One of my favorite classes in seminary was Spiritual Disciplines led by Dr. Paul Chitwood at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He taught us several practical steps on how to pray through the Psalms powerfully. I have taken his advice and crafted them into my own unique approach to prayer. Here are 5 strategies to pray effectively through the Psalms.
#1. Be yourself
I know this might sound simple, but it’s an important step towards praying effectively through the Psalms. The Lord already knows your fears, frustrations, hopes, and plans. He is waiting for you to speak them into existence.
Therefore, be honest with God. Remember, Jesus scolded the pagans and religious leaders in Matthew 6:7 for thinking that their “babbling” and many words in prayer was somehow righteous and acceptable to the Lord. They were wrong.
Moreover, it’s okay to be raw with God and share how you truly feel inside. Speak to Him as a loving Father. When you express your deep-seated emotions, it reveals to God that you trust Him, and it confirms with your spirit that what was once hidden has now been fully confessed.
#2. Use the Psalms as a template to organize and conform your prayers
So you told me strategy one was to be myself, but now you are saying I should use the Psalms as a template for my prayer life. Doesn’t this make it impersonal? No. Let me explain why.
First, God’s Word brings life. It is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword. His Word never returns void and is a valuable resource to conform your own thoughts to Yahweh’s.
And this strategy can still be very personal. Let me give you an example. Psalm 1:1 states: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers…”
Here is how I would pray through this section of the Psalm.
Dear Father, I know I am blessed when I do not walk in step with the wicked. Lord, help me to avoid people that would scorn your Holy name. Give me wisdom when coworkers of mine say inappropriate things during our lunch break. Help me avoid these conversations altogether or speak the truth in love by calling them out for it.
#3. Organize the Psalms into its various themes
There are several themes the Psalmist writes about that will make you a well-rounded Christian prayer warrior. For example, God the Creator (Ps. 19), God’s wisdom (Ps. 33), thanksgiving (Ps. 92), penitential (Ps. 130), the Church (Ps. 147), worship (Ps. 116), God’s Law (Ps. 119), and God’s mercy (Ps. 57) to name just a few.
Consequently, organizing the Psalms into various themes provides the opportunity for believers to choose a topic that is burning in their hearts while simultaneously growing in theological knowledge. Both prayer and theology complement one another.
#4. Do not just be yourself in prayer
Yes, you read that correctly. And no, it doesn’t contradict strategy #1: Be yourself. Let me explain. In western culture, radical individualism is philosophically embraced. This means Christians like you and I focus on the Me-God relationship rather than the We-God relationship.
You may have heard it said many times: “I don’t need to go to church. I already have a relationship with Jesus.” Okay, it’s true that you can still have a relationship with God in your basement at home, but we were meant to worship and pray corporately.
Therefore, when we pray through the Psalms, we are agreeing corporately with all the saints throughout the ages who wrote Holy Scripture. This is the type of attitude we must have when praying through the Psalms.
Radical individualism is the type of “babbling” Jesus warned us about. You start to pray all over the place and next thing you know you’re falling asleep without a clue what you are saying. Trust me, I have been there before. Guilty as charged.
What’s the cure? Being yourself, but not just yourself! In other words, you can maintain your authenticity and share your deepest longings and confessions all the while conforming to the Word of God that never returns void.
#5 Enjoy yourself in Prayer
Yes, I know. Simple strategy. But as you know, many fail to enjoy themselves in prayer. They approach prayer as a laborious task and solemn ritual rather than a glorious appointment with the Prince of Peace.
How do you avoid this catastrophe? Go into your prayer closet with a clear expectation that your Heavenly Father is eager to hear from you.
Remember the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15? The son had an entire speech prepared. He was going to say, “I have sinned. I am not worthy to be called your son. Please make me one of your hired servants.” But what happened? It says that before the son had the time to utter a word, even while he was at a distance, the father ran to him, fell on his neck, and kissed him.
What does this story inform us about prayer? That when you decide to commune with God, you don’t need to have some speech prepared such as. “Oh God, I know I am so bad. I know I don’t deserve to pray to you right now.” While it sounds pious, this is not what the Father wants.
He knows what you need before you even ask Him. So when you pray, enjoy yourself. Get excited. Be ready to be blessed. You are cherished. You are loved by God Most High.
I hope these 5 strategies will help you pray powerfully through the psalms. Shall we end in prayer? Of course!
Heavenly Father, thanks for this beautiful day. Your word tells us in Psalm 118:24 that “Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Today I will rejoice because you have given me life. I will choose to rejoice even when my circumstances are difficult. I will be glad because you have conquered the grave. There is now hope for eternal life. Thanks for being a good Father and hearing my prayer. Amen.