Why You Should Read the Psalms

Throughout Church history the Psalms have been a deep source of Christian reflection and joy. Originally, Jews treated this collection of poetry as a book of “Common Prayer.” Synagogues regularly relied on the Psalms for private worship. Jesus likely worshipped the very same way.  The gospels record Christ repeating, singing, praying, and quoting the Psalms. Even Christ’s final words were not his own, they were drawn from the Psalms. At the cross, He cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”1 This statement was both an expression of anguish and the opening verse of Psalms 22. The Psalms were deeply ingrained upon Christ’s soul. They poured out of Christ in times of distress. Jesus also prayed and sang the Psalms in moments of spiritual ecstasy.2 Therefore, this collection of divine poetry is the perfect resource to navigate the trials and pleasures of life.

The book of Psalms is collection of 150 songs and prayers offered to God form the Jewish people. Most conservative scholars regard David as the author of seventy-three of the Psalms. Other named authors include Asaph, the Sons of Korah, Solomon, and Moses. The remaining Psalms leave the author anonymous. Each different author contributes a unique voice to Psalter. Some chapters explode with joy and awe while others move with frustration and sorrow. The book finds unity in its theme and voice. It is focused on the nature and glory of God.

The prose of the Psalms makes it a unique book when compared to other books of the Bible. They contain extended analogies and hidden themes that demand introspection and reflection from the reader. In his commentary, on Psalms John Calvin suggests, “The design of the Holy Spirit [was]... to deliver the church a common form of prayer.”3 The Psalms were intended to be the foundation of a believer’s prayer life. They teach the language of prayer. Learning to pray is similar to children acquiring the ability to speak.  As children, “language is spoken into us; we learn language by being spoken to... Then slowly, syllable-by-syllable, we acquire the capacity to answer: mama, papa, bottle, blanket, yes, no. Not one of these words was a first word.”4 As one reads, meditates, and responds to the Psalms, he learns the language of the Creator.

The Psalms also demand the reader to engage a wide variety of emotions. All mankind possesses a natural proclivity to express some emotions and avoid others. Whether it is the depths of despair or heights of praise, the Psalms ensure that the thoughtful reader will experience all emotions. The Psalms “are God’s gift to train us in prayer that is comprehensive and honest.”5 Most importantly, the Psalms reveal an all-inclusive and authentic picture of the true nature of God. The Psalms offer a comprehensive picture of human emotion and the attributes of God.

1 Psalms 22:1.
Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988).
John Calvin, Commentary on The Psalms, trans. David C. Searle (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 20.
4 Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987), 32.
Eugene H. Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (San Francisco: Harper & Row,1989), 3-4.

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