Updated: Aug 14
Sometimes we fall in love quickly. Such was the case for me more than thirty years ago. It happened on a car ride in the middle of nowhere. I was in college, returning to campus after a canoe trip in Valentine, Nebraska. Sitting in the back seat with me was a young woman who fell asleep putting her head on my shoulder. I liked the feeling and soon realized that I was falling in love. As you might guess, the girl’s name was Alaine. The rest, as they say, was history.
Sometimes in takes years to fall in love. Such was the case for me when it came to the Psalms. To be honest, for a long time I just didn’t get this book found in the middle of the Bible. These prayers were chaotic and confusing to me. These were also far removed from my experience. After all, I don’t have any enemies actively seeking to kill me!
It took a long time for my attitude toward the Psalms to change. It started with a very unusual book: The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. Here is how the publisher described it: “Part memoir, part meditation, The Cloister Walk is the movingly written and thought-provoking record of a married, Protestant woman’s time spent in a community of men in a traditional Benedictine monastery in Minnesota.”
Norris, a poet, was deeply affected by the monks’ daily worship routine which revolved around chanting the Psalms. As a poet, Norris was caught up in the words and the world of these prayers. Her enthusiasm proved to be contagious for me.
However, it wasn‘t until I became a pastor that I finally fell, head over heels, in love with the Psalms. Simply put, the Psalms taught me to pray with more boldness, honesty, and intensity for the people of Our Saviour’s. Let me show you what I mean.
Often our prayers are too polite. We don’t say exactly what’s on our mind. We don’t accurately and adequately express what we're experiencing. The Psalms do. Boy, do they ever, with great specificity!
Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.
This shocking prayer comes at the very beginning of the Psalter, in Psalm 3.
The Psalms truly let God have it. In these ancient prayers, God’s people pour out their hearts, souls, and guts to heaven:
My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of Your unfailing love. No one remembers You when he is dead. Who praises You from the grave? I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.
The Psalms do not hold anything back. They express their disappointment and anger at God:
Why, O Lord, do You stand far off? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?
The Psalms express the struggle to live by faith:
Arise, Lord! Lift up Your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless. Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, “He won’t call me to account”? But You, O God, do see trouble and grief; You consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; You are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness.
I find in the Psalter the prayers that express what is in my heart:
I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from You I have no good thing.”
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation. He is my fortress; I will not be shaken.
The Psalms also remind me of how personal and passionate life with God can be:
O God, You are my God. Earnestly I seek You. My soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods…. On my bed I remember You. I think of You through the watches of the night…. My soul clings to You as Your right hand upholds me.
The Psalms express the Wonder and the Mystery that is the Lord God Almighty:
Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in—behind and before. You have laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there. If I make my bed in the realm of the dead, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me; Your right hand will hold me fast.
The Psalms remind me of who is at the right hand of God Almighty. The Psalms direct my eyes to Jesus Christ:
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
The Psalms remind me of Christ’s great and precious promise: surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age:
Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
The Psalms remind me of the unity of all Scripture in pointing us to Christ. The Psalms remind me that Jesus is the answer to all my prayers and the deepest longings of my heart. The Psalms remind me why I can't image life without God.
It should come as no surprise that Martin Luther loved the Psalms. After all, he was a monk for many years. At the same time, he served as a priest and later went on to become a professor of Holy Scripture. Luther turned to the Psalms often, once writing:
“But anyone who has begun to pray the Psalter regularly and in earnest will soon have done with his own easy, triﬂing little devotions and will say: Ah, here there is none of the sap, the strength, the fervor and fire that I find in the Psalms”.
What Luther wrote five hundred years ago remains true today. As a matter of fact, I would add that there is simply no other prayer or devotional book that comes even close to the Psalms.