Praying the Psalter

The Psalms are prayers that Christ, the Living Word, prayed for us, prays for us, and gives to us to pray.  Praying them is simple.  Simply start.  Read them.  Read them aloud.  Speak them to our Triune God. Pray them to our Triune God.

I first prayed one at a time.  Then two or three.  Then many.
I first prayed them once a day.  Then twice or thrice.  Now all the time.
I first prayed them an entire psalm at a time.  Then verses here and there.  Now I do both.

There is no right way to pray the Psalter.  There is no wrong way.  There is only prayer.

My own greatest fear at starting ... besides feeling a bit foolish reading them aloud when I was the only one in the room ... was that I did not know the meaning to most of them.  How can I pray something I do not understand?  But then the promises of Romans 8 and Hebrews 7 occurred to me:

"For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not of it own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.  For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.  

And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as she should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  (Romans 8: 18-28) [emphasis mine]

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designed according to the order of Aaron?  For when the priesthood is change, of necessity there takes lace a change of law also.  For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the alter.  For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.  And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirements, but according to the power of an indestructible lIfe.  For it is witnessed of Him, "THOU ART A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK."  For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of tis weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a brining in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.  And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, "THE LORD HAS SWORN AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND, THOU ART A PRIEST FOREVER."); so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.  And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever, hold HIs priesthood permanently.  Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

For is was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.  For the Law appoints men as high priest who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:11-28) [emphasis mine]

So the sum of these promises is:  The Holy Spirit takes our prayers to Jesus, who in turn takes them to God, who will always hear them.

Luther puts it another way, to offer comfort and solace to those who doubt about their prayers, when teaching about the Lord's Prayer in Part III of the Large Catechism:

Indeed, the human heart is by nature so hopeless that it always flees from God and imagines that He does not wish or desire our prayer, because we are sinners and have earned nothing but wrath. Against such thoughts, we should always remember this commandment and turn to God, so that we may not stir up His anger more by such disobedience. For by this commandment God lets us plainly understand that He will not cast us away from Him or chase us away. This is true even though we are sinners. But instead He draws us to Himself, so that we might humble ourselves before Him, bewail this misery and plight of ours and pray for grace and help. (10-11)

God does not consider prayer because of the person, but because of His Word and obedience to it.  For I rest my prayer on the same commandment on which all of the saints rest their prayers:  Furthermore, I pray for the same thing that they all pray for and always have prayed.  Besides, I have just as great a need of what I pray for as those great saints; no, even a greater one than they"

Let this be the first and most important point, that all our prayers must be added and rest upon obedience to God, regardless of who we are, whether we are sinners or saints, worthy or unworthy.  We must know that God will not have our prayer treated as a joke.  But He will be angry and punish all who do not pray, just as surely as He punishes all disobedience.  Furthermore, He will not allow our prayers to be in vain or lost. For if He did not intend to answer your prayers, He would not ask you to pray and add such a severe commandment to it. 

In the second place, we should not be more encouraged and moved to pray because God has also added a promise and declared that it will surely be done for us as we pray.  He says in Psalm 50:15, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you."  And Christ says in the Gospel of St. Matthew, "Ask, and it will be given to you; ... for everyone who asks receives" (7:7-8).  Such promises certainly might to encourage and kindle our hearts to pray with pleasure and delight.  For His testified with His won work that our prayer is heartily pleasing to HIm.  Further more, it shall certainly be heard and granted, in order hat we may not despise it or thinking lightly of it and pray based on chance.  (16-20) [emphasis mine]

...God expects us and He Himself arranges the words and form of prayer for us. He places them on our lips for how and what we should pray, so that we may see how heartily He pities us in our distress, and we may never doubt that such prayer is pleasing to Him and shall certainly be answered. (22)

Psalm 50:15 is such comfort.  For it reads not that He will consider our prayers but that He will answer them.  However, truly all of those bits of wonder Luther shares in those passages help, such as:  1) that God doesn't answer prayer according to the person, but according to His promise; 2) that He welcomes even the despair we carry to Him; and 3) that He understands that our nature causes us to not only sin, but to doubt and flee from Him, no matter how much we may also long to serve Him.

These things are true because we are His created.  And, as He created, we are not unknown to him.  Nay, we are known.  We are known and so God gives us a set of prayers that cover all of life in a fallen world.

It is okay if you do not always understanding the meaning.  The Holy Spirit does.  You can pray them in confidence because Christ has already prayed them and is praying them for you still.  And you can pray them knowing that the understanding will come, in time, for faith comes through hearing the Living Word, as we are taught in Romans 10:17.  

All throughout the Psalter, too, you will find the instruction to have the Word on our tongues, in our mouths, falling from our lips, and in our ears.  So, pray them.  And in praying them, I know ... I know... you will find the words of your heart laid out before you.  All your hopes and dreams and fears and doubts, in body, mind, heart, and soul.  They are there, written for you.  And I know ... I know ... that the more you pray them the more you will begin to understand them.  The more you will see Jesus woven throughout them.  Jesus come to you.  Jesus saving you.  Jesus washing you clean.  Jesus sustaining you through the Living Word, through Baptism, and through His body and blood.  Jesus hiding you within Himself as a refuge from your enemies, even when that enemy is yourself.  Jesus for you.

So, pray the them.  
Pray these prayers our triune God caused to be written for you.  
Pray the Psalter.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

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