Psalms are an interesting thing to read. There are a whole bunch of them in the Old Testament, 150 to be precise and they are the longest book in the Bible. They take up a lot of real estate and they’re an important source of all kinds of wisdom and life help.
(Trying a new format this week, using a video instead of audio – Please do let me know if you like the audio)
Over the years a lot of people have asked me how to read the Bible, meaning where to start reading the Bible. I ran into this question more often when I was working in prison ministry way back when but I still get asked occasionally. It’s a really good question to wrestle with because if you try to start reading from the beginning in Genesis intending to read straight through to the book of Revelation you will likely get bogged down before too long. Genesis is a pretty good story as is Exodus. And there are many more stories that are really great but books like Numbers, with all its census lists can be a bit daunting to read all of the words. Trying to read from beginning to end can be something of a trial, especially if you don’t have the context for some of the stories you run across.
So I tell people to start reading the Psalms. And the reason is as simple as simple gets. I tell people to start with reading the Psalms because they are easy to relate to. Psalms can give God praise, some lift complaints, or lament to God, others highlight our trust in God and some give thanks to God. Others call on us to give God praise. As theologian Walter Brueggemann puts it in his book, ‘Praying the Psalms’, “The Psalms, with a few exceptions, are not the voice of God addressing us. They are the voice of our own common humanity – gathered over a long period of time, but a voice that continues to have amazing authenticity and contemporaneity.” (Brueggemann, Walter. Praying the Psalms, Second Edition: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit (p. 2). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.”)
Which is a pretty decent description of our relationship with God, isn’t it? We have days where we give God thanks, other days we complain to and about God. Things are going well until they aren’t. But then we’re reminded in some way of our trust in God and we give thanks to God, then we call on others to give God praise. So it goes with and in our lives, day to day.
You can probably categorize other types of Psalms, and many authorities do, but you get the general idea. These kinds of Psalms are not a formula and it isn’t a numbered cycle through all 150 Psalms. It isn’t Praise, lament, trust, thanks, call to praise. Praise, lament, trust, thanks, call to praise. Lather, rinse, and repeat over and over and over again. Instead, it’s a pattern that is seen, and more importantly, experienced by the writer AND the reader. The Psalms speak to the reality of our lives and have done so for a very, very long time.
Today’s Psalm is a hymn of praise. You can almost hear the music as you think about the words beginning with v1 “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth” and even directing us to sing in v2, “Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” This psalm is a celebration of God as our creator and that God is good, and reminder of who God is and who we are in reference to God. We are the ones God has created and we belong to God, the sheep of God’s pasture.
This is a pretty good place to be what with God loving creation and God loving us. It’s an important dynamic because there will be times when we need to hear this promise. We need to be reminded again and again of our relationship with God and as hard as we may try to screw it up God is always and faithfully there, steadfastly loving us in spite of how unloving, and unlovable, that we can be at times. In spite of how unfaithful WE can be at times.
It is probably worth noting that praise Psalms aren’t for God’s sake. It can seem like it comforts God to be praised but really, God doesn’t need our praises to be God. God’s self esteem is not built up with our praises, that’s us projecting OUR need to have our self esteem built up. Instead, praising God is our witness to God’s mission in the world. Here’s how that works out…
The first thing is that when we give God praise we are reminding ourselves of who is in charge. It is a way to give God God’s due in the grand scheme of things and putting God first in our lives. We all know that we all struggle with letting go and letting God. It is just a reality we live in and when we convince ourselves that we are in control things don’t always work out so well. Giving God our praise reminds us that God is God and we are not.
The second thing is that giving God praise what God has done and continues to do. The psalmist recognized the work that God had done, was doing, and would continue to do in his life. We read the psalms in the same way but with the added thought of what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do in OUR lives through Jesus Christ. Martin Luther was crystal clear in his writings, teachings, and sermons that the Psalms point to Christ.
I think it fair to say that the Psalms point to Christ in the same way they mirror the reality of our lives. They recognize the reality that we are a people who sin but who also live in God’s forgiveness of our sins because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and who live in the ultimate hope we have in eternal life because of Christ’s resurrection.
That’s something to keep in mind. It’s easy to lose track of that in the hustle and bustle of all the things we do every week. It’s easy to lose track of the one who has claimed us and redeemed us. It’s easy to put God on the back burner. With that in mind, here’s an idea. Add Psalm 100 to your daily prayers. Add the psalm into your prayers and then see where it leads you. See where it connects to your life and perhaps you’ll notice God active in your life a little more than usual. Can’t go wrong with that, can you?