Almost every time I open the Bible I end up at some point in the Book of Psalms (a link to each of the 150 Psalms is located here). Every emotion we are capable of feeling is expressed in the Psalms–from sorrow, fear, doubt, anxiety, anger, sadness, repentance; to desire, happiness, joy, celebration, surprise, awe and wonder. Great comfort and help are also available throughout the Psalms–in fact, finding help in times of trouble is one of the main themes in the Book of Psalms (for a list of themes click here.)
GotQuestions.org gives us background information on the Book of Psalms:
Author: The brief descriptions that introduce the psalms have David listed as author in 73 instances. David’s personality and identity are clearly stamped on many of these psalms. While it is clear that David wrote many of the individual psalms, he is definitely not the author of the entire collection. Two of the psalms (72) and (127) are attributed to Solomon, David’s son and successor. Psalm 90 is a prayer assigned to Moses. Another group of 12 psalms (50) and (73—83) is ascribed to the family of Asaph. The sons of Korah wrote 11 psalms (42, 44-49, 84-85,87-88). Psalm 88 is attributed to Heman, while (89) is assigned to Ethan the Ezrahite. With the exception of Solomon and Moses, all these additional authors were priests or Levites who were responsible for providing music for sanctuary worship during David’s reign. Fifty of the psalms designate no specific person as author.
Date of Writing: A careful examination of the authorship question, as well as the subject matter covered by the psalms themselves, reveals that they span a period of many centuries. The oldest psalm in the collection is probably the prayer of Moses (90), a reflection on the frailty of man as compared to the eternity of God. The latest psalm is probably (137), a song of lament clearly written during the days when the Hebrews were being held captive by the Babylonians, from about 586 to 538 B.C.
It is clear that the 150 individual psalms were written by many different people across a period of a thousand years in Israel’s history. They must have been compiled and put together in their present form by some unknown editor shortly after the captivity ended about 537 B.C.
Purpose of Writing: The Book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible, with 150 individual psalms. It is also one of the most diverse, since the psalms deal with such subjects as God and His creation, war, worship, wisdom, sin and evil, judgment, justice, and the coming of the Messiah.
Key Verses: Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
Psalm 22:16-19, “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”
Psalm 29:1-2, “Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.”
Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Psalm 119:1-2, “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.”
Brief Summary: The Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers, poems, and hymns that focus the worshiper’s thoughts on God in praise and adoration. Parts of this book were used as a hymnal in the worship services of ancient Israel. The musical heritage of the psalms is demonstrated by its title. It comes from a Greek word which means “a song sung to the accompaniment of a musical instrument.”
Foreshadowings: God’s provision of a Savior for His people is a recurring theme in the Psalms. Prophetic pictures of the Messiah are seen in numerous psalms. Psalm 2:1-12 portrays the Messiah’s triumph and kingdom. Psalm 16:8-11 foreshadows His death and resurrection. Psalm 22 shows us the suffering Savior on the cross and presents detailed prophecies of the crucifixion, all of which were fulfilled perfectly. The glories of the Messiah and His bride are on exhibit in Psalm 45:6-7, while Psalms 72:6-17, 89:3-37, 110:1-7 and 132:12-18 present the glory and universality of His reign.
Practical Application: One of the results of being filled with the Spirit or the word of Christ is singing. The psalms are the “songbook” of the early church that reflected the new truth in Christ.
God is the same Lord in all the psalms. But we respond to Him in different ways, according to the specific circumstances of our lives. What a marvelous God we worship, the psalmist declares, One who is high and lifted up beyond our human experiences but also one who is close enough to touch and who walks beside us along life’s way.
We can bring all our feelings to God—no matter how negative or complaining they may be—and we can rest assured that He will hear and understand. The psalmist teaches us that the most profound prayer of all is a cry for help as we find ourselves overwhelmed by the problems of life. (Quote source here.)
In the book “God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours” (2010), by Regina Brett, newspaper columnist and New York Times best-selling author, Lesson 38 is devoted to the Psalms, and it is titled, “Read the Psalms. No Matter What Your Faith, They Cover Every Human Emotion.” Brett states:
If it were possible to do an autopsy of the soul, what we’d find would be 150 parts, each one reflected in one of the Psalms.
