A few years ago I started trying to pray the Psalms regularly. I’ve had varying degrees of “success,” with many periods of drought, but the effort and intention has been well worth the effort.
I think I first got the idea from Eugene Peterson. He said in one of his books that anyone who wanted to learn how to pray ought to be reading through the Psalms regularly. Or something like that. It struck a chord with me, and I thought I’d give it a try.
It wasn’t like I’d never read the Psalms, of course. I was familiar with the more popular ones. But as I started reading some of the other Psalms, I was was a little taken aback. There’s a lot of raw emotion in there! I was kind of embarrassed to be saying those kinds of things to God. “Why don’t you wake up, God?” “Has your ‘unfailing’ love vanished forever?” This is our prayer book?
But I have found that those “rough” Psalms actually give articulation to my walk with God. I tend to push thoughts like that down because it doesn’t feel like I’m “supposed” to feel that way. But sometimes I do feel abandoned by God, and praying the Psalms helps me bring me bring that to him, instead of piously repeating things I think I’m supposed to be feeling.
Praying the Psalms helps me bring my “real” self before God. I realize that he’s not shocked by my anger. He is not threatened by my railing. He takes it in stride and we have a conversation. We can’t have a conversation until I get “real,” and the Psalms help me stay “real” when I’m with God in prayer.
Recently I saw a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that articulates why praying the Psalms is so important for learning to pray:
“The child learns to speak because the parent speaks to the child. The child learns the language of the parent. So we learn to speak to God because God has spoken and speaks to us. In the language of the Father in heaven God’s children learn to speak with God. Repeating God’s own words, we begin to pray to God. We ought to speak to God, and God wishes to hear us, not in the false and confused language our heart but in the clear and pure language that God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ.
“God’s speech in Jesus Christ meets us in the Holy Scriptures. If we want to pray with assurance and joy, then the word of Holy Scripture must be the firm foundation of our prayer. Here we know that Jesus Christ, the Word of God, teaches us to pray. The words that come from God will be the steps on which we find our way to God.”
I have found that as I engage in praying the Psalms regularly, I start to internalize them and their phrases find their way into my spontaneous prayers as well. I find I am better able to articulate and direct my longings in prayer.
I recently began using the Paraclete Psalter to guide my prayer life. Essentially you pray a few Psalms 3-4 times per day (morning, mid-day, evening, bedtime) and you make it through all 150 Psalms every four weeks.
What kinds of regular disciplines do you use in prayer? Does anyone have a regular rhythm of praying the Psalms?