Do you like roller coasters? The slow climb up to the top, then the controlled crash down? Some people love ‘em, some people throw up.
How about emotional roller coasters? Ever been on one of those? The Psalms are sort of like a roller coaster, and I believe that we need to ride this thing a whole lot more. The ups and the downs. The happy jumpy praisey parts and the depressed anxious homicidal parts.
I want to invite you into the chorus of the Church; to remind you of the prayer book of God’s people.
Theologically, we need the Psalms.
Emotionally, we need the Psalms.
Jesus loved the Psalms
In fact, Jesus quotes from the Psalms more than any other Old Testament book. Here are the top four books Jesus quotes:
The thing is, when Jesus references the Psalms, it’s almost always in a difficult situation. That is to say, when Jesus was in a stressful spot, he most often fell back on the Psalms.
- When he’s speaking to angry leaders who are mad because he healed someone. [Matthew 21:16]
- When he’s dying on the cross. [Matthew 27:46]
- When he’s hated without cause. [John 15:25]
- When he’s talking about his betrayal. [John 13:18]
- When the Jews want to stone him for claiming divinity. [John 10:34]
- When he’s being interrogated by Pilate. [Matthew 26:64]
- When his authority’s challenged by the chief priests and elders. [Matthew 21:42]
- When he’s talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. [Matthew 23:39]
If Jesus himself needed the Psalms in hard times, I might too.
And if that’s not reason enough to dive into the Psalms, here’s a collection of thoughts on the Psalms that might nudge you to jump in…
NT Wright, The Case for the Psalms
“The celebration is wild and uninhibited; the misery is deep and horrible. One moment we are chanting, perhaps clapping our hands in time, even stamping our feet. . . . The next moment we have tears running down our cheeks, and we want the earth to open and swallow us.”
“The Psalms not only insist that we are called to live at the intersection of God’s space and our space, of heaven and earth, to be (in other words) Temple people. They call us to live at the intersection of sacred space, the Temple and the holy land that surrounds it, and the rest of human space, the world where idolatry and injustice still wreak their misery.”
“The Psalms are among the oldest poems in the world, and they still rank with any poetry in any culture, ancient or modern, from anywhere in the world. They are full of power and passion, horrendous misery and unrestrained jubilation, tender sensitivity and powerful hope. Anyone at all whose heart is open to new dimensions of human experience, anyone who loves good writing, anyone who wants a window into the bright lights and dark corners of the human soul – anyone open to the beautiful expression of a larger vision of reality should react to these poems like someone who hasn’t had a good meal for a week or two. It’s all here.”
“The Psalms are the steady, sustained subcurrent of healthy Christian living.”
“Scripture is not simply a reference book to which we turn to look up correct answers – though it’s full of those when we need them. Scripture is, at its heart, the great story that we sing in order not just to learn it with our heads but to become part of it through and through, the story that in turn becomes part of us.”
“If the Psalms provide a sense of sacred space, that space is where celebration and sorrow are held together within the powerful love and presence of the one God.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Psalms: the Prayer Book of the Bible
“Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church.”
“The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity.”
“That can be very painful, to want to speak with God and not to be able to.” [Bonhoeffer saw this moment as the best time to pray the Psalms.]
“There is in the Psalms no quick and easy resignation to suffering. There is always struggle, anxiety, doubt. God’s righteousness which allows the pious to be met by misfortune but the godless to escape free, even God’s good and gracious will, is undermined. His behavior is too difficult to grasp. But even in the deepest hopelessness God alone remains the one addressed. . . . He sets out to do battle against God for God.”
“If I am guilty, why does God not forgive me? If I am not guilty, why does he not bring my misery to an end and thus demonstrate my innocence to my enemies? There are no theoretical answers in the Psalms to all these questions. As there are none in the New Testament. The only real answer is Jesus Christ.”
“I used to read five psalms every day – that teaches me how to get along with God. Then I read a chapter of Proverbs every day and that teaches me how to get along with my fellow man.”
“The Psalter promises Christ’s death and resurrection so clearly – and pictures his kingdom and the condition and nature of all Christendom – that it might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible.”
Psalms – Songs for our time (31mb, mp3) This is a message I preached at the Red Bridge Church of Christ on November 29, 2015.
A three-minute video showing one way to interface with the Psalms. You can read more on this method here.