Psalms Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Psalms

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The psalms gift the believer and the believing community with a robust and no-holds-barred vocabulary in conversation with God. The psalms provide backing to Jewish Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel's claim, "With God anything can be said. Without God nothing is heard."

In Scripture

Wisdom: "Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night" (Ps. 1:1-2).

Praise: "O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (Ps. 8:1).

Disorientation: "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?" (Ps. 13:1-2).

Reorientation: "You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever" (Ps. 30:11-12).

Confession: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin... Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me" (Ps. 51:1-2, 10).

Benediction: "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us. . . . May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him" (Ps. 67:1, 7).

Intercession: "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved" (Ps. 80:1-3).

Call to Worship: "O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand" (Ps. 95:6-7).

Thanksgiving: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits — who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's" (Ps. 103:1-5).

Ministry of the Word: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Ps. 119:105).

Offering: "I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts" (Ps. 145:1-4).

Orientation: "Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin" (Ps. 146:5-9).

Points to Ponder

Location - Dislocation - Relocation: Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann teaches that there is a cyclical nature to the psalms that mimics the cyclical nature of faith and discipleship. First, we affirm what is true about God. This is our starting point, our "location." Second, our experience of life proves discordant to our starting point. Wrestling with what we know to be true and what we know we are experiencing is our "dislocation." Third, our trouble resolves in some fashion. We are able to affirm, again, what we believed in the beginning, but we do so bearing scars. Offering our thanksgiving for rescue and redemption is "relocation." The psalms give us language of truthful affirmation, injured doubt, and recovering reorientation.

Worship Words: The book of Psalms is the earliest compiled hymnbook of the worshiping people of God. Claimed by Jews and Christians alike, these words have shaped the imaginations, emotions, minds, and volitions of believing people since the beginning. They are "worship words," which is to say that they belong to a community gathered. The psalms — and, in fact, all that we do in worship are not simply entertainment for the elect. What we say in worship shapes and forms us as the people God uses in the world. If you have the occasion to spend more than one week with the psalms, consider crafting a series around the various elements of your worship service (call to worship, praise, confession, ministry of the Word, dedication, offering, and blessing), finding the connection between worship in your context and worship at all times and in all places.

Holding Our Troubles Before God: "Come you sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore . . . if you tarry til you're better, you will never come at all." One-third of the psalter is comprised of lament psalms. Some are prayers of confession over personal sin and its consequences. Some are cries over injustice in the world and injury done to us through no discernible fault of our own. Though these sentiments show up all over the psalter, they are rare in our worship services. Perhaps it feels illicit to talk to God this way. But the lesson of the psalter is that God cherishes us — even when we're bedraggled, impertinent, and raw — and longs to hear from us as we are. God does not operate under the dictates of etiquette that remonstrate, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Prayer, worship, and church are not benefitted by polite pieties. Church is not the place we go to forget the troubles of the world. Church is the place that we go to hold the troubles of the world before God and demand, "Please fix this." Thus we would be well-served to tell the whole truth of psalter in regular rotation.

Tell the Truth: Pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson writes of the psalms, "It is easy to be honest before God with our hallelujahs; somewhat more difficult to be honest in our hurts; it is nearly impossible to be honest before God in the dark emotions of our hate." The psalms are a gift to the worshiping community in order that we might tell the truth. Not a spiritual, Sunday-go-to-meeting truth, but a Monday morning, work-a-day-world truth. There is not an emotion we've experienced — even the ones we don't talk about at cocktail parties — that falls outside the bounds of the psalter. Surely the psalms teach us to pray in hallelujahs and in laugher but also in tears and in tantrums.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.