So a few weeks ago I wrote about finishing something. In 2020 I read the Bible through in a year using a chronological plan. Now that I was finished with that, the question was what would I do for my Bible study in 2021. I didn’t want to read so fast this year. So I started by choosing a daily reading plan that is more liturgical and will take at least 2 years to get through the whole Bible. That will allow me to spend more time thinking about what I am reading. Also, because it is based on a liturgy, and not finishing the book, if I miss a day, I don’t feel like I have to catch-up. Rather, I just pick up on today’s reading. But I still wanted to spend time studying the Word in depth, and I needed to find a place to start. The Psalms kept coming up in my conversations. And I was frustrated that, as I wrote in my last post, the Psalms bogged me down instead of being the best part of my reading. So I determined to start studying the Psalms this year. This has been confirmed for me in a few different ways.
I have read two books in the last few weeks that introduce the Psalms and how to read and study them. It was my first step in studying this genre of poetry which is so much different from a narrative or an epistle. First I read How to Read the Psalms by Tremper Longman III (IVP, 1988). In the introduction, Longman describes the Psalms as a “sanctuary, the place where God meets men and women in a special way.” He describes the Psalms as the place where we participate in intimate worship of God and come away changed. The second book I read was The Case for the Psalms: Why They are Essential by N.T. Wright (Harper One, 2013). Wright says, “The Psalms offer us a way of joining in a chorus of praise and prayer that has been going on for millennia and across all cultures….the regular praying and singing of the Psalms is transformative. It changes the way we understand some of the deepest elements of who we are, or rather who, where, when, and what we are….” Later he states that the Psalms can shape our prayer life.
I want to meet God in intimate worship and have my life and mind and heart transformed by Him. So I have sensed that I am being drawn to this study. As often happens, when God wants me to hear something, I hear it from multiple places in a short period of time. Yesterday I heard the call again during KPaul Maurer’s sermon at Avalon.
KPaul has started an 8+ month study of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. Last week he talked about the context of Jesus’ words. This week he talked about the first words of the sermon, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:3) He talked about what it means to be poor in spirit. It is an understanding that we need God. His examples of people poor in spirit in the Bible included Isaiah, who when he saw the glory of God in the temple said, “Woe is me! For I am lost: for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). And John the Baptist who recognized that he was unworthy to even carry Jesus’ sandals. Only when we realize that we are incapable of saving ourselves can we receive the kingdom of God. But as the point of Jesus’ words are that we hear them and put them into practice (Matthew 7:24), how do we live this out? KPaul’s answer is, “This, in many ways, is lived out in prayer.” Our practice this week, besides memorizing Matthew 5:3, is to consider what our prayer lives look like.
“Prayer is looking to God, and when we come face-to-face with God we experience who we are and where we sit….It positions us to be desperate for God….” (KPaul Maurer)
This is what the Psalms do for us. They are where we go when we are desperate for God to meet with Him. To praise Him. To thank Him. To cry out to Him for help. Prayer is simply spending time communing with God. The Psalms are where God’s people have recorded their communing with God. And I am excited that I am going to spend time studying them.
So all of that to say, I have a plan, not just for my study, but for this blog. As I have done in the past, I am going to continue to post about the sermon series at Avalon occasionally. But I am also going to start posting my thoughts on the Psalms. I hope to have at least one blog a week about them. I may be doing this for a while. I’m praying that as I study and share what I’ve learned that you and I both will be transformed, and, at least I, if not you as well, will find the Psalms as a whole to be a place of sanctuary. And interestingly enough they start just like Jesus’ sermon: “Blessed…”