To be fully alive, our hearts must beat in time with God’s heart. By letting the Psalms course through us, the divine pulse becomes our own. Thus, God floods our lives with his grace, his truth, his glory, his freedom, his joy—which is why he made us. The way God does that is inseparably intertwined with the kind of book the Psalter is. So grasping why we should read the Psalter involves exploring its nature and how best to read it.
Though the Psalms are admittedly one of the Bible’s most challenging books, they can arguably be its most life-changing book also. Knowing their power to transform lives, great Christians from the Early Church on have seen them as central to their spiritual growth. In fact, the first Christians couldn’t have imagined churches or believers flourishing without them.
The Psalter remains the favorite Bible book for many. But even so, its popularity has dramatically fallen over the past century. Indeed, some Christians today no more look to the Psalter to shape their spiritual lives than to Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” to create the mood in their living room. To them the Psalms are as disturbing a mix of the graceful and grotesque as Bosch’s painting. They thus limit their intake of the Psalter to those psalms they know won’t cause them any digestive upset.
This change is as understandable as it is lamentable, following two broad Western trends: our culture’s sidelining of poetry and our intolerance of the Old Testament’s messy ethics, two points we must return to in other articles.
It’s always been true that the world wears biblical faith down, but it’s even more true in an age so devoted to self-worship, so disdainful of external authority, and so distracted. Reading any part of scripture can help prevent faith’s erosion. But because of its singular nature, reading the Psalter can uniquely strengthen our faith. It can even bring unbelievers to faith, as British poet Malcolm Guite’s story attests.
Much of the Psalms’ power to strengthen faith lies in the way it infuses its poetry, with life-giving story and Torah—God-breathed teaching—these being the Psalter’s three dimensions. This fusion effectively brings us, our situation, and our beliefs and values into the circle of God’s transforming light. And as with art appreciation, the more we understand what the Psalms do and how they do it, the more we’ll enjoy them and grasp their importance for spiritual formation.
Check out my website www.psalmsforlife.com to read a psalm each morning and evening in sync with other Christians around the world.