“All the sorrows, troubles, fears, doubts, hopes, pains, perplexities, stormy outbreaks by which the hearts of men are tossed, have been depicted here to the very life,” wrote John Calvin. He called the Psalms the anatomy of the soul.
Even when the Psalms are chanted in Latin they soothe my spirit. Even when I don’t know the words, my soul recognizes them.
For years the only psalm I knew by heart was the only one everyone knew by heart. Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I printed it on memorial cards at the funeral home where I worked.
It’s easy to remember and never fails to comfort. It’s easy to picture that sheep up on the hill, lost and frightened. The story always has a happy ending, the Good Shepherd seeks and finds it and brings it home. Who can’t relate to feeling lost in the valley of the shadow of death? It shocked me to find out there really is such a valley. When I was on my honeymoon in Jerusalem years ago we stood in the hot sun on a roadway looking at a huge expanse of land spread out below us.
“What valley is that?” my husband asked our guide.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” our guide began to chant.
It takes more than Psalm 23 to get me through life. The entire Book of Psalms tells the story of the journey every human being walks in life. The 150 psalms speak of wonder, joy, celebration, but also of the dark night of despair, desolation, and abandonment. Places we find ourselves too often.
The Book of Psalms addresses every facet of the spiritual journey–the ups and downs, heights the soul ascends, depths to which it falls. The Psalms offer praises as well as curses, consolation, and desolation, boasts of strength and cries of weaknesses. Mostly, they make me feel less alone.
On my worst nights of despair, when I can’t even remember a single line from a single one of them, I clutch the entire book to my chest like a child would a teddy bear. Only then can I sleep. I bought my Book of Psalms from Genesee Abbey where the Trappist monks end every prayer praising “the God who is, who was, and is to come at the end of the ages.”
I took a class on the Psalms in graduate school, a class taught by a Jewish rabbi. Professor Roger C. Klein of Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland told us that we didn’t have to be scholars to understand the Psalms. We didn’t need great intellect, he said. “It just requires a soul.”
The Psalms reveal the many faces of God: powerful rock, shepherd, companion, comforter, provider, host, creator, judge, advocate, and deliverer. My favorite? I like the idea of a personal God of joy. I pray often, “You are my strength and my song.”
The Psalms address every sort of inner and outer turbulence from crop failure to enemy attacks, from illness to loneliness. All of them were meant to be sung, and if they were, it would be like hearing an opera of the Bible.
I once read that President Bill Clinton read the entire Book of Psalms to find spiritual relief from the political pressures facing him. It’s easy to see their appeal, no matter what your religion. They cover everything.
For poverty there is Psalm 10: “Lord, you hear the prayer of the poor; you strengthen their hearts.”
Campaigning is covered in Psalm 35, which speaks to battles with the opposite party: “O Lord, plead my cause against my foes; fight those who fight me . . . vindicate me, Lord, in your justice do not let them rejoice. Do not let them think: Yes! We have won, we have brought him to an end.”
Any employee could use a dose of Psalm 56: “Have mercy on me, God, men crush me; they fight me all day long and oppress me . . . all day long they distort my words.”
Spouses can rely on Psalm 141 for restraint: “Set, O Lord, a guard over my mouth; keep watch, O Lord, at the door of my lips.”
The Psalms are now the bookends to my day. . . . (Quote source, “God Never Blinks,” pp. 175-177.)
The Psalms are also perfect to use for prayer as they express so vividly what we often can’t come up with using on our own words. I often used the Psalms in my prayers. In an article titled, “Why You Should Be Praying the Psalms,” by Dr. Donald S. Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Whitney states:
I’m sure such folks are out there, but I’ve not personally met any Christian who hasn’t struggled with saying the same old things about the same old things in prayer. Before long, such repetitive prayer is boring. And when prayer is boring, it’s hard to pray — at least with any joy and fervency.
Note that the problem is not that we pray about the same old things. Actually, that’s normal, because our lives tend to consist pretty much of the same old things from one day to the next. Thankfully, the big things in life (our family, our church, our job, etc.) don’t change dramatically very often.
