Spiritual Practice

Struggling with the Psalms

Lindsay Gray

For most of my life, the Psalms have been a roadblock in my trek through the Bible. The Psalms were not a big part of worship or Bible study in the church where I grew up. On some Sundays, a psalm was one of the weekly readings; and occasionally we would discuss a psalm in Sunday school. But in general, the Psalms were not our focus, and we never read more than one psalm at a time. I suspect most people in my church were unsure of what to do with the Psalms. I wondered, How do we read these poems when we don’t know what the poet was writing about? How do we learn from them when the language seems so different from our own? Why should we read the Psalms when we could be learning about the life and teachings of Jesus? Mostly I ignored the Psalms.

In one of my divinity school classes, my professor introduced the Psalms with a story. In his home community in Syria, the Psalms were viewed as a model for interacting honestly and respectfully with God. On one night each year, the community gathered in the synagogue to read the Psalms—the entire book, all one hundred fifty psalms! He explained that the Psalms were poems and prayers directed to God. By reading them aloud as a community, we express together the deep emotions and fundamental questions of human life; and at the same time, we reconnect with God. The Psalms show us how to communicate faithfully with God.

The range of emotions recorded in the Psalms is incredible. The Psalms talk of happiness, delight, and laughter as well as sighing, crying, and groaning. They even express hatred, fear, and guilt. They ask sharp questions: “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalm 2:1, NRSV) and “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1a, NRSV).

The Psalms are a challenge to read, especially if we read them as our own prayers to God. By reading the Psalms, we express our doubts and our joys, but we also show God our darker side, the fear and hatred we feel toward our neighbors and enemies. In reading the Psalms as our prayers, we must face our shame and disgrace. Reading the Psalms is not easy.

devozine Roadblock Inside FF ID-10047692But reading the Psalms teaches us about living faithfully. The Psalms show us what it means to give everything over to God and then to rest in the assurance that we are God’s children. The words of the Psalms are models for our own prayers, showing us that we can ask questions, have doubts, express our joys and triumphs, and even yell and scream at God when life is difficult. But each psalm ends with a statement of trust in God or praise for God’s steadfast care. The Psalms instruct us to remember God’s faithfulness in all our experiences.

At one time, the Psalms were a roadblock in my trek through the Bible; but now, I turn to the Psalms when I face roadblocks in my life.



Use the Psalms in your prayer time this week. Pray a psalm to God, or write your own psalm. Be honest with God, and remember God’s faithfulness to you.

*  Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at

Lindsay Gray , a recent graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School, is the Managing Editor of The Upper Room daily devotional guide. When she is not working, she can often be found riding horses, doing yoga, knitting, or playing board games.

—from devozine (January/February 2013). Copyright © 2012 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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