If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one book of the Bible with you, which would you choose? I know hypothetical questions like this are ridiculous and almost impossible to answer, but my answer would unequivocally be the Psalms. I really feel like I could preach every lesson I have to preach until my preaching career is finished from the Psalms. They are that rich and deep. (One of the best investments for my personal library has been this little book of the Psalms* that I can take with me wherever I go.)
If Christians spend enough time reading psalms, they will see it pay dividends in their spiritual lives. The Psalms are the songbook of Israel, a chronicle of praise from our spiritual ancestors, an emotional catharsis, the New Testament's Old Testament foundation, and the scriptural bedrock of spiritual formation. Here are some reasons why Christians need to read the psalms.
1. The Psalms Are Central to Both Testaments
Reading the Psalms helps Christians understand the rest of the Bible. In the Psalms, we find timeless truths regarding the conduct and future of godly people (Ps 1), God’s judgment on unjust civil leaders (Pss 2; 82), inspired reflections on Israel’s salvation history (Pss 105-106), the importance of covenant faithfulness and the value of God's word (Ps 119), and the future glory of God’s people(Pss 110:2; 128:5). Likewise, the Psalms give keen insights into the nature of God, man, creation, sin, and forgiveness (Pss 8; 32; 51; 139).
It’s almost as if, in the Psalms, the law, history, and prophets are condensed into one volume with emotive overtones of praise and worship. In the Psalms, we are reminded that God meets humankind’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Also, while reading the psalter, we find the source of blessing, what it means to be blessed, how to be blessed, and the expectations of those who are blessed.
Further, the book of Psalms is quoted and referenced in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament book. Some of the most important prophecies about the Messiah are found in the Psalms. Notice just how reliant the New Testament is on the Psalms:
Peter quoted two psalms in the first gospel sermon to convict his audience of Jesus’ resurrection and reign at the birth of the church (Acts 2:25-28; Ps 16:8-11; Acts 2:34-36; Ps 110:1).
Psalm 2:7 paves the way for the concept that the Messiah is the only begotten of God (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5).
Jesus echoes three psalms when he describes what he will tell those who don’t do the will of the Father on the judgment (Matt 7:23; Pss 101:4; 6:8; 5:5)
Paul strings together five different psalms to demonstrate that both Jews and Gentiles are under sin in Romans 3:9-18 (Pss 14:1-3; 53:1-3; 5:9; 140:3; 36:1).
Psalm 8:2 finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s triumphant entry (Matt 21:16).
Psalm 8:4-6 finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s incarnation (Heb 2:6-8).
Psalm 22:1, 7, 8, 16, and 18 find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s work on the cross (Matt 27:46, 39, 43, 35).
Psalm 22:22 finds its ultimate fulfillment in the result of Christ’s saving work (Heb 2:12).
Psalm 31:5 is one of Jesus’ last words on the cross (Luke 23:46).
Psalm 110:1 permeates the New Testament (Matt 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; Heb 1:13).
As does Psalm 118:22-26 (Matt 21:9, 42; 23:39; Mark 11:9; 12:10; John 12:13; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4).
Psalm 110:4 is fulfilled in Jesus in such a way that it takes the Hebrews author three chapters to explain it all (Heb 5:6; 6:20; 7:17-21)!
And the above list doesn’t even scratch the surface. To neglect the Psalms is to neglect the revelatory foundation of the New Testament. When Christians read the Psalms, they are exposing their minds and hearts to the crown jewel of the Old Testament and the launching pad for the New Testament. When we read the Psalms, we get a better grasp of the entirety of God’s word. But the benefits don’t stop there.
2. The Psalms Can Embolden Your Praise
A major part of the value of reading psalms is in reading them devotionally. The Psalms embolden our own praise because it chronicles God’s covenant people praising God through the ages. Just read Psalm 95… or Psalm 96… or Psalm 103… or Psalm 104… or Psalm 136… or Psalm 145… or Psalm 148… or Psalm 149… or Psalm 150... or… you get the point. Nearly every psalm is drenched with praise. In fact, in the ESV, forms of the word “praise” occur over 160 times in the book. I am convinced that when mindful Christians read the Psalms they are urged to join in that praise.
