Living in the Psalms
“In the book of Psalms there is profit for all, with healing power for our salvation. There is instruction from history, teaching from the law, prediction from prophecy, chastisement from denunciation, persuasion from moral preaching. All who read it may find the cure for their own individual failings. All with eyes to see can discover in it a complete gymnasium for the soul, a stadium for all the virtues, equipped for every kind of exercise; it is for each to choose the kind he judges best to help him gain the prize.” -Ambrose of Milan, Commentary on Psalm 1:4, 8
During Lent this year, we are going to dig deep into the Psalms together. The Psalms use poetry to express what it is like to be a human who lives with God in the world. One of the most important aspects of human life is language. As we grow, we learn simple words like “Help,” “I’m sorry,” or “I love you.” Communication is a basic human skill, but one that takes a lifetime to perfect.
The Psalms are full of faithful communication with God, but as we read the Psalter, we might be surprised to find that the Psalms talk to God using language so frank that it makes us uncomfortable. Psalm 44 demands God, saying, “Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?” Psalms like this give us permission to be honest about the times in life when God seems distant and evil is close at hand. In fact, lament psalms, like Psalm 44, make up about a third of the book of Psalms. Does lament take up a third of your conversations with God? What might change if you engaged more consistently with the psalms of lament?
We will experience many different types of psalms over the six weeks of Lent. I encourage you to pick up Gloria Wiese’s devotional that guides you through a psalm a day. Before worship on Sunday, take time privately to read the psalm of the day. Jot down thoughts or reactions to the psalm. Then, experience the same psalm in community as we worship. Jot down thoughts after worship. What is it like to read a psalm by yourself? What is it like to sing a psalm (we will be doing a lot of psalm singing together this lent!)? How does being in community change the way you hear a psalm?
Lent is a time of preparation and repentance as we get ready for the events of Good Friday and Easter. The Psalms have a way of dredging us out, making us into the people God intends us to be. And remember, these were the words Jesus prayed throughout his life. He knew the book of Psalms very well and prayed them in his last moments on earth. When we pray the Psalms, we are praying the prayers of Jesus. Let us ask that the Holy Spirit would help us to know Jesus in a new and deeper way as we live in the Psalms this Lenten season.
by Hilary Ritchie