Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Introducing the Psalms for Missional and Spiritual Formation

John Wesley “We have now before us one of the choicest parts of the Old Testament, wherein there is so much of Christ and his gospel, as well as of God and his law, that it has been called the summary of both Testaments”

The book of Psalms or Psalter is a rich resource for God’s people. In this book, we find prayers that serve a dual focus. The Psalms serve as God’s word for us while at the same time modeling words for us to speak to God. Ponder that for a minute. God values our prayers so much one entire book of Scripture serves as fuel for our prayer life.

The Christian life involves following the risen Jesus as he leads God’s people into the world to make disciples. As experience teaches, life has ups and downs. There are times of abundance and times of challenge. In all seasons, God invites the prayers of his people. Reading the Psalms is an instructional guide to a moment-by-moment walk with God through the world.

The book of Psalms divides into 5 units or books: 1–41, 42–72, 73–89, 90–106, and 107–150. This structure is embedded into the final composition of the Psalter. Just as the Torah of Moses (Genesis–Deuteronomy) consisted of five books so too are the the Songs of David made up of five books. This study will focus primarily on Book I. The only exception to this will be the treatment of Psalms 146–150 in Week Two of the Study. As we will see, Psalms 1–2 serve as an introduction to the Psalter as whole by grounding the reader in two key truths. Ps 1 emphasizes the need for a constant attentiveness to Scripture (Ps 1). Ps 2 declares that we can have full confidence in the security of the future by trusting in God’s reign. The book of the Psalms reaches its climax in Pss 146–150 which conclude the Psalter with five resounding psalms of praise to the LORD for who He is and what He has done. In between this introduction and conclusion, we will journey through the prayers of God’s people. 

The book of Psalms contains many types of prayers. The three core prayers may be stated simply: (1) Praise the LORD! (2) Help! (3) Thank you! There are other types as well. Some psalms focus on God’s kingship—sometimes these praise God as king other times, the psalm focuses on God’s rule through his anointed human king or Messiah. Other psalms focus on the importance of God’s Word, provide wisdom for living, or serve as affirmations of the psalmist’s trust in God. Of these, readers are often surprised to learn that the most common prayer in the book of Psalms is a petition for help. Through these various types of prayers, the psalms give voice to joys, complexities, and challenges of the life of faith. This reality is what makes the book of Psalms timeless in its appeal. People of prayer can find words to express themselves to God in times when they are unsure of how to pray. John Calvin wrote, “I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, 'An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;' for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented in a mirror.” Athanasius “…these words become like a mirror to the person singing them, so that he might perceive himself and the emotions of his soul, and thus affected, he might recite them.

We represent another generation of pray-ers looking for ways to speak to God. With humility and in anticipation of finding fresh astonishment and sustenance in these God-inspired prayers, let us begin our own journey into the Psalms.

What lessons have you learned about prayer from the book of Psalms?

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