Thoughts on Reading the Psalms

Here are just a few things that I find helpful on a very basic level with regard to reading the Psalms as a Christan.

  1. Read the Psalms regularly. One of the reasons the Psalms can be so little help to some Christians in their time of need is simply this: We’re not familiar with them. They’re a different type of literature than we’re used to reading or hearing preached (usually a gospel or an epistle). When times of hardship and suffering, or feelings of guilt and depression, or seasons of joy and exuberance come, we don’t know how to use the Psalms because we don’t know where to look in the Psalms to find a suitable song for our emotions. Familiarizing ourself with the basic contents of the book and the different types of songs in the book will help us be quicker to flee to the Psalms in whatever season.
  2. Think hard through the Psalms. There are some tough passages and some tough expressions of anger, some strong words of love, some passionate promises to God… how much of this can we agree with? Can we apply it all? How much of what David writes is simply poetic expression (i.e. hyperbole, simile, metaphor, merism, etc.) and how much of it is ‘literal’? Is it appropriate to pray these particular things as a member of the New Covenant? These are good questions to ask regularly–they are tough issues that each Christian will need to work through. Unfortunately, since there are some tough questions attendant with reading the Psalms, this often scares some Christians away. But it shouldn’t!
  3. Develop a plan for reading the Psalms. Here’s mine, that I’ve used several times. To read through the whole book of Psalms (a seemingly daunting task) really isn’t that hard. You can do it no problem in a month. On the first day of the month (i.e. July 1), I read Psalms 1, 31, 61, 91, 121. On the second, I read Psalms 2, 32, 62, 92, 122. Today I read Psalms 3, 33, 63, 93, 123. There are 150 Psalms, so 30 days at this pace will get you through quite easily. Reading this intensely will help with both 1. and 2. above as well.
  4. Get help. Pick up a commentary if you need to. Ask one of your elders or a mature Christian you know well to help you through some of the tough questions that will come up.
  5. Pray. It’s the word of the Lord, and therefore, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to illuminate and to apply. Ask him in faith, with no doubting, and he will.
  6. Ask to identify, not just understand. Sometimes we can become accustomed to just trying to ‘understand’ the words of the Bible. The Psalms will have nothing of that. If you’re not affected in your heart by the truths of God and his work in revelation and redemption, then the Psalms won’t make sense to you. Pray that the Spirit of God would give not just insight, but a heart that is genuinely affected by what it sees. Hearts affected by God’s truth, for God’s glory is the goal of the Psalms.

Hopefully I’ll be able to post more on the interpretation of Psalms and how to ‘get to Christ’ from the Psalms shortly.

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on Reading the Psalms

  1. Pastor, Thank you for your thoughts on the Psalms, I have to say that reading the Psalms (or any book) often and much is most important to know Christ and understand His Word. I have found that the more you read and think on the Word the more the difficult parts become more clear. On point #3, do you think there is a theme that ties the Psalms together (I was just thinking would it be wise to read 1-5, 6-11 etc to keep the theme(s) in your mind, or do you think that, like Proverbs they are more ‘individualized’ and you can meditate on one literary thought).I guess that is more of a genre question. Also prayer is essential (and something I need to be reminded of) when reading the Word, so thank you! Do you have any good commentaries to recommend on the Psalms? Thanks for your posts, I appreciate them very much!

    David the Twin

  2. Do you think the ‘five books’ of psalms makes an impact on how we read it?

  3. I’d like to also add that singing the psalms is important. They are God’s book of praises for the Church, and were written first to be sung aloud, many of them corporately. As a member of a church with a long tradition of singing the psalms in worship, I can testify to the blessing of this practice.

    For readers unfamiliar with singing the Psalms, Crown & Covenant Publications has a lot of resources, including psalters and psalm CDs, available at http://www.crownandcovenant.com.

  4. Julian this is very helpful. I particularly appreciate “The Psalms will have nothing of that. If you’re not affected in your heart by the truths of God and his work in revelation and redemption, then the Psalms won’t make sense to you.”

    Thanks so much. I think this emphasis on the Psalms is very needed.

  5. David,

    Thanks for the kind words. I definitely think there are benefits to reading the Psalms straight through. There are sections of Psalms laid out thematically all over the place that you will easily be able to pick up on as you read. My plan isn’t the only way to read through them. I just find it helpful because it makes it seems manageable to read through a 150 chapter book in a month… something which may otherwise seem ominous and burdensome.

    As for commentaries, check out the OT Commentary Survey by Tremper Longman, III. He’ll be able to guide you better than me. :)

  6. Dave,

    Thanks for the question. I do indeed think the five books are strategically laid out. John Piper makes the argument (a common evangelical position) that the five books are laid out to correspond to the five books of Moses (Torah). I haven’t decided on that, but I generally agree with Piper on most things, so I’m sure it’s worth investigating some more.