Our Word for God: Praying the Psalms
We recently began a new sermon series for the month of June on the Psalms. We're calling it "Our Word for God" because the Psalms are unique in the Bible in that before they are God's Word for us, they are first of all human speech (prayers and songs) offered to God.
The Psalms have shaped the way people approach prayer for over a millennia. They've given us language and perspective, and also show us just how wide the limits for acceptable speech to God are. As Ellen Davis puts it, the Psalms also serve as a "corrective" for our prayer habits and practices.
Speaking of Ellen Davis, as I mentioned on Sunday, I'll be leading a reading group for her book, Getting Involved With God (which I'm using as a resource for this series) as part of our combined Sunday School hour in July. It's a fantastic book and a pretty easy read. Look for more information about that as we get closer, but feel free to pick up a copy in advance.
As we said on Sunday, as the prayerbook of the Bible, the Psalms not only shape how we pray, but also how we see the world. They encourage us to see the world through the lens of prayer, When we see the world through the lens of prayer, we 1) remind ourselves that God is God and we are not, and 2) train our Spirits to see the world and our lives in a new way, a way charged with the presence of God and full of God's blessing and provision. Things we take for granted are suddenly awash with God's Spirit and goodness.
So to help us train our Spirits to see the world in this way, over this month the challenge is simple: read the Book of Psalms from start to finish.
There are 150 Psalms, so that breaks down to 5 a day (not 6 as I mistakenly and embarrassingly said yesterday--though I blame the choir for not correcting me; that's why I'm always looking back there).
Try to read 5 a day, but if you miss a day be kind to yourself. Just catch up as best you can. And as you read, don't just skim through them, but try your best to focus. Chew on them. Savor them as a fine meal. And if you're up for it, try this practice I learned from one of my friends and mentors, Stephanie Paulsell:
Write down a line from each Psalm that speaks to you for whatever reason. Maybe it's a particular beautiful image or phrase. Maybe it resonates with something going on in your life. Maybe it just plain doesn't make sense. Whatever the reason, write it down. At the end of the month you will have your own collection of one-line prayers to God. You may even find that you've found a new prayer practice and will go back and read the Psalms monthly, maybe even trying new translations.
Or maybe this experiment will end this month. Whatever the case, I invite you to join me in reading the Psalms together this month. Take on this simple discipline and see what happens. As I heard it put it recently, "religion is like exercise: if you want to be transformed, you have to break a sweat."
Let's give ourselves the opportunity to be transformed this month by immersing ourselves in these prayers that have nourished the people of God for generations. Let's break a spiritual sweat. We may find at the end of these 30 days that our prayer muscles have been toned, our senses for the divine have been sharpened and these ancient words of God's people of generations past have become our words, the words of God's people in the present.