Once a month, you’re going to hear from our authors, from our team, or from a guest on how we study the Bible, what resources we use, and what questions we ask.
The night before a life-altering doctor’s visit, I sat down with my Bible and a blank sheet of paper. I turned to the psalms and scribbled down verse after verse of God’s promises to His people. The next day, the doctor confirmed my fear—I was born with a somewhat rare medical condition that prevents me from bearing biological children. As I walked through the dark days after my diagnosis, wrestling with the sorrow of shattered expectations and unmet desires, I clung for dear life to the promises in the psalms. The psalter gave me language for my lament and taught me how to pray honestly before the Lord. I regularly turn to this cherished book to express my delight, praise, and joy to the Lord.
The Book of Psalms is the songbook for God’s people. Colossians 3:16 tells us that the early Christians routinely sang “psalms … with thankfulness in [their] hearts to God” (ESV). The psalms remind us of the character of God and foretell our Savior. John Calvin called the psalms “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul” because “there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”1
Around the world, and through history, the psalms have been a lifeline to the souls of many. Below are a few practical ways to approach the Book of Psalms in your devotion time.
Pray the Psalms.
The psalms teach us how to pray. In God’s presence, we can bring our longings (Ps. 38:9), our fears (Ps. 56:3), our temptations (Ps. 119:11), our sorrow (Ps. 88), and our praise and worship (Ps. 145). No emotion is hidden from God’s sight. While we have an invitation to bring our full selves before the throne in prayer, as John Piper reminds us, “My feelings are not God. … My feelings do not define truth.”2 In prayer, we learn to align our feelings around God’s truth.
Below are a few of the Psalms I regularly turn to in prayer.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.
Regularly Immerse Yourself.
Scripture is meant to be studied, meditated upon, delighted in, and obeyed. We cannot do that if we don’t know God’s Word, and the only way to know His Word is by spending time in it. Tim Keller said of the psalms, “We are not simply to read psalms; we are to be immersed in them so that they profoundly shape how we relate to God. The psalms are the divinely ordained way to learn devotion to our God.”3 We should develop a regular rhythm of immersing ourselves in the psalms.
Personally, I read through the Book of Psalms every month. This practice makes me more attentive and alert to the text. I read five chapters a day and can finish the book each month. I alternate between reading the text and listening to it. (I like the Dwell Bible app and the ESV Bible app.)
Some months, I chose to pay special attention to a certain word, phrase, or theme. I’m forced to slow down and mine God’s promises and meditate upon them. One month, I wrote down every mention of the phrase “steadfast love” in the psalms, and I found over one hundred mentions of the phrase. I encourage you to try this practice as well.
Memorize the Psalms.
Memorizing Scripture is an excellent way to practically obey Psalm 1 by meditating upon the law of the Lord day and night. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not fast at memorization and can be overwhelmed at times. The goal of hiding God’s Word in our hearts is to grow in godliness. With that purpose in mind, I’m reminded that it’s OK if I don’t memorize as fast as others. I’m not trying to keep up or impress them. I’m trying to soak my soul in Scripture so that when I’m tempted and tried, when disaster and destruction hit, I’m equipped with truth.
My friend Glenna Marshall has some excellent suggestions and practical tips for Scripture memory on her blog, and I encourage you to check it out for a more thorough aid to Scripture memory. Glenna writes in her book Everyday Faithfulness:
Scripture memorization is a key tool for breaking through the tough exterior of a dry heart. Learning the words of the Lord encourages praise (Ps. 119:7). If reading the Bible is like irrigating a field, then memorization is like flooding the field with water to submerge it. Pastor Jon Bloom calls memorization “swimming” in the text rather than just skimming the surface. Through repetition and recitation, the words of the Lord are hidden in our hearts and come to mind throughout the day. When you commit portions of Scripture to memory, you’ll find that those passages begin to change the way you think and feel. This is how you flood the fields, my friend.4
We must always allow Scripture to interpret Scripture and read verses and passages in the context of the whole Bible. When we read the Psalms, we must read them in light of the gospel. On the cross, Jesus cried out using the words from Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) Because of the finished work on the cross, we can rest in the reality that God’s children are never forsaken. That reality is good news for the weary, the brokenhearted, and the needy. Friend, I encourage you to commit yourself to a regular rhythm of reading the psalms. As you do, look for God’s character, promises, guidance, wisdom, and commands. May our study of Scripture cause our hearts and tongues to praise our King.
Chelsea Patterson Sobolik is the author of Longing for Motherhood: Holding Onto Hope in the Midst of Childlessness and the policy director for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. She’s worked for the U.S. House of Representatives on issues such as child welfare, religious freedom, adoption, and foster care policy. Chelsea was adopted as a newborn from Bucharest, Romania, grew up in North Carolina, and then graduated from Liberty University. She has been published at The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Gospel Coalition, among others. Chelsea and her husband Michael live in Washington, D.C. Follow Chelsea on Twitter @chelspat or on Instagram @chelseasobolik
1. John Calvin, “The Author’s Preface,” Commentary on Psalms, Vol. I, accessed May 5, 2021, https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom08.vi.html.
2. John Piper, Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications Ltd. and Minneapolis: Desiring God, 2009), 165, https://document.desiringgod.org/finally-alive-en.pdf?ts=1446647305.
3. Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus (New York: Viking, 2015), vii.4. Glenna Marshall, “Hiding God’s Word in our Hearts: The Ins and Outs of Scripture Memory,” excerpt from Everyday Faithfulness, glennamarshall.com, December 10, 2019, https://www.glennamarshall.com/2019/12/10/scripture-memory/.