Instead the problem is that we say the same old things about the same old things. And prayers without variety eventually become words without meaning. The result of such praying is that we tend to feel like failures in prayer. We assume that, despite our devotion to Christ, love for God, and desire for a meaningful prayer life, we must be second-rate Christians because our minds wander so much in prayer.
No, the problem may not be you; rather it may be your method.
I believe that the simple, permanent, biblical solution to this almost universal problem is to stop making up your own prayers most of the time (because that results in repetitious prayer) and to pray the Bible instead.
Praying the Bible means talking to God about what comes to mind as you read the Bible. Usually you might read the passage first, then go back and pray through what you just read.
So, for instance, if today you turned to Psalm 23 in your devotional reading, after completing it you would come back to verse 1 and pray about what occurs to you as you read “The Lord is my shepherd.” You might thank the Lord for being your shepherd, ask him to shepherd you in a decision that’s before you, entreat him to cause your children to love him as their shepherd, too, and pray anything else that comes to mind as you consider that verse.
Then when nothing else in those words prompts prayer, you continue by doing the same with the next line, “I shall not want.” Thus you would go through the chapter, line-by-line, until you ran out of time.
By praying in this way, you discover that you never again say the same old things about the same old things.
While you can pray through any part of the Bible, some books and chapters are much easier to pray through than others. Overall, I believe the Book of Psalms is the best place in Scripture from which to pray Scripture.
In part that’s because the Psalms are the only book of the Bible inspired by God for the expressed purpose of being reflected to God. God inspired them as songs, songs for use in the worship of God.
The Psalms also work so well in prayer because there’s a psalm for every sigh of the soul. You’ll never go through anything in life in which the root emotion is not found in one or more of the Psalms. Thus the Psalms put into expression that which is looking for expression in our hearts.
Christian, here’s how you’ll benefit from praying the Psalms:
1. You’ll pray more biblically faithful prayers.
The Bible will guide your prayers, helping you to speak to God with words that have come from the mind and heart of God. This also means you’ll be praying more in accordance with the will of God. Can you have any greater assurance that you are praying the will of God than when you are praying the Word of God?
2. You’ll be freed from the boredom of saying the same about the same old things in prayer.
One way this will happen is that the psalm will prompt you to pray about things you normally wouldn’t think to pray. You’ll find yourself praying about people and situations that you’d never think to put on a prayer list.
Another way is that even though you also continue to pray about the same things, (family, church, job, etc.), you’ll pray about them in new ways. Instead of saying, “Lord, please bless my family,” the text will guide you to pray things such as, “Lord, please be a shield around my family today” if you are praying through Psalm 3:3, for example.
3. You’ll pray more God-centered prayers.
When you use a God-focused guide like the psalms to prompt your prayers, you’ll pray less selfishly and with more attention to the ways, the will, and the attributes of God.
Prayer becomes less about what you want God to do for you (though that is always a part of biblical praying) and more about the concerns of God and his kingdom.
4. You’ll enjoy more focus in prayer.
When you say the same old things in prayer every day, it’s easy for your mind to wander. You find yourself praying auto-pilot prayer — repeating words without thinking about either them or the God to whom you offer them.
But when you pray the Bible your mind has a place to focus. And when your thoughts do wander, you have a place to return to — the next verse.
5. You’ll find that prayer becomes more like a real conversation with a real Person.
Isn’t that what prayer should be? Prayer is talking with a Person, the Person of God himself. Prayer is not a monologue spoken in the direction of God. Yet somehow, many people assume that when they meet with the Lord he should remain silent and they should do all the talking.
When we pray the psalms, though, our monologue to God becomes a conversation with God. I’m not alluding to the perception of some spiritual impression or hearing an inner voice, imagining God saying things to us — away with that sort of mysticism.
Instead, I’m referring to the Bible as the means by which God participates in the conversation, for the Bible is God speaking. God speaks in the Bible, and you respond to that in prayer. That’s why people who try this often report, “The pressure was off. I didn’t have to think about what to say next, and the whole experience just kind of flowed.”
So how about right now? Praying the Psalms will add life to your prayers, depth to your relationship with God, and joy to your heart. And you can’t beat that!!! I’ll start it off with . . .
The Lord is my Shepherd . . .
I shall not . . .
Want . . . .
YouTube Video: “God of Wonders” by Third Day: