Praying the Psalms

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

Praying the Psalms. Jesus did it. It guided him through the heights of glory to the pit of despair. I really like Eugene Peterson’s introduction to the Psalms. I’m going to quote from it liberally today. He talks about how in his life as a pastor people were always asking him how to pray. He would place the Psalms in their hands and say, “here, pray this.” People are frequently confused by this. Aren’t the Psalms songs, after all? They are, but they are sung prayers. As Martin Luther said, that those who sing, pray twice.

People often feel they have to learn the correct language for prayer. You don’t. The Psalms are evidence of that. They are honest and earthy and filled with just about every human emotion there is. Peterson said that his parishioners were often surprised by the prayers they discovered in the Psalms. He expressed surprise at their surprise. “Did you think these would be the prayers of nice people? Did you think the psalmists’ language would be polished and polite?”

Peterson continues: “Untutored, we tend to think that prayer is what good people do when they are doing their best. It is not. Inexperienced, we suppose that there must be ‘insider’ language that must be acquired before God takes us seriously in our prayer. There is not. Prayer is elemental, not advanced, language. It is the means by which our language becomes honest, true, and personal in response to God. It is the means by which we get everything in our lives out in the open before God.”

I relied on the Psalms a great deal when I was on leave for two months. I discovered that no matter what I was experiencing, the Psalmist was there to greet me. Phrases like “I stood there saved—surprised to be loved”, or “God’s word is better than strawberries in Spring, better than red, ripe strawberries”, or “God, my God, why did you dump me miles from nowhere?” It doesn’t matter what emotion you are feeling, it’s in the Psalms. Are you feeling betrayed? How about this, “Don’t let them cut my throat; don’t let those mongrels devour me.” It may be shocking to see such raw emotion as prayer.

I have been praying Peterson’s version of the Psalms for over ten years. I try to read one each morning before I begin my day. Sometimes I am called to reach out beyond myself and praise God, but just as often I am greeted right where I am, in my messed up, non-perfect, secretly wanting revenge, depressed self. I am so pleased to have this chance to preach and pray the Psalms on my way out the door. It is wonderful company. In today’s Psalm we see a stark contrast between those who follow God and those who do not. Those who “Chew on God’s Word” are like trees planted in Eden bearing fruit every month. Those who do not are like wind blown dust. There is something to an authentic life, and a part of that life is struggling with the highs and lows of life and faith. Contrary to what some people say, faith is not all happiness and celebration. It contains the whole gambit of human emotions, and they are all in the Psalms.

Quotes for the Week

“We have to stand up for what we believe in, even when we might not be popular for it. Honesty starts with being ourselves, authentic and true to who we are and what we believe in, and that may not always be popular, but it will always let you follow your dreams and your heart.”   Tabatha Coffey

“Our lives improve only when we take chances – and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” Walter Anderson

“The secret of life is honest and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Groucho Marx


Lesson Psalm 1 (NRSV/AS/PTC Version)

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,                      and do not take a stand in the path that sinners,                              nor a seat in company with cynics,

2 but their delight is in the teaching of the LORD,                                      and on the LORD’s teaching they                                                    reflect both day and night.

3 They are like trees planted by streams of water;                                       bearing fruit in due season whose leaves never wither,                                In every work that they undertake they prosper.

4 How different the wicked are, how very different!                                         Like chaff blown by the wind

5 the wicked will not stand firm at the Judgment,                                          nor sinners in the gathering of the upright.

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the upright,                                     but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Questions for the Week

What is the reward for living a faithful life?

Is your life fruitful? How are you being fruitful, and where are you struggling to be?

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