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Dwelling in the Psalms: An Introduction

Tim Smith » Books of the Bible

It’s not all about you...

When we look to the Psalms first and foremost to console and validate ourselves, we selfishly put ourself at the center of the purpose of scripture. Instead we must first ask what is the Psalmist praying and, most of all, what does it tell us about Jesus. In his excellent little book “The Prayerbook of the Bible”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says: “If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible, and especially the Psalms, we must not, therefore, first ask what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ... Thus it does not matter whether the Psalms express exactly what we feel in our heart at the moment we pray. Perhaps it is precisely the case that we must pray against our own heart in order to pray rightly. It is not just that for which we ourselves want to pray that is important, but that for which God wants us to pray.”

The Psalms are all about Jesus...

In Christ the Psalms take on a whole new meaning. Jesus is truth incarnate (Jn 14:6) and as such there is no truth apart from Him. We are called to view all of scripture, both old and new testament, as by Him, through Him and for Him (Col 1:16).

Martin Luther even went as far as to say: “Every prophecy and every prophet must be understood as referring to Christ the Lord, except where it is clear from plain words that someone else is spoken of. For thus He Himself says: ‘Search the scriptures, ... and it is they that bear witness to Me’ (John 5:39)... “ Jesus speaks directly to this when, after his resurrection, He taught the disciples that the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms all taught about Him (Matt. 24:44). However, Jesus not only inspired the Psalms to be written, he also identified with them in his humanity. Jesus sang the songs of lament and abandonment more deeply than any other human being ever will. He bore the wrath of God and the sin of the world in our place as he suffered on the cross. And, rising victorious over Satan, sin and death, he proclaims the Psalms of praise inviting us to do the same. Jesus lived the full range of human experience and he did it all to the glory of His Father. He is the perfect worshipper and the fulfillment of all the Psalms.

Three questions to unlock the Psalms...

So, when we come to the Psalms, there are always three narratives at work: that of the Psalmist, that of Jesus and then our own story. We must ask what is the Psalmist praying, then what is Jesus praying and, only then, what should we pray in response. I invite you to dig in deeply to the book of praises. That is exactly the purpose of the book; the the word Psalms is literally translated "praises". I invite you to dig in to the heart and mind of the Psalmist. I invite you to wrestle with how Jesus experiences the same things to the continuous glory of His Father. And I invite you to be transformed as your heart is unified with His. Only then do we begin to understand the message of the Psalms.

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