This week we discuss how to shape our prayers in a more powerful way through praying the Psalms.
What is the shape of your prayers?
Another way to ask what I am asking is, what form do your prayers take?
I have a confession to make
I have, for far too long in my Christian journey, prayed with myself in the centre of the shape and the form of my prayer life. What do I mean by this (I mean, it sounds kinda bad for me as a Pastor to say such a thing right!)?
It's simply too true that I have really done allot of praying based largely in what I feel is most urgent, most important, most anxiety-evoking, or most valuable. And whilst God is extremely responsive to our needs, far more than we deserve (this is the goodness of God as our merciful and loving Heavenly Father), there are more richer and powerful ways for us to pray that don't involve us being the sole determinant of what is worth praying about.
To be fair to me, the Pentecostal tradition I have been raised in does not have a rich sense of practice around praying the scriptures outside of spontaneous Spirit-inspired quotes and directives. And it is also real that the spirit of the age puts self at the centre of everything. But these are not good excuses to avoid or ignore the vast riches of what God has provided us with beyond this one form of praying.
Enter the Psalms
Have you engaged with the Psalms, one by one, as more than just another book of the bible to read and get some inspiration out of?
There are traditions within the larger body of Christ that pray through the whole Psalter in a month, and some even in a day (more on that HERE).
Because the Psalms capture so much of the variance of human emotion and experience in this world and pour it all out in powerful ways. Ways that both honor the various experiences we have but more importantly honor God who is both with us and above us through it all.
As a sampling, check out these three different types of Psalms:
"Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night." [Psalm 1:1–2]
"LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high." [Psalm 3:1–3]
"LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens." [Psalm 8:1]
Notice here you have a more reflective piece in Psalm 1, and then there is a sharp cry for help made in Psalm 3, and then a soaring expression of worship to the Lord in the beginning of Psalm 8. And this is but a sampling of three portions of the Psalter that is 150 in total.
Learning to pray the Psalms draws us deeper into expressing our range of human experiences and emotions, but it does better than this. It also contextualises them all before our Living God, and therefore brings us before Him - ready for Him to minister to us, guide us, direct us, speak to us, and lead us in fresh ministry to His world.
There are a few ways I have enjoyed praying scriptures generally, including the Psalms in particular:
I read through the Psalm I am focussed on, line by line, and pray to the Lord / seek the Lord around words or phrases that inspire prayers, or cause me to wonder before Him, or challenge me to seek His command or direction on.
Often in complement to the above prayer activity, I pray for people and situations that come to mind directly related to the words or phrases that capture my attention and link to these people and situations.
As an alternative, the significant figure of Church history, Martin Luther, drew upon all scripture (including the Psalms) in a certain 4-fold movement. This is an alternative way to pray through the Psalms, drawing you into a place of prayerfulness as you make the following 4 moves:
Move 1 - Using your current scripture as instruction. What does this particular portion of scripture require of me, in response?
Move 2 - Using your current scripture next for thanksgiving. What can I thank God for as a result of what I am reading here?
Move 3 - Using your current scripture to inspire confession. What sin am I convicted of and need to confess and repent of before the Lord through this Psalm?
Move 4 - Using your current scripture to inspire further prayer. What insights, or things, or people, come to mind that cause me to seek the Lord with requests and intercessions?
[these above notes on Luther draw upon information gathered in Timothy Keller's book, Prayer, which you can get HERE]
For the week ahead
You've got some fresh ways to approach your prayer life. I believe they will be deeply empowering. I find, if nothing else, that praying the scriptures, and the Psalms in particular, is by default more confidence evoking for me in my seeking of the Lord. For the simple reason that these texts have been given to me by the Lord, to help in knowing Him and how He wants me to relate to Him and the world around me.
As such, I find myself inspired and drawn deeper into communion with God, and gaining greater wisdom and insights from His Spirit than I otherwise would if I only ever start from my very limited sense of experiences, of what is important to me, and of what I am most concerned about.
In short, I get drawn off looking to God through myself first, and get drawn into looking to God for not only myself, but the world about me. The order is very much important in shaping a deeper prayer life, and a more mature approach to life in general.
Seeking the Lord with you through the Psalms and the scriptures generally this week!
Written by Ps. Rob.