The Psalms have often been called the hymnal of the Old Testament. This collection of Hebrew poetry contains 150 entries that include liturgical expressions of worship, capsules of Hebrew history, honest prayers and disturbing exclamations of lament.
A regular reflection or reading of the Psalms can help nurture both a growing faith and a balanced spirituality. If the Psalms are only read occasionally, or if verses from various Psalms are only considered in isolation from their original context, then the reader misses the full blessing of these inspirational texts. As much as any other book of the Bible, the collection of Psalms can feed and nourish the soul.
The Psalms may be rediscovered as a vital resource of devotional reading, an aid in balanced worship planning, a liturgical companion for celebration and praise, and a helpful guide for personal prayer.
The layout of the Psalms makes them ideally suited for devotional reading. One can read five Psalms per day and complete the collection in a month. The Psalms are especially appropriate for a new student of the Bible because they contain a rich variety of material, including wisdom, history, poetry and prayer.
Because the Psalms include praise, thanksgiving, confession and lamentation, this diverse collection may assist with balanced worship planning. Christian worship is never to be one-dimensional. Balanced worship includes the proclamation of the good news, the confession of sin, the giving of thanks, the offering of praise, individual and collective response to God, and the honest and bold expression of lament.
The Psalms could also serve as a model for praise and celebration. Perhaps advocates of “praise and worship” would be well served to revisit the Psalms. I fear that some contemporary expressions of “praise and worship” are sincere, but often diminish into misguided efforts that merely showcase entertainers who perform in a worship venue.
In the Psalms, “praise” is the articulation and affirmation of the character of God: faithfulness, justice, patience and forgiveness. Genuine “praise” is always directed toward God. A re-reading of the Psalms may protect us from confusing the praise of God with appropriate affirmation for human effort and participation.
Finally, the Psalms can help us in our personal prayer life. Psalm 51, for example, contains what is believed to be King David’s prayer of repentance. Psalm 8 is an offering of praise. Psalm 100 is a song of thanksgiving. Psalm 25 is a lesser known but important example of personal prayer.
Many of the Psalms teach us both the language of prayer and the demeanor of prayer. And perhaps the most overlooked lesson of the Psalms is that they invite us to be completely honest in our prayers.
Have you read the Psalms lately? As you rediscover the Psalms, you may also discover new dimensions of faith-living.
Barry Howard is a religion columnist who resides in Corbin, Ky.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.