Friday, May 6, 2016
Praying the Psalms. . .
For Luther, the Psalms “are not words to read, but to live.” Luther's prayer life as monk and priest were rooted in the Psalms. It was his hope and desire that every Christian would take to heart the Psalter as he had done -- memorizing them, pondering their meaning, and praying them. “In short, if you would see the holy Christian church pictured in living color and form, as in a small portrait, pick up the Psalter,” so said Pastor Luther. More than four centuries later, Dietrich Bonhoeffer would comment: "When the Psalter is abandoned, a great treasure is lost to the Christian Church; with its recovery comes hidden power..."
As I have often said, the best prayerbook for most folks is probably not a breviary or other form of devotion (ancient or modern) but the Psalter. It is the richest fabric for forming piety, teaching our hearts to pray, and learning to trust with all our heart, soul, body, and mind the good and gracious will of God. Once does not need to develop an elaborate format. The Psalter is already well distributed throughout the Church Year in the Psalm of the Day and the Introits for each Sunday. There are abundant patterns to help you pray the Psalms once a day or more throughout the calendar year. It is my experience that this is the best way to begin a discipline of daily prayer -- to read the Psalm, ponder its meaning, and then pray it back to the Lord.
I have been given several editions of the Psalms, including the Concordia Psalter (complete with tones), and I have a copy or two done in more elaborate calligraphy. There are abundant choices (including a newer ESV edition of the Psalms alone which I reviewed on this blog sometime ago). If you are having problems praying and know that you should be praying more, try the pattern of reading a Psalm each day, reflecting upon its words, and then praying that Psalm as your daily prayer. I think it is a most eloquent and yet practical beginning or end of each day. If you like, sing the Psalm. Tones and settings are provided in abundance to assist you in this. All the prayer offices of the day are in essence extended treatments of the Psalms.
In pastoral settings when facing the troubles and trials of this mortal life with one who feels the sting more deeply than usual, I find the Psalms my ready pastoral care resource. When I was faced with a request to pray at a remembrance of someone who took her own life, I reflected upon the rather tormented life of this woman and was drawn to Psalm 130 and to its author's own experience with the depths of despair and loneliness and the God who gives forgiveness to the fallen, who teaches us to wait without fear, who redeems the lost from their affliction and restores the broken. Its repeated call to wait upon the Lord is not resignation to the evils we deplore but our awareness that God found not only on the mountain tops but in the valleys.
If you struggle to pray, start with the Psalms. You may find that this is not only a beginning but a home which will form you in the faith as the Psalter has for many generations before you.