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Pray the Psalms – A Transforming Practice

pray the Psalms

It’s just past 1 am. I am on my knees, on the floor of our family room, physically spent and spiritually bleeding out. I am howling a wild cry for mercy into a pillow, my cold hands tightly gripping my head in a last-ditch effort to keep my sanity from seeping through my fingers. No one else in the house is awake. I have never felt so alone—alone with myself, alone with a tortured mind, alone with a silent God. That’s when I began to learn to pray the Psalms.

It was the third week of a brutal and unrelenting battle with insomnia, a dark season of wakefulness (you know what I mean if you’ve experienced it) that followed a recent heart incident.

That night I was sure, quite literally, I would lose my mind. I wanted to die. “Jesus, dear Jesus, take me please; take me home now” — that was the only prayer that felt true, perfectly appropriate, in that moment.

A Psalm: Hidden in the Heart

Then, just as I was about to awaken my wife to say, “It’s time; I need you to check me in,” a quiet miracle happened. A wonder of revelation. A precious gift of a word, of The Word, came breaking in:

“Your Word gives me life.” A phrase, drawn from an ancient song we simply call Psalm 119 (v. 50), pierced like a flaming beam through the dark storm pounding in my brain. I had spoken and sung those words many times with our community, decades before, even led others in singing its truth in worship.

For such a time as this, that Word became the sword of the Spirit, the flaming Word of God (Eph. 6:17) in the grip of the Almighty—cutting clean through the chains of insanity choking me. I repeated it all through the night as I walked in circles through our home. All my prayers in the days that followed orbited that simple truth. The insomnia began to break—and, more importantly. I didn’t.

Sister, brother, I shudder to think where I would be right now if that simple line from a psalm had not been stirring in the recesses of my heart, hidden there so many decades before, available for my Savior to wield it when I was at my bitterest end.

That is why I pray, why I sing, why I love the Psalms.

Praying the Psalms is nothing new; it’s an ancient practice, deeply rooted in millennia of our extended faith family history. As for me, I’ve been praying the Psalms, in some form, for almost 40 years now.

Over those years, through seasons of ecstatic joy and abiding sorrow, I have experienced the Word-at-work-in-the-Psalms faithfully forming me, and forming so many others, toward Christlikeness.

The simple words of those ancient songs and prayers, words that beat strong in the heart and mind of Jesus, have become treasures I have hidden deep in my heart through steady repetition and intentional meditation.

Why Pray the Pslams?

Here are my reflections on why praying the Psalms could, over time, change your life and mine.

  1. Our Lord Jesus, with his people, prayed and spoke in language soaked in the Psalms and the Scriptures
  2. The Psalms freight a long and living covenant story deep into our hearts and minds, a story that has oriented and sustained the faithful for thousands of years
  3. We become what we pray in mind, in heart, in body—lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi—the way (rule) of prayer, shapes the way of belief, shapes the way of life
  4. Like all manner of worship, praying the Psalms opens us to perceive a reality truer than the one we are currently experiencing
  5. We need eternal words to guide our God-conversations; we can powerfully align ourselves with God’s truth as we pray, changing the way we think, feel, and act in the world
  6. We enter a psalm in prayer so a psalm and its promises can enter us—we repeat God’s promises back to the very Giver of Promises
  7. Praying Scripture displaces thin fear with thickly layered praise—hope can return as we pray the Word of God