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5 Ways the Psalms Can Help Your Prayers

For guidance, understanding, wisdom and comfort, these words can give voice to your prayers.

Praying the Psalms
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Flummoxed in your prayers? Can’t find the right words? Feeling lost in your thoughts? Looking for God’s answer? Try turning to the Psalms.

When I was a kid and we got our first Bibles, the Sunday school teacher pointed out how the Psalms were right in the middle of the book. The centerpiece, as it were, of our faith.

All these years later I turn to them every day. For guidance, for understanding, for wisdom, for comfort. Written (and sung!) hundreds of years before Christ, the Psalms can give voice to our prayers. Here’s how:

1)  Hold a line or two in your head. Some psalms are incredibly long, some are blessedly short. My mind can wander as I read them. But inevitably a verse or two will speak to me.

The other morning it was “O Lord, I call to You…” from Psalm 28. Running short on sleep and patience, I read that opening line. Just what I wanted to say. I closed my eyes and held the verse in my heart. Letting the Psalmist’s words work through me.

2)  Anything goes in prayer. Sometimes I feel like I should only say nice things to God when I’m praying. Just praise and thanksgiving, leaving out anger and despair. Forget it! Who do I think I’m hiding from? God knows the secrets of our hearts (as the Psalmist says).

There are lines in the Psalms about anger and fear, even prayers of vengeance, wishing the worst on our enemies. “What enemies do I have?” I ask myself. And then discover that worry and depression and doubt do indeed feel like enemies. Take them, God. Take them.

3)  Put praise in your prayers. The Psalms are full of words of praise. Sometimes I think, “Geez, God, are You so insecure that You need to be praised all the time?” Then I get it: praise is not just something we do for God. We do it for us.

Praise is a chance to see the goodness at work in your life, to give credit where credit is due, to open up, to be with the Creator. As Psalm 150, says “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Hallelujah!” Hallelujah!

4)  Sing a psalm. This feels so counterintuitive. We read words on a page. We think they should be said. But when the psalms were first created, they were sung. Think of how Jesus on the cross turned to the text of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Imagine those words sung!

Singing opens us up to feelings we might not otherwise be able to reach. If a line from the Psalms reminds you of a hymn or praise song, hum along. Even if you’re afraid you’re out of tune. No matter. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord,” the Psalmist says. Not a perfect sound.

5)  Get silent with a Psalm. “Be still and know that I am God…” the Psalmist says. All those words give us a chance to get very still. To discover a silence that is rich, endless and profound.

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