as God's people.
- Are you troubled? Pray through a psalm of lament like Psalm 13.
- Are you thankful? Pray through a psalm of thanksgiving like Psalm 30.
- Are you guilty? Pray through a psalm of repentance like Psalm 32.
- Are you in need of forgiveness? Pray through a psalm of forgiveness like Psalm 51.
- Are you in awe of God? Pray through a psalm of praise like Psalm 8.
- Are you appreciative of God's word? Pray through a psalm of celebration like Psalm 119.
- Are you seeking wisdom? Pray through a psalm of wisdom like Psalm 37.
- Are you in need of confidence? Pray through a psalm of confidence like Psalm 23.
- Are you disillusioned with our nation's leaders? Pray through a psalm of true leadership like Psalm 72.
- Are you thinking of Jesus? Pray through a royal psalm like Psalm 2.
- Are you in need of a history lesson? Pray through a historic psalm like Psalm 78.
- Are you forgetful of God's promises? Pray through a prophetic psalm like Psalm 81.
Whatever you're going through in life at the moment, God's word can help guide you through it. Every book of the Bible is important because the words are breathed out by God himself and profitable to shape us into the people we were created to be (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Thank God for the wonderful gift that he has given us in the book of Psalms! I hope that together as we grow in our appreciation for Biblical poetry we can be strengthened by the Psalms.