Praying the Psalms
My early twenties were a pivotal time in my journey with God. I grew up knowing God loved me and wanted a relationship with me. I prayed like crazy as a kid, especially at night when I couldn’t sleep. I read my Bible alone in my room as a teen, journaling and figuring out my personal theology. I trusted and believed, but I didn’t hear from God in that special He-has-a-word-just-for-me way, and oh, how I longed to.
During those early-twenties college years, I was surrounded by amazing God-centered friends, exposed to an abundance of great Christian music (Shane & Shane, Caedmon’s Call, Nichole Nordeman, Ginny Owens, Jennifer Knapp, Matt Wertz, Dave Barnes, to name a few), and attended a regular small group Bible study and two large corporate worship gatherings each week. The space for God in my outward life was bigger than ever before, and I began making space in my inward life as well— that secret place my friend Nick recently talked about. It changed everything. It completely changed me.
Because God began speaking. For the first time, I heard His voice just for me.
That time was so special, but it couldn’t last. Multiple jobs, marriage, motherhood, homeschooling… Life just got busier and more complicated. God knew that was coming. He gave me that time in my early twenties to fill me and encourage me and prepare me for what was ahead. When I think about the special ways I connect with God and ask myself, “When did I start worshipping in that way?” most often, I recall a moment from that time in my life.
One of those special ways is praying scripture.
When I was around 22 or 23 years old, I was living in Evansville, and I had an incredible network of movers, doers, and teachers of all ages, people who wanted to pour into my life and the lives of my peers, to help us discover Christ in new ways. One of these people, Cathy, a friend’s mother, took a carload of us girls out to Harmonie State Park for a one-day retreat. We spread blankets on the grass and sat in the sunshine, and using Beth Moore’s Praying God’s Word as a guide, Cathy talked to us about how to use the scriptures to pray.
Other than growing up saying The Lord’s Prayer, that day was my first experience with praying scripture, and it seemed strange. We read the Bible. We learn from it, we sometimes memorize parts of it, but we do not pray it. These are someone else’s words, written hundreds of years ago, and most of it is about God, and about us in relation to God. It’s not prayer.
But some of it is, and I learned that day that all of it can be.
If we believe the word of God is truth and revelation for our lives, doesn’t it make sense to pray it?
Cathy challenged us to find a passage and re-write it as a prayer to God. I flipped through favorite and familiar chapters, searching for something that stood out to me, something I could turn to prayer. I don’t remember what I wrote that day. What I do remember, is that it was awkward. I finally settled on something and scribbled in my notebook, wondering if this was something I could ever really enjoy.
Cathy read her scripture-prayer aloud. It was a prayer for her husband, and when she was finished, she looked at her daughter and said, “Isn’t that a great Daddy prayer?” My friend smiled and nodded.
I remember thinking how cool it was that they could so clearly see someone they love in a passage and turn it into a prayer for him. I wanted to read the Bible like that. I wanted to hear God’s just-for-me voice in His word. I wanted the Bible’s purpose in my life to be truth, revelation, and prayer. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly over the years, it has become just that.
My favorite scriptures to pray are Psalms. The Psalms are easy to pray, because they are prayer-songs; the psalmist speaks directly to God.
I have two favorite Psalms, two go-to prayers: 143 and 145.
I pray Psalm 143 almost daily. It is consistently the cry of my heart. It is just so freaking true. I need Jesus. I need Him to revive and refresh me and course-correct me repeatedly. It perfectly articulates my feelings and my needs.
“Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy!” -verse 1
“Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.” -verse 4
“I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts of you like a parched land.” -verse 6
“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!” -verses 10-11
I find myself in constant need of this prayer. I get overwhelmed by life. When I’m stressed or hurt or confused, my thoughts and fears and emotions spin totally out of control. And I make mistakes. I sin. I’m selfish and prideful. I say hurtful things to my husband. I lose patience with my daughter. No matter how many times I tell myself I’ll do better— I’ll be a better wife, a better mom, a better follower of Jesus— I just keep screwing up. So I beg, “Teach me to do your will. Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”
I need reminded that He is my God, and that He preserves my life. I need help, I need truth, and truth is found in scripture. So I pray scripture. It brings my soul out of trouble. It pulls me out of panic. It reminds me where my help comes from. It changes my perspective. It takes my focus off myself and puts it on the One who rescues me, washes away my sin, and redeems my situation.
Psalms 143 and 145 are like two sides of a coin, one petition, the other praise. The scales of my prayer life seem to be tipped to petition. I wish it were the opposite. I wish I prayed Psalm 145 daily.
“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” -verse 3
“The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” -verse 8
“You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” -verse 16
“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.” -verse 18
I wish that was the constant cry of my heart.
I call on the Lord more when I’m in the valley than when I’m on the mountaintop. But He is with me wherever I am, and His word speaks to every circumstance and gives me the words to speak in every circumstance. God’s word is powerful. It’s precious. It’s living and breathing and has been speaking to humanity and remained relevant for centuries, and it teaches us how to speak to Him as well.
Praying God’s word has become one of the most common and most meaningful ways I connect with Him. Sometimes, somehow, those ancient words seem to have been written just for me, so that I can repeat them and give them back. If you’ve never prayed God’s word, I encourage you to try it. Start in the Psalms. Say them, sing them, pray them to the One who is great, who hears your cry, rescues, washes, redeems… The One who satisfies desires. The One worthy of praise.
Read the Psalms. Note the ones that resonate with you, and try reading them aloud to God.
Sing the Psalms. My favorite music duo, Shane & Shane, have two albums titled “Psalms” and “Psalms II.” Lyrics stick in our brains easily. It’s no coincidence that my go-to Psalms to pray are also two of my all time favorite songs. P.S. You should probably just go ahead and familiarize yourself with Shane & Shane’s entire catalog, but these two albums are an excellent start. :)
As you get more comfortable, try praying from other books in the Bible. The Epistles are a good next step, since they are full of encouragement and direction for our lives.
Katie Morrison confesses to being fickle and easily distracted, but despite the struggle to pin down her countless dreams and plans for her life, she rests in the unfathomable grace of God. Her prayer in life and in writing is to show others a piece of that grace and direct them to its source. She loves Jesus, her amazing family, and her community at Common Ground West. She also loves stories anywhere she can find them- on paper, on film, on stage, in music, and in conversation.