III. Yet We Struggle with Fully Grasping the Whole Book of Psalms.
While every believer has benefitted greatly from the book of Psalms, and we all keep going back to the psalms….yet which of us feels that we know what all 150 of the psalms are about, much less to have the ability to draw on the appropriate ones in time of need- whether our need or another’s?
We know Ps. 23 and 51; we might be able to sing a few portions of the psalms, and we know that Ps. 119 (all 176 verses) is about God’s Word… but most of the Psalms are somewhat strangers to us. Why do you think that is so?
A. There’s so many of them! After all, it is the longest book of the Bible, by far: 150 chapters, and one of them is 176 verses long! Here’s something to try: without looking at your Bible, go through the 150 Psalms in your mind, and see how many you can identify; that is, you know what it is about; you know a song or hymn that is based on it, etc. (I came up with a bit less than half!)
B. They don’t appear to be in any special order! Even in the midst of a series, an odd psalm will appear! (We’ll be talking about the arrangement of the psalms a bit later.)
C. They are a book of poetry, not a narrative (like Acts) that is easy to follow, and not like Romans or Ephesians, following a logical outline. Besides, how many of us read poetry on a regular basis? It’s not our “native language.”
D. The Psalms were written over perhaps close to a 1,000 years, covering a long period of Israel’s history, much of which we are unfamiliar with. (Psalm of Moses, Ps. 90, to the Babylonian Exile, Ps. 137). Therefore the psalms have so many different settings and backgrounds to be aware of.
Therefore, if we are honest, our love for the psalms is usually is love for just a small selection of them that we know. Is that the case for you?
By contrast, the saints of old knew many of the psalms by heart and could sing a majority of them. Geoffrey Grogan writes that the monks at Fountain Abbey in Yorkshire England had to recite the whole book of Psalms – in Latin – before being allowed to pass on from the novitiate!
For many centuries, the Psalter was the basic diet of believers. In many churches the Psalms were the only songs used for corporate worship. Believers would sing them at home and around the table, almost without thinking about it. They were hiding God’s Word in their heart. But this habit is infrequent today, and we are poorer for it.
IV. How do we get a handle on the psalms? How do we know them better so that we can hide them in our hearts, and use them more effectively and lovingly?
Here are a number of ways to get a better handle on the psalms (a long section):
A. Exercises to Help Experience a Psalm.
- Pray a psalm. Make it your own in prayer. Personalize it. Try this with the shortest psalm in the Bible: Ps. 117.
- Meditate on a psalm. Think deeply over a period of time and then come back to it. Write it out – longhand. Memorize it. Do this with Ps. 117. Analyze it.
- Sing the psalm. (Do this with Ps. 117 by sing Trinity Hymnal # 7 “All That Dwell below the Skies”.) Look in the index of the Trinity Hymnal. There’s over 300 hymns that are based on one of the psalms! In the scripture reference section in the back, there are about 800 scriptures cited. Of those 800, over ¼ of them refer back to the Psalms. While the chapters of the Psalms make up 1/8 of the chapters of the Bible, yet there are twice as many songs referred to (200 out of 800, or 25%) Or use the songs we sing: As the Deer Pants (Ps. 42); Be Exalted, O God (57:9-11); Better Is one Day (84); Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down (95:6-7); Create in Me a Clean Heart (51:10-12); How Majestic is Your Name (8:1); I Will Call Upon the Lord (18:3, 46); Strong Tower (61:3); The New 23rd Psalms (23); You Are My Hiding Place (32:7); My Hope Is You (25); etc. Others include The God of Heaven Thunders (29), etc.
- Read a psalm to someone else, perhaps in a nursing home. Tell another person what you have been learning through a psalm. Use Ps. 117 to counsel or encourage someone this week.
So here is your first delightful duty! Pick one psalm, one that you don’t already know inside and out, and for the next few weeks mediate on it, pray through it, sing it, tell others about it.
By next Sunday, I want everyone to have picked a psalm and share with the class.