He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday….
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.” (English Standard Version)
Reading and praying the psalms over and over again is a major way of fortifying faith for a lifetime of handling adversity.
Psalms are meant to be constantly viewed and used, like watching a good movie several times. Lines from the film become etched in our thinking and vocabulary, not because we sought to memorize them, but because of the many viewings.
Psalm 91 is a good psalm – one we can read and pray so many times that its theology and message are internalized. It can serve as a rock in times of trouble. Security, safety, and confidence eventually replace fear, worry, and insecurity. Let the divine words of the psalter become part of a routine regimen of facing down the troubles of life.
The Church’s Prayer Book
Historically, the Old Testament Psalms have been the church’s prayer book. The medieval church so valued constant prayer that many people in the middle ages made substantial donations to monasteries so that monks and nuns, largely freed from manual labor, could become “professional” pray-ers on behalf of the rest of society.
Many of them lived a complete life of prayer, praying day and night. Most Benedictine monks and nuns chanted all 150 psalms once a week in a cycle of seven daily “hours.” One of the first tasks required of novices was to memorize the Psalms – all of them – which took anywhere from six months to two years.
In the New Testament book of Acts, when the original apostles needed to clarify their most sacred obligations, they decided to give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). The New Testament writers pray and quote the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament.
Praying the Psalms
The best introduction there is to the Psalms is to begin praying them because the psalms teach us how to pray. Learning the Psalms means praying the Psalms, and praying the Psalms means praying them repeatedly.
If you are not yet convinced why we ought to pray the Psalms, let me offer some more reasons:
1. We learn the promises of God and how to pray relying on those promises. It is both appropriate and necessary to acknowledge God’s promises, remind God of those promises, and look for God to fulfill them.
2. We pick up how to pray together as a community, and not just as individuals.
3. We discover that our hearts need some help with prayer.
“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Our hearts can sometimes deceive us. Yet, if we can be mindful to tether our hearts to God’s Word, we can focus on what God has promised – and not simply on what we want or expect.
What’s more, by only following our hearts, we may only pray when we feel like it.
A common temptation is to give up reading Scripture and praying whenever our enjoyment is gone. If we only do things when we feel like it, most of us would never get up in the morning. Prayer and Bible reading are important spiritual disciplines, even on the days we are not inspired to do so.
In truth, to enjoy the Word of God, we must continue to read it; and the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read, the less we desire to read; and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.
4. We attain confidence and joy in speaking with God, just like a small child boldly asking for what she wants in wonderful anticipation of getting it.
5. We unearth direction and guidance for our lives; the Psalms are the GPS for our souls.
6. We join a praise and prayer team that has been going on for thousands of years by believers across the ages in all kinds of cultures. Our spiritual forebears serve as a great cloud of witnesses testifying to the power of God to sustain and grow our faith, hope, and love.
7. We realize the heart of God and adopt that heart as our own heart. In praying, we get to know who God is, and we discover the prayers the Lord delights to answer.
In summary, we bring our own situations and experiences to the Psalms and permit the psalter to reshape our thoughts and our prayers.
This mentality and discipline forms us into God’s people by re-directing our lives with God’s promises and plans.
The Psalms are meant to transform us. Repeated exposure to Holy Scripture and daily praying through the psalms will change the way we live our lives and our perspective on the world.
May the Lord Jesus Christ guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, the assaults of evil spirits, the wrath of the wicked, the sinful nature, and the fear of both the known and unknown.
And may the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.