Reading the Psalms Devotionally
The Psalms form the largest corpus of one of the most unique genres within the biblical canon, namely, the genre of song and poetry. Evangelical Christians tend to neglect that genre for different reasons. In our post-Reformation, post-enlightenment Western way of thinking, most of us think that the more didactic sections of Scripture are more important because they are full of logical and propositional statements. Some think that poetry and song are somehow less manly. This is entirely an unorthodox view of song, worship, and masculinity. Most men would not want to run into King David in a dark alley; and yet, a better poet and songwriter the world has never seen! Biblically speaking, we should see a strong tie between singing, poetry, and masculinity. Other of us fail to notice the the unique qualities of Hebrew poetry and song. for example, Hebrew poetry tends to “rhyme” thoughts and themes rather than rhyme the way a word sounds, even though it does that as well. It is for these reasons and more that we often struggle when it comes to reading any poetry or song in the Bible--not to mention in a book with 150 of them.
At the same time, and in a unique and culturally schizophrenic way, we are obsessed with devotions and devotional literature. We want chicken soup for our Christian soul, the women’s study manual for biblical mothering, and the man’s devotional guide to golf evangelism. A Chinese buffet has fewer options than Christian books stores provide extra-biblical devotional material.
We are a devotion-obsessed culture with a bias against canonical poetry and song. Are you beginning to see the problem? Two changes in the Christian church have substantially contributed to the way in which Christians neglect the Psalms as devotional material.
First, Christians now have access to the Bible in ways they never had before. From printing press to computer to Bible app, Christians have had increasing access to the entirety of the Word of God. We should note that this is an awesome gift from our gracious God. But we should also consider how this has changed how the Christian community engages the Bible. Up until the Bible became a mainstay in every home and on every phone, the predominant access to the inerrant word of God by the average Christian would have be through the liturgical components, especially sung portions, of Christian worship. And until recent Centuries, that was a diet almost solely composed of Psalms.
Second, Christians throughout 2 millennia of the New Covenant church’s existence are singing the psalms less and less. I’m not at all against singing songs outside of the Psalter. I am a practicing inclusive psalm singer. But it is also undeniable that psalm singing is on the decline in Christian worship and not on the rise. So here we have several things working together. We have poetry-averse, devotional-obsessed Christians who are accessing the psalms in worship less and less. It might be that these aspects of my anecdotal based assessment of Evangelicalism have resonated with you and you’d like to reengage the psalms devotionally. How do you go about reading the psalms devotionally?
6 Tips for Reading the Psalms Devotionally
1) Find a psalm reading plan. Your first step is finding a psalm reading plan. A quick internet search should be all you need to find one that suits you. The nice thing about reading through the psalms successively, say in a month, is that they do not build on one another and so if you have to miss a reading or two you can pick up wherever you left off without having to skim larger amounts. You could even just read one psalm a day and make it through all the psalms twice in a year.
2) Utilize resources that show you Jesus in the psalms. Second, and this is as important as finding a plan and sticking to it, you must find resources that show how the psalms point to the person and work of Jesus. The reasons this is so important is because the New Testament writers unequivocally saw the psalms as crucial material for understanding who Jesus was and what he came to accomplish. The ESV Study Bible in it’s list adapted from the NA27 Greek New Testament lists 147 direct references to psalm quotations in the New Testament. There are almost as many quotations of the psalms in the New Testament as there are psalms in the Psalter. The psalms are fundamentally messianic.
3) Mark up your copy of the Psalms. If ever there were a book of the Bible that deserved a hearty dose of ink or pencil underlining it’s the book of Psalms. Why not connect the previous suggestion with this one and mark all 147 New Testament references to the psalms?
4) Pray the Psalms. And this is key. The psalms are fundamentally sung prayers. You may not be a psalm singer (see the next point) but you should definitely be a psalm prayer. As you read psalms, read them out loud paraphrasing them into your own prayers as you go. Doing this over time will help develop a healthy prayer life that utilizes the vocabulary and themes of the Bible.
5) Sing the Psalms. This is a little more difficult if your church doesn’t do this or if you are not musical. But there are some excellent resources out there to begin singing the Psalms. You can check out The Robbie Seay Band, Cardiphonia, the Scottish Festival Singers, and others.
6) Read the Psalms with others. Lastly, reading the psalms with others gives deeper perspective as you discuss what you’re learning. If you’ve found a good reading plan, why not invite a friend to do it with you? Knowing that others are reading the same psalms at the same time or on the same days can be a very unifying practice.
C.H. Spurgeon The Treasury of David
Derek Thomas Help for Hurting Christians
Derek Thomas Making the Most of You Devotional Life
Sinclair Ferguson Deserted by God
David Murray Jesus on Every Page
Graeme Goldsworthy According to Plan
The Psalms, (Crossway)