I have struggled for a long while in being consistent with my private time of prayer. I have often found myself praying more in group contexts and enjoying such prayer times than the private times. Corporate prayer is such a means of grace for the Christian, but I have often felt like a hypocrite after participating in them. At times I wish I would enjoy my private prayer time like I do the corporate prayer time. I wish I could pray with fervor as I often do in corporate prayer. It has been a puzzle and a wrestle to make sense of the imbalance. Perhaps the joy of using 1st plural personal pronouns, which sounds and feels less selfish. “We come to you,” We ask O Lord,” “help us,” I find myself easily transitioning into such phrasing in my private prayers. Similar to the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father…. give us… forgive us… lead us…etc. I have been accustomed to a pluralistic phraseology in my prayers that personal prayers seem uncomfortable and unsustainable. Yet when I look at the Psalms, the Psalmist is very personal in his prayers. And not until recently have I started praying the Psalms in my private time, and it has been an enriching experience. A brief look at the historical context, central message, theological significance, and Christocentric nature of the Psalms will help see how fit the Psalms are in aiding out private prayer life.
Historical Context of the Psalms
The Psalms are a collection of writings written by different authors. Though most of the Psalms are attributed to David as their author, there are a significant number of them that are authored by others, e.g. Sons of Korah (42-49), etc. The Psalms were not all written at the same time like other books of the Bible. Some of the Psalms seem to have been written as early as the times of Moses (Psalm 90), whereas others like the Songs of Ascent date the post-exilic times (Psalm 126). In the Old Testament times, the Psalms were often used by the Israelites in their worship of God. They would be sung as hymns since most of them were written as hymns with a variety of expressions and with certain experiences that resonated with God’s people as they journeyed their pilgrimage. This is one of the reasons why the Psalms are so relevant even for us today, in them we find experiences of the Christian life, and words to use to express our feelings and emotions in different seasons –of distress, uncertainty, joy etc.
Central Message of the Psalms
The central message of the book is the perseverance of God’s people who are preserved by God. This comes from the constant repetition of phrases like “the Lord is my refuge,” or “the Lord is my rock and my fortress.” Such phrases reveal a rock-solid hope that enables the perseverance of the people of God. The covenant language repeated again and again in describing and expressing the love of God and the love for God also offers insight into God’s preservation and to our perseverance. Psalm 23 captures perfectly the central message of the book. It is about God’s loving covenant relationship with his people –in which God has promised to preserve them, and because of this, his people persevere to the very end.
Theological Significance of the Psalms
The book of Psalms offers us a perspective on the Covenantal love and relationship between God and his people. There are a few elements that reflect this in the Psalms, for example when the Psalmist recounts in past history, the steadfast love of God, it is often in the context of his redemptive work and based on the covenant he made with their forefather –Abraham (Psalm 78). Another example would be on the meditation on the law of God (Psalm 19, Psalm 119). This offers insight to not only what the law is, but also how God’s people are to view it in the covenant relationship with their God. The songs of Ascent (Psalm 120-139) offer us insight into the place of God and how the people of God long to be in God’s presence. They long to reach Zion, God’s place, God’s city. This also shows us how God’s people think and respond to God in covenant love. This is quite significant considering that the Psalms would have covered the entire history of Old Testament saints. There was the constant threat of Idol worship from pagan nations, and the Psalms offer us perspective in the midst of the life of the people of God who were constantly tempted to worship other gods apart from Yahweh.
Christocentric Nature of the Psalms
The Psalms points us to and reminds us of Christ again and again. In Psalms 2, we are pointed to Christ’s reign –He is the Son who reigns over all kings. In Psalm 22, Christ is the forsaken one –His last cry on the cross. Time and again the Psalmist talks about the rock, who else but Christ is the rock (1 Corinthians 10:4). What about the Shepherd in Psalm 23? Christ is the good shepherd. The covenantal language used in the Psalms –Abrahamic and Davidic, finds its fulfillment in Christ’s person and work. The promises that the Psalmist is fond of mussing over are fulfilled in and by Christ. Christ holds all of the Psalms together; he is the heart-beat and life in the Psalms. He is David’s Lord in Psalm 110, He truly and fully is the anointed one spoken of in the Psalms, he is the Christ!
I have found so much wealth in the Psalms as I read a Psalm a day and pray through. I have been encouraged to find similar experiences with saints of old and finding personal and practical ways to express myself in prayer. I have also drawn much encouragement to see how God is committed to preserving his people, which gives me great hope for my perseverance. There’s nothing like praying with unwavering assurance! The covenantal language makes tangible my relationship with God. I have found a wealth of expressions that help me better grasp who God is to me. God is my rock and my fortress, my refuge and Lord, my Shephard and King, my Father and Savior. The Psalms have given me confidence in relating to God. Much more have I been drawn to Christ. The Psalms have provided me with gospel musings.
I am writing this article on the 3rd of August and today’s reading was from Psalm 33. I was particularly encouraged by verses 18-19, “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.” I was reminded of Christ’s complete work of redemption and how he has defeated death. Though I might die physically, I will still be as alive as alive can ever be in Christ. My soul is delivered from eternal death in Christ. Thank God for the Psalms and how handy they are in aiding our private prayer life.
Article by Emmanuel Njoroge