Come, learn to pray with The Psalms!

 
Christopher Ash | July 28th 2020

In many parts of the Christian church today the Psalms are a neglected treasure: many churches are like a poverty-stricken house with incalculable riches forgotten, neglected, moth-eaten and dusty in the attic. Let us bring the Psalms out and revel in the wonder they offer—a fullness and richness of relationship with God undreamt of by so many of us half-starved Christians.

So I want to invite you to come with me on a journey to learn to pray.

This is exactly what the Psalms are in the Bible to do. The Psalms give a window into how Jesus learned to pray, in his fully human life; and they are how the people of Jesus are to pray as the Spirit of Jesus leads us in praying and praising by the Psalms.

The Psalms are in the Bible so that all the people of Jesus may learn to pray all the psalms all the time. What do I mean? Let’s look at the opposite. Someone told me enthusiastically about a pastor who says he reads through the Psalms until a verse resonates with him; and then he dwells there for a period, until it ceases to resonate, at which point he moves on. It sounded wonderful—and yet it would be hard to find a more completely wrong approach to the Psalms! If I adopt this approach, it puts me in the driving seat; I decide what resonates with me, and then enjoy it. And the danger is that the psalms (or the verses) I select act like an echo chamber for my own desires and thoughts, amplifying my feelings, whatever they may be, and never challenging my thoughts or views.

The purpose of the Psalms is very different. In the Psalms we learn to pray corporately, with the church of Christ in every age. We learn to pray Christocentrically*, with our prayers led by Jesus Christ, by whose Spirit we pray them. And we learn to pray empathetically, as we identify with the wider church and focus less on our individualistic (and often introspective) concerns. This will involve a massive paradigm shift for many of us, especially those of us nurtured in individualistic Western cultures, where the Christian life is a “me and God” thing, with the emphasis on “me”. Learning to sing and pray the Psalms will be a challenging affair, an unsettling experience, and yet a discipline that transforms us into the image of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus, whose own prayer life was shaped by these wonderful poems.

Come, learn to feel!

I also want to invite you to come with me on a journey to learn to feel.

Do you ever wonder what we are supposed to do with our feelings in the Christian life? Since about the 1960s, when the charismatic movement swept much of the evangelical world, there has been something of a sad divorce between what we call head (thinking) and heart (feeling). Some “do” feelings with energy and enthusiasm; in reaction to this, others “do” thinking. “You just think but don’t feel!” says one Christian to another. “Well, you feel but don’t think!” comes the reply. Neither is helpful.

The Psalms are God’s chosen way to engage our thinking and our feeling in a way that is passionate, thoughtful, true and authentic. The Psalms show us how to express our varied feelings; but, more than that, they reorder our disordered affections so that we feel deeper desires for what we ought to desire, more urgent aversion to that from which we need to flee, and a greater longing for the honour of God in the health of Christ’s church. The Psalms form within us a richer palette of rightly-directed emotions. It is not so much that the Psalms resonate with us as that they shape us so that we most deeply resonate with the God-given yearnings they so movingly express.

Joining Christ’s choir

Imagine you are seated in a great concert hall. In the middle of the stage is Jesus Christ, the conductor and song-leader of the people of God. Behind him stands a huge choir: his church in every age. This choir sings the Psalms as the songs of Jesus, led by Jesus, shaped by Jesus, guided and taught by Jesus.

What do you need to do to join in? You need to understand the words of the psalms. You need to get hold of the “tune” of the psalms, by which I mean the emotions and affections they convey. You need to grasp what commitment will be required of you if you are to join the choir of Jesus and join in, for every psalm asks of us some commitment. Finally, you need to get up out of your seat in the audience and join the choir! That is the aim of Psalms For You—to help us to do that.

Enjoy reading and applying different types of psalms, and seeing Jesus in every one with Christopher Ash's new book, Psalms For YouBuy it here.

Christopher Ash

Christopher Ash has been a pastor, and is now an author and writer-in-residence at Tyndale House, Cambridge. He was Director of the Proclamation Trust’s Cornhill Training Course from 2004-2015. He is married to Carolyn and they have four children and five grandchildren.

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