How to Pray the Psalms

Ben Patterson offers five suggestions

In God’s Prayer Book: The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms, Ben Patterson offers five suggestions for praying the Psalms.

1. Say them out loud

Just read the Psalms slowly and thoughtfully, assenting to what they say with as much understanding as you have, intellectually and emotionally. Don’t just read them, pray them: say them from the heart.

2. Festoon Them

Think of a psalm as a Christmas tree. Read it and then festoon it with your own prayers, as you would decorate a tree. Your prayers are answers to what God says to you in the psalm.

Along these lines, he recommends using the “three Rs” in your prayers:

  • Rejoice: What do I find here that gives me cause to rejoice, to give praise and thanks? Then do it.
  • Repent: What do I read here that brings to light sin in my life? Then confess and repent.
  • Request: What in this psalm can inform the way I pray for others and myself? Then make your requests of God accordingly.

3. Paraphrase them

Meditate and study a psalm until you understand it well enough to put it into your own words. Then paraphrase the psalm as you have come to understand it, and pray your paraphrase.

4. Learn them by heart

Memorize the Psalms—but not by rote. Rather, learn them by heart; make their words your words. Come to understand them so well you can recite them—by inflection and tone—as though you had written them yourself.

5. Marinate in them

Some people use the Bible like they use spice to liven up the taste of food—a little Tabasco here, some salt and pepper and oregano there; a favorite verse, a “one size fits all” psalm like Psalm 23 or 103 to read when you are (check one) sad or glad or afraid or lonely or struggling with doubt. Nothing wrong with that, unless that’s the only way you come to Scripture.

But it’s better to use the Psalms as you would a marinade. A spice touches only the surface of the food: marinade changes its character. Chicken soaked in lemon juice or a steak drenched in garlic and teriyaki sauce isn’t the same thing it was before the treatment. The soul should marinate in Scripture by repeated, thoughtful, slow, comprehensive, and Spirit-enlightened reading.

Patterson concludes his suggestions for praying the Psalms with the following remarks.

Mature Christians have long known that the best way to learn to pray is to pray through the Psalms systematically, psalm by psalm, day in and day out, week by week and month by month for a lifetime…Certainly this was what Jesus did. The man who prayed the Psalms so meaningfully on the cross had been drenched in the Psalms from boyhood.