Hello regular readers of Pastor Chris’ blog!
As I mentioned last week, most of my prayers up until now have been collections of petitions and intercessions to God. It wasn’t until I began seeking Christ and Christian community on my own in college that I realized prayer was deeper and more complex. Last week, Dr. Floyd’s article introduced the idea of beginning prayer time with scripture. Since opening my prayers with Psalm 63 had been beneficial, I decided this week would be the perfect time to learn how to pray through the whole book of Psalms.
I began, as anyone would in the 21st century, by Googling “how to pray the Psalms.” One of the first links led me to The Upper Room website and their articles on prayer. According to The Upper Room staff writer, the book of Psalms is known in both the Jewish and Christian traditions as the “prayer book of the Bible.” Unlike a normal poetry collection, the Psalms are meant to be used in conversation with God; to praise Him, exalt Him, and tell Him our anxieties. The Upper Room article says, “[The Psalms] teach us to hide nothing from God, but to bring all that is real into the only relationship that can bless and heal the worst in us.” Confirmed in my suspicion that Psalms are the key to a healthy prayer life, I decided to let the “words of the Psalms accompany [me] into God’s presence” this week (“Praying the Psalms”).
Unlike Dr. Floyd, The Upper Room failed to provide me with specific instructions for praying the Psalms. To their credit, they did include a list of Psalms to pray in certain situations. If I felt contented, for example, The Upper Room recommended Psalm 23. If I felt anxious, they recommended Psalm 70. Though helpful, this list is not a structured method for prayer. Disappointed, I turned once again to Google. To my relief, I stumbled upon “How to Pray the Psalms” by Pastor Benjamin Kandt. Kandt is the pastor of formation and mission at New City Church in Orlando. In his article, he gives a brief explanation of how to—you guessed it—go about praying the Psalms. Though his article is not a prayer method outline like Dr. Floyd’s, I still found Kandt’s observations beneficial.
The first tip Pastor Kandt gives is “pray through the whole Psalter.” Psalters are collections of Psalms “arranged for liturgical worship in Christian churches” meaning they are intended for public, corporate worship like hymnals (Kiczek). For those of us who do not own Psalters, Pastor Kandt gives instructions for using our familiar Bibles. He gives two methods. To simulate the structure of the Psalter you can, “Multiply the day of the month by five and pray those psalms” (Kandt). Now, if you’re anything like me, you balk at the mention of math, even if it’s a simple calculation. Nevertheless, I whipped out my phone and crunched the numbers. Since it was the fourteenth of June, I was supposed to begin with Psalm 70. Great! But I had a problem: where should I stop? According to his article, Pastor Kandt prayed five psalms in succession. Should I just count up from 70 and pray Psalms 70-74? Perturbed, I decided to review the second way to simulate the Psalter. Kandt writes we can forgo math (hooray) and “start with Psalm 1 and pray it in the morning, afternoon, and evening. . . [moving] to Psalm 2 the next day.” Needless to say, I chose this method.
My method selected, I read Kandt’s next tip. His second bullet point says to “make the psalm’s words your words.” Whether the psalmist is lamenting or praising, we are meant to take their emotion in stride instead of hopping around looking for the right words to fit our mood. As I moved through the first seven psalms, I found it difficult to push myself to feel negative emotions, especially when I went on vacation. It’s hard to call for vengeance on your enemies while surrounded by friends. It is important, however, not to skip over psalms of vengeance or sorrow when we aren’t feeling those negative emotions. In Romans, Paul says we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12: 5). In other words, we are supposed to empathize with our fellow man. If I can’t even identify with a psalmist’s joy and sorrow, how am I going to do so with my friends’ and family’s. Allowing the psalmist’s phrases to guide my prayers meant my laments were longer, but when I did get to praise God, my joy was brighter.
While we pray through the Psalms, regardless of their tone, Kandt recommends we “meditate on [them].” This step was difficult for me, especially while I was vacationing. Getting up thirty minutes earlier than everyone else to ponder the Psalms after staying up thirty minutes later the night before was not something I really wanted to do. It required a lot of discipline to sit still and reread verses that jumped out at me. Most of the time I could feel my mind trying to wander while I attempted to let God “shine His light” on the passage (Kandt).
Kandt’s fourth tip is to “memorize the Psalms.” In times of spiritual speechlessness—those nights when you just don’t know what to say to our Father—having the Word stored away will help you articulate what you need to say. Last week, I decided I didn’t have time to memorize anything properly, but I will be circling back to memorization in my private spiritual life. I already have the opening verse of Psalm 63 locked and loaded!
Kandt’s fifth tip is to “pray the psalms like an apple tree or Christmas tree.” When I saw that line for the first time, I raised an eyebrow at its childish, Bible School vocabulary only to sheepishly force the brow back down after reading his explanation. Those phrases are actually useful! Kandt explains apple picking as choosing “pleas and praises” from the Psalms and making them your own. As an English major, I try to avoid taking quotes out of context to use for my specific purposes, which is what Kandt’s apple picking sounded like to me. That left the Christmas tree method.
With the Christmas tree method, you simply “[hang] your pleas and praises” from the Psalm’s words. As I allowed the different psalms to inform my mood and length of my prayers, I was glad the Christmas tree method was so customizable. For example, Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man / who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” I read the verse and then began hanging my plea and praise. I prayed, “Father, help me turn from the counsel of the wicked and listen to Your good instructions instead.” Here, I pleaded for salvation from wicked counsel and praised God’s goodness. With that branch decorated, I moved on to the next verse. By the end of the passage, I felt like I’d had a fulfilling, deep conversation with someone close to me.
The sixth and final tip is to “pray the Psalm through Jesus & with Jesus.” This tip works in tandem with the third, meditation. As you’re sitting there, eyes closed, attempting to mull over a specific word or phrase that stuck out to you, imagine Jesus doing the same thing. When I lamented, I imagined Him lamenting in the Garden of Gethsemane, and when I praised God, I imagined Jesus praising Him after performing miracles to reveal His glory. I felt closer to Jesus because I realized I was praying the same words He would have known, loved, and used two thousand years ago. This revelation added an extra layer of fervent awe to my prayers even as I struggled to be still during meditation.
At the end of the week, my prayer life felt a little dehydrated. I started strong, Christmas tree-ing every Psalm I read, all three times I read it, but by the end of the week, I was just throwing random ornaments at the passage as I let my eyes scan the words. Autopilot praying isn’t fair to God, and it definitely isn’t going to help our relationship flourish. I think Pastor Kandt’s tips are useful, but they would benefit from having more structure or at least a journaling session as the final step. Though disappointed, I appreciate the challenge that praying the Psalms posed. Wish me luck as I attempt to follow my third method this week. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Kandt, Benjamin. “How to Pray the Psalms.” praypsalms.org, Medium, 16 July 2017, https://praypsalms.org/how-to-pray-the-psalms-60484747091a
Kiczek, Steven. “Cataloging Biblical Materials: Differentiating Psalms from Psalters.” Princeton University Library’s Cataloging Documentation, Princeton University Library, https://library.princeton.edu/departments/tsd/katmandu/bible/psalmpsalter.html
“Praying the Psalms.” The Upper Room, upperroom.org , 2021, https://www.upperroom.org/resources/praying-the-psalms