Praying the Psalms

The Psalms have been called the prayer book of the Bible. These 150 songs and prayers have been sung and prayed for many thousands of years by Jewish and Christian believers, gathered together and individually. They express the full range of human emotions from anguish to doubt to joy. As such, they provide a natural and wonderful place to begin to pray the scriptures.

The Psalms help us offer all of ourselves to God, not just the happy parts. The Psalms show us how to pour out our hearts to God, and they assure us that nothing is too bad or ugly to include in our prayers. Theologian Walter Brueggemann says, "The Psalms are an assurance to us that when we pray and worship, we are not expected to censure or deny the deepness of our own human pilgrimage. Rather, we are expected to submit it openly and trustingly so that it can be brought to eloquent and passionate speech addressed to the Holy One" (Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit, [Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 2007], 14).

Reading a psalm slowly and prayerfully as your prayer to God is one way to pray the psalms. Here are some other ways:

Praying Psalms Aloud: The Psalms were written to be spoken or sung. Read the psalm aloud, taking your time and thinking about the words and how they represent your feelings and your life situation. Notice the difference between speaking the psalm and merely reading it in silence.

Writing Psalms: The Psalms seem to invite us to express our own thoughts and prayers to God in a similar manner. Try writing your own psalm by giving testimony to your joys and pain or by responding to these questions in a written prayer: What would you like to say to God? What is making you happy or sad or afraid? How do you need God's help today?

Paraphrasing Psalms: After reading and meditating on a psalm, put it in your own words, to God from you. Take the psalm line-by-line and express each thought in your own way. When you are finished, read your paraphrased psalm to God aloud as your prayer.

Memorize a Psalm: When we learn a psalm "by heart," we are planting this prayer deep inside ourselves. In times of sorrow and deep need, we can draw upon the wisdom and solace of a memorized psalm. Perhaps the most famous and well-loved psalm in the Bible is Psalm 23. Many people have memorized this psalm and found comfort in its words, whether or not they have a Bible with them. The words are in their hearts.

Singing the Psalms: St. Augustine is credited with saying "A person who sings prays twice." This is certainly true when we sing the prayers of the Psalms. Many hymns and contemporary Christian praise songs use the words of the Psalms; perhaps you sing these.