It’s not just that many of the palms themselves are utterances of praise or used for praise. The Psalms demonstrate that God’s people can praise him no matter the circumstances (Pss 34:1; 6; 10; 12; 13; 22:22; 42:11; 43:5) and give so many reasons why God’s people should praise him (Pss 105:2; 106:1; 117:2; 119:171; 139:14; 147:1; 148:13; 150:2).
We should be armed and refreshed by the praise of the Psalms. The reminder that we can praise in any circumstance and the description of why God’s people should praise him should result in our outpouring of praise. It’s so easy to become distracted and feel like God is far from us. The psalter invites us to embrace the fellowship we enjoy with God through Christ and helps us cut out the noise of the world to praise our Father.
3. The Psalms Can Vitalize Your Prayer Life
If we’re honest with ourselves, we could all use a little work on our prayer habits. Though we know that the Bible urges us to “pray without ceasing,” sometimes it can be difficult to get into the habit. FCFT has published a couple of articles on prayer recently (here and here), so I don’t want to repeat what has already been published. But, reading the Psalms can help resurrect a dying prayer life in a couple of different ways.
Most notably, many psalms are themselves prayers or discuss prayer and this should urge us to consider our own prayer lives. As we read the Psalms, our hearts should incline to God and seek to pray ourselves. There is also the opportunity to pray the psalms as we read them. As we ingest these inspired prayers of our spiritual ancestors, we can use those same words to go to God in prayer. This practice is a surefire way to break out of a rut in prayer, and it helps us read more of God’s word in the process. (To learn more about the practice of praying the Psalms, go here, here, or check out this book*). The Psalms also help us pray because many of them remind us that we serve a God who listens and acts (Pss 66:17-20; 118:21; 116:1-2; 31:2).
God is even addressed at one point in the Psalms as, “you who hear prayer” (Ps 65:2). The fact that God hears his people and acts on their behalf is the theological foundation of the Psalms. This reality—that God listens to our prayer and responds to our petitions—ought to cause us to reacquaint ourselves with the awesome privilege of prayer and be more steadfast in it.
4. The Psalms Can Kindle Your Love for God’s Word
I’m convinced that the more we read the psalter, the more our love for God’s word will grow. First, because the Psalms present us with a cross-section of all biblical literature. There is history, law, prophecy, poetry, lament, praise, and rejoicing. There are themes of messianic expectations and a future judgment/reward for the faithful. The Psalms remind us of who God is, who we are, and why we’re here. The Psalms are the concentrated version of everything that makes us stand in awe of God’s word.
Psalm 119 itself is essentially a love poem written about the word of God. in Psalm 119 we read the following:
God’s word enables us to keep our lives pure (Ps 119:9).
For the obedient, God’s word acts as a counselor and is a delight (Ps 119:24).
God’s word gives life and strengthens the soul (Ps 119:25, 28).
In God’s word, we find our only true hope (Ps 119:81).
All of God’s commandments are sure (Ps 119:86).
God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119:105).
God’s word is the joy of the faithful’s heart (Ps 119:111).
God’s word is more precious than fine gold (Ps 119:127).
God’s word is wonderful (Ps 119:129).
God’s word gives light and understanding to the simple (Ps 119:130).
God’s word is right, true, eternal, and righteous (Ps 119:137, 142, 160, 164).
In the Psalms, we are reminded of the value of God’s word, and we are encouraged to meditate on it day and night. After all, the difference between the blessed and wicked is that the blessed meditate on God’s word every opportunity they have and live accordingly (Ps 1:1-2).
The next time you are in a spiritual slump, or not sure what to read in the Bible, turn to the Psalms. In the Psalms, we find ancient praises that draw us closer to our God. Christians can’t afford to neglect the Psalms.
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps 42:1-2a).
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