The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.
As you’ve just read, the psalms are amazing. Truly, out of all the history of world literature, there is no collection of poems so impressive. Besides merely its size, impressive as that is, the psalms record for us hundreds of years of praise, lament, and prayer inspired by the Spirit and written by the people of Israel to their God, who is our God, now known to us in Jesus.
Yet I feel robbed of them.
What do I mean? I recently read a book by Tom Wright called The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. In this book he discusses the tragic neglect of the psalms in the life and worship of much of the modern Church.
I have to agree, and at the end of his book I felt like I had been missing out for years. Wright, an Anglican, grew up praying and singing the psalms in the Anglican churches he attended. They’ve always been in his life, sustaining him like breakfast and shaping his prayer and worship life. But I, along with many others who grew up in American evangelical churches, do not share that story. While we certainly include the psalms in our Bible reading, we do not generally make use of them as a prayerbook and hymnbook the way some other Christian traditions (and Jesus Himself!) have.
We don’t use the psalms, at least not like Jesus and the early Christians.
This really saddens me. Jesus grew up, as every good Jew did, reading, singing, and praying the psalms in both His private life and public worship. So did the early Christians. And it made a profound impact on them. A quick glance at the New Testament shows dozens and dozens of quotes, references, and allusions to the psalms. In depth study reveals even more of these. So the psalms even greatly influenced our uniquely Christian Scriptures in an incomparable way.
What’s my point? My issue is that we don’t use the psalms, at least not like this. Sure, we’ll have our AWANA kids memorize a few verses, and we have a handful of hymns and Chris Tomlin songs based on them, but overall they get little attention. Yet the psalms are magical. The Holy Spirit brought them to life when they were first written and continues to do so today. They are filled with all the emotions and reflections that all people, especially all of God’s people, live with every day. They are equally filled with God’s hope, promises, and majesty.
All this means we need the psalms to function in our lives like they were originally written to function for the people of Israel. We need them to lead our prayers and worship, both in corporate life, in the middle of our actual church services on Sunday mornings as a congregation, and in personal life, in our closets and bedrooms as we spend time in fellowship with God.
Like I said, I feel robbed when I hear of Tom Wright’s story, in which he grew up around the psalms used this way. They are written in his heart and mind now, affecting the way he prays, worships, hopes, and sees the world (including his approach to Christianity overall). That’s not my story. The psalms were always just a peripheral part of Scripture, some nice poems that we might include verses of in memorization or stick into a reading plan. We were never taught to pray them, or to sing them, or to really even understand them. At any of the churches I’ve been to (mostly Baptist, but also some Pentecostal and nondenominational, not counting the Episcopal church I went to a Christmas service at), this has been the same. I feel let down by evangelical American churches.
If I could go back in time, I would read, pray, and sing the psalms more.
If I could go back in time, I would read the psalms more. I would pray them and relate them to my own life and our world. I would find music to use so I could sing them. And I believe they would transform the way I think and feel about God, people, and everything else. As it is, I can’t go back and try again, so I’m trying to start doing these things now. I’m only 20, so I guess I still have time (Lord willing!) to be molded like this, but I still feel like I’ve missed out on a lot.
Does anyone agree with or relate to me on this? If so, leave a comment or even email me. I might want to start posting some thoughts on individual psalms and relating them to our lives and prayers, maybe even finding good song versions. Who knows? Well, God does, and to Him be the glory!