Psalms as a Prayer Book

By Jamie Harms

Shortly after we moved to Eugene, my sister-in-law and I were in a discussion about prayer, and she mentioned that she was using The Paraclete Psalter* as a guide to her prayer times. I was not familiar with it, but I was intrigued to learn to pray using the psalms. I had heard of praying the Scriptures, similarly to how Kathleen encouraged us last week to start prayer in God’s Word and to remember the character of our God. So, I picked up a psalter, which is literally the psalms with some common prayers sprinkled in, and dedicated a month to praying through all 150 psalms like the people of Israel, the early church, and the Christian monastic traditions have done for thousands of years.  

The psalms are truly amazing gems. They walk us through the elements of salvation. They capture the entire range of human emotion and put words to what we are feeling in our hearts. They show us the character of God for who He really is. For millennia, they have been prayed, recited, and sung as a way to lead us to do what the psalmists intended with their song. I like Tim Keller’s perspective. He says the psalms lead us to “…commit ourselves to God through pledges and promises, to depend on God through petition and expressions of acceptance, to seek comfort in God through lament and complaint, to find mercy from God through confessions and repentance, to gain new wisdom and perspective from God through meditation, remembrance, and reflection.”

The liturgy of praying the hours is just a way to break up the psalms into categories that reflect what we might be experiencing at different times of the day. Each set of psalms refocuses the heart of one praying toward her Creator as she starts her day, at midday, in the evening, and before bed. Traditionally this is called praying the hours. The morning begins with the lauds that start the day with praise on our lips. At midday, we pause and remember that our work is given from the Lord and He gives it meaning. The early evening begins with vespers, where we take time to give thanks to God for all that He has done for us and give Him the glory. Before we end our day, we pray the compline, where we entrust ourselves into the care of our Father and pray for His blessing as we sleep.

Click here to see summaries of the hours of prayer.

Praying in this way can seem like it would be overwhelming, but it is not meant to be. Each time we stop and pray the hours, it only needs to take a minute or two, but the prayer acts as a touch point to refocus our hearts and minds on our Heavenly Father.  

I have chosen to return to the discipline of praying the hours at various points in my life, often during periods of transition, anxiousness, uncertainty, or need for guidance and encouragement. At each designated hour of the day, I pray through a psalm as I read it, turning the words of the psalmist into my own. I put a 3×5 card with notes about the psalms for the different hours in my Bible on the counter. I then set an alarm on my phone to remind me to swing by the counter to pause and to pray for a minute or two. 

I would challenge you to take time today and maybe this whole week, while we are home, to pray the hours. We all find ourselves in uncharted territory that could produce a whole range of emotions even on a single day. What a great way to refocus on our Savior throughout the day as we cling to the hope that can only come from Him!

*Physical copies of The Paraclete Psalter usually cost more than $40, while ebooks are all under $10. You can find them here and here.

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