It is one thing to be convinced that it is necessary and good to pray with the Psalms. But the next question is simple. How do I pray the Psalms? Let me offer a few thoughts that can help make the experience of praying the Psalms rich and effective.
The first thought is deceptively simple, but of vital importance. The first step to praying the Psalms is to read them OUT LOUD in a prayerful attitude. The practice of reading to ourselves silently, with the entire experience happening using only the sense of sight and entirely in our conscious mind, is a modern innovation. All written literature, for much of human history, was created to be read out loud in the context of a community. The Psalms are no different. In ancient Israel, in worship in the synagogue and in the use of the Psalter in the Daily Prayer Offices of most Christian traditions the experience of the Psalms are meant to be the experience of words spoken and heard. If you want to pray the Psalms, pray them out loud and hear the rhythm and cadence of the words themselves not just in your mind, but in your senses and with your feelings. This allows the possibility of the next thought to become a reality.
The second thought is to imaginatively enter into the world of the Psalmist as you pray. Put yourself in the shoes of the Psalmist and seek to pray along with what that Psalmist was thinking and feeling when they penned their song. It is certainly helpful to do a bit of research on what the background of the particular Psalm was historically and theologically, but it is not strictly necessary to effectively pray the Psalm. All it really takes is the use of your imagination to look at the words themselves and think what it might have been like to be that Psalmist. The words themselves provide all of the context necessary to do that. If it is a Psalm of lament or of celebration or contemplation, it’s fairly easy to pick up. Just enter into that spirit as you pray. It will enrich your experience and open your heart and soul to receive from the Holy Spirit God’s comfort, correction and counsel as you pray.
The final thought I have to share is to read Christologically. This simply means to read and pray through the lens of the reality of Jesus Christ. While it is true that these Psalms were written hundreds of years before the coming of Christ into the life of the world, for the Christian believer, all of Scripture is meant to be interpreted through the lens of Jesus. This doesn’t mean that you need to try and shoehorn some New Testament meaning into the Hebrew scriptures or torture the text to say something that it clearly doesn’t say. But it does mean that as we pray the Psalms, we pray with the foremost thought that it is Jesus Christ himself who is the answer to our prayers. It means that as we experience the same doubts, fears, questions and anxieties as the Psalmists experienced we are asking for the presence of our Savior to touch us right where we are.
In the next post, I will share a bit of my own experiences of praying the Psalms and how this practice has changed the way that I worship, think and live.