Next Sunday we will begin an 8 week summer series in the Psalms and I, for one, am really excited! In our modern day, the Psalms are, sadly, often neglected, leading many Christians to misunderstand and dismiss them. We have no idea what to do with imprecatory prayers and laments, and so many just skip right over the Psalter. Yet, as theologian N.T. Wright points out, "the Psalms were the prayer book that Jesus Himself used, and we can see in the Gospels and in the New Testament how Jesus and the early Christians used them, and it seems...extraordinary that we would ignore that resource in our own worship."
"the Psalms were
the prayer book
My hope in this sermon series is that we would gain an understanding of just how incredibly rich and beneficial the songs of Scripture are for the lives of believers. In his introduction to his commentary on the Psalms, John Calvin lists several benefits to reading and studying the Psalter. I'll offer three of his observations that will hopefully serve to excite you for next Sunday and the next two months.
1. The Psalms are "an anatomy of all the parts of the soul."
Calvin writes, "there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror." It's been said before that we don't so much read the Bible as it reads us. There is no point of Scripture where that is more true than in the Psalms–they expose our hearts and lay us bear before God. We see ourselves for who we truly are when we meditate on the Psalms. Calvin goes on, "The Holy Spirit has here [in the Psalms] drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated." In other words, the Psalms help us give expression to all the emotions of life. Through studying the Psalms we encounter joy, grief, fear, anxiety, hope, love, praise, and so on. The Psalms are an aid to voicing to our true feelings. As Calvin puts it, they "draw each of us to the examination of himself...and the heart is brought into the light."
2. The Psalms teach us how to pray
When you begin to study the Psalms you'll soon wrestle to discern whether they are prayerful songs or melodious prayers. Either way you look at it, the Psalms teach us how to talk to God. Calvin writes that "whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God is taught in this book." George Mueller, widely considered one the greatest men of prayer and faith since the days of the New Testament, a man who established five orphan houses and cared for over 10,000 orphans in his lifetime, said that the thing that most revolutionized his prayer life was his discovery of using the Scriptures to inspire his prayers. He wrote in his journal, "For my heart being nourished by the truth, being brought into [experiential] fellowship with God, I speak to my Father and to my Friend...about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word." Nothing helped Mueller in prayer more than using the Bible as fuel for his prayers, and there is no better book of the Bible to kindle our prayer life than the book of Psalms. As Calvin puts it, through the Psalms "we have permission and freedom granted us to lay open before him our infirmities." The Psalms serve as a vehicle for bringing our hearts before God. They give us a vocabulary for adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.
3. The Psalms stir us up to worship
Calvin says of the Psalms, "There is no other book in which there is to be found more express and magnificent commendations...of God...and of all his works; there is no other book in which there is recorded so many deliverances nor one in which the evidences and experiences of the fatherly providence and solicitude which God exercises towards us are celebrated with such splendor or diction." Put simply, the Psalms stir us up to worship! They depict God's great and many deliverances of his people. Calvin concludes, "There is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this religious exercise."
My desire is that this Psalms series would result in many people in our church making the Psalms a regular part of their scriptural diet, to the end that we become a body that is regularly stirred up to worship, prayer, and transparency before Almighty God.
By Pastor Andy Adkison