The Psalms don’t teach us about God so much as move us into conversation with God. Structured in five parts–really a hymnal divided into five sections–they mirror the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses. While those first five books introduce us to the great Creator, God, and His children, you might think of Psalms as our answer to those extraordinary spiritual truths.
The Psalms are both prayers and teachers in how to pray. Think of the centuries in which Jews and Christians have gathered together to move through the Psalms together, month after month, year after year, letting their cries of praise, anguish (and every feeling between), flood their collective and individual lives.
The whole gamut of emotions, in every degree, is here–the spiritual footprints of Truth-seekers who yearned to answer God with their lives. The Biblical writer and translator, Eugene Peterson, describes the Psalms as ‘tools of faith’ that mature us spiritually by helping us grow out of spiritual adolescence. They do this if we consent to their transforming power that matures our prayer life.
Here’s a brief example from my prayers with Psalm 1, a kind of set-up for the rest of the book, describing the erect and alert mental posture required to let their poetry take hold of us. The first verse (Psalm 1:1) delivers a startling promise that applies to a world that looks like it is running amok with evil in both its aggressive and subtle forms.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful (Ps. 1:1 KJV).
There is a kind of reverse progression in the verbs: walk, stand, sit. It spoke to me as a promise of the diminishing of evil’s activity, of evil’s ability to haunt us – whether in the distance of a foreign land or in our own home. And it’s a roadmap for each one’s spiritual path: that we are blessed, enriched, showered with the presence of the Great Giver when we refuse to give any action to evil in our actions (to walk); or in our mental perspective (to stand); or even what we might have stubbornly believed for years (to sit), such as a false assumption about ourselves or others.
Thinking and praying about this single verse has provided a confidence that no matter how ugly or daunting evil seems to be, the blessings — the power and presence of God — diminish its presence in action, thought and even motive.
And that’s only verse one of thousands of subsequent verses over the landscape of 150 Psalms. What a gift the Psalter gave us by organizing the poetry that cuts to that deepest place of desire to know our Lord more. Praise God.
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