Why the Psalms are Essential for Spiritual Growth

When people ask am what is a good place to start reading the Bible I often refer them to the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John), Paul’s letters known as Ephesians or Galatians, or the book of Exodus. Each of these books speaks of basic and deep truths about God and the revelation in Jesus Christ. But a quick next step for me is to encourage the inquirer to spend time in the book of Psalms. In fact, I have come to believe that the Psalms are essential for spiritual growth.

In the psalms, we learn how to connect with God through important spiritual practices of Scripture reading and prayer. The psalms are, first of all, part of God’s inspired word and, thus, reveal to us the character of God. As we read the psalms, we understand who God is and what it looks like to relate to Him. But the psalms are also the prayerbook of the Bible, teaching us how to hear God and respond to Him in prayer. The psalms bring together these two powerful resources—Scripture and prayer—like two wings that help us fly toward God in the spiritual life.

In the psalms, we also learn how to bring our whole selves to God. When you read the psalms, you will see both intellectual and emotional aspects of life brought into God’s presence. The thoughtful reflection upon the significance of God’s revelation in Psalm 119 sits right alongside the deep emotional heart-cries of Psalms 22 and 69. Not only that, but the entire range of human experience is captured in the psalms, from the heights of joy to the depths of despair. The psalmists are not afraid to bring fear, delight, shame, exuberance, repentance, and restoration into prayer with God. As we read and pray the psalms we learn that we, too, can bring our whole selves to God.

While there are many ways to read and pray the psalms, I would encourage two different approaches that I have found helpful. The first method is to read one psalm per day, while sometimes breaking up longer psalms into two or more days. After, or even while, reading the psalm, one can pray back to God all or portions of the psalm to God. If there is a verse that sticks out to you, stick with it in prayer. If the whole psalm captures you, then pray it all back to God. For example, the beloved Psalm 23 is an easy psalm to either pray verse by verse back to God, or to rest in prayer within one phrase, such as “he refreshes my soul.”

A second method for approaching the psalms is to read through the entire psalter over the course of one month, praying certain psalms in the morning and others in the evening. This is a common practice in many church traditions, perhaps most known through the daily psalm readings in the Book of Common Prayer. While this may seem like a lot to move through in a day, book-ending the day with the psalms helps us begin and end our day with God in prayer and Scripture. Many Christians recommend this approach to engaging with God in the psalms.

While there is much more that could be said, let me refer you to some of my other posts on the Psalms:

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (April 29, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.


In this video update I reference Psalm 131, which I am including below in its entirety. You can also read a reflection I wrote about the psalm yesterday, “Finding Peace with God: Praying Psalm 131.”

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
(Psalm 131)

Praying to the God Who Responds [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“He will call on me, and I will answer him.” (Psalm 91:15)

When we pray, it sometimes feels like we are talking to ourselves or to the wind currents in the air. We may wonder: does God really hear us, and if so, does He respond? Where Psalm 80 reaches out to God with an anguished request for God to hear, Psalm 91 rises up with the powerful response that God does hear us and responds.

Many people love the faith-filled expression of taking refuge in God at the beginning of this psalm:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)

After this strong beginning, the psalm encourages the reader to turn to God because of His trustworthy promises of protection and goodness (91:3-13). Line by line, the psalm builds a citadel of faith from the sturdy stones of God’s character and activity on behalf of those who trust in Him.

The psalm concludes by switching voices, as God now speaks through the psalmist with words that respond to the faith expressed up to this point (91:14-16). At the heart of those words from God we find one outstanding promise in verse 15: “He will call on me, and I will answer him.”

Here is the crux of the matter in prayer: God hears and God answers. Simply take that in for a moment. God reaches out to us first, and we answer Him. As one writer describes it, prayer is essentially the act of “answering God.”[1] But the reverse is also true: we speak to God, and God answers us. This wonderfully reliable and personal reality undergirds all of our praying.

As we approach God in prayer, asking Him to hear us, let us also come with confidence that God will undoubtedly hear us. There is no utterance of any person that goes unheeded by God.

“Our Father,”
  what a beautiful phrase that is
  in which we draw near to You, our God.
Thank You that You are near to us,
  and involved with us,
  and hear us in prayer.
What greater gift could we receive
  than that the God of the universe
is also the God of our lives
  who hears our prayers
and responds to our prayers
  with gracious answers beyond our understanding.
Thank you!

[1] Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (New York: HarperCollins, 1989).

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Praying to the God Who Hears [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_BannerHear us, Shepherd of Israel,  you who lead Joseph like a flock. (Psalm 80:1)

There are times when reading the psalms becomes an experience of call and response in prayer.  Occasionally, one psalm raises a question or concern that another psalm seems to answer. This reminds us that the psalms become an even more powerful resource for us when we read and pray them in their entirety. Like a choirs responding to one another in worship, in prayer the psalms lift their distinct voices one after the other to form one beautiful melody to God.

Two psalms that interact in this way are Psalms 80 and 91. Psalm 80 begins with a deep cry for God to hear His people’s request for deliverance and restoration: “Hear us, Shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:1). The entire psalm expresses a heart-wrenching range of need in the face of difficulty. All of us can relate to that sort of prayer. We have all endured seasons of life or situations where the words the roll from our lips in prayer sound like this: “Restore us, O God” (80:3). At other times, we may relate to the agonizing expression: “How long, Lord God Almighty?” (80:4).

The intimacy of prayer conveyed in Psalm 80 reminds us that God hears us, whether in our praises or our requests. The God of the Bible is holy, powerful and involved in our world. Even more, He hears us in our distress. Rest in the reality that God hears you in prayer. Tomorrow, we’ll continue this theme by turning to Psalm 91 as we look at how God responds to us once He hears us.

Hear me, God, as I call to You,
  and give attention to my cries.
As I pray that it seems presumptuous
  to request the God of all the universe
  to listen to a simple person like me,
Still, I know You do invite me to approach You
  with the wild boldness of faith,
  believing that You will hear me.
Thank You for Your tender mercy
  and steadfast love toward me.
I know I do not deserve it,
  but You listen anyway.
Thank you!

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]