How to read the Psalms
By Joel Greenwood
In a given week, our emotions can go all over the place. We feel joy when our team wins, anger when the green light doesn’t last long enough and we have to sit even longer, relief when our paycheck finally goes through to our bank accounts, and that’s just the start! There’s one book of the Bible that contains explicit expressions of emotion, ranging from joy to grief to thanksgiving to fear to praise, and that is the Book of Psalms!
What are Psalms?
There are 150 “chapters,” in Psalms, but this is the one book of the Bible in which we refer to each chapter as, simply, a “psalm.” Psalms are sometimes short and sometimes long, and they always contain elements of Hebrew poetry that are expertly written to convey a specific thought or idea to God.
Although nearly half of the Psalms are attributed to King David, they were written by a diverse group of people including Solomon, Asaph, The Sons of Korah, and even Moses.
The Psalms were originally written to be sung by choirs, so a natural conclusion from some is that the psalms are the “Biblical hymn book.” However, the Psalms are organized in such a way that, if you read through the entire book from beginning to end, you’ll see an outline that weaves through the narrative of history, showing our need for a Savior, and the eventual promise of God to save his people (spoiler alert: through Jesus!). Ultimately, when reading the Psalms, there are two important things to keep in mind:
1. One overarching reminder of the Psalms is that God’s followers are blessed when they read his Word, obey it, and meditate on it, day and night.
2. Another reminder woven through the Psalms is that we will have (or, in our case, already have!) a Savior, who will separate us from our sins once and for all.
How to Read Psalms:
With that in mind, how should we read the Psalms? Whether you choose to read through them all at once, or if you go through one Psalm per day to accompany your Bible reading plan, here are a couple things to keep in mind:
1. Read them slowly. Psalms are FILLED with imagery and symbolism; take time to try and soak it in.
2. The Psalms can be prayed directly to God. They were written as intimate prayers, and they are a great guide for helping us to pray to God as well.
3. Allow yourself to feel emotions. Each psalm was written as a reflection of our humanity, with its emotions and rawness before our wonderful God. With the psalms especially, it’s okay to put our normally-analytic approach to Scripture to the side to cry out with our authentic, imperfect, and bare selves before Him.
The Psalms are a gift, and we should treasure them as guides for prayer and expressions for praise before our God. Take time to pick a psalm and savor it each day, starting today!