Dietrich Bonhoeffer titled one of his books The Psalms: Prayerbook of the Bible. As part of his seminary experiment the students and teachers would pray the psalms together. Though it might seem innovative to some, the book of Psalms has been a hymn and prayer book for the people of God for centuries.
This approach to the book of Psalms stands in pretty stark contrast to our current ways of reading scripture. Rather than reading the Bible for themes, or ideas, or theological concepts, praying scripture teaches us to present the range of our experiences to God. Invariably, while praying these prayers, the reader will encounter emotions or images that say nothing to their current experience. This is not such a bad thing. The language and images of these old hymns refuse to leave us at the heights of praise or the depths of despair. As Don Sailers has said, the psalms speak of humanity at full stretch before God. That is to say, humanity stretched out between the postures of lament and of praise. Praying these ancient words lets us call out to God without reservation. At the same time, they offer words of comfort and challenge from the same God we invoke. In all, the psalms work on our inner life through spoken and read words, shaping us into more Christ like persons with each refrain.
For this season of Lent, I am not going to give something up. Instead, I am going to add something to my daily routine. For the forty days of Lent I will pray through the entire book of Psalms. So that means, six days a week from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday I will be praying at least four Psalms.
If you are new to this way of reading scripture, here is a short article from Christianity Today to get you started. To guide us through the season, a calendar has been posted on our website.
I invite you to join me in this practice. It really does not matter which translation you use, simply find a rendering of the psalms that leads you into prayer. There are many fine translations, some good paraphrases, and multitudes of musical settings.
Let’s take this time as a church to pray together, and not just in our own familiar words, but with the very words of scripture. Let’s let the prayer book of the Bible be our teacher this lent.