The Benefit of Writing Psalms as a Devotional Practice

From time to time I have written on various devotional techniques, and today I want to share one that has become a favorite of mine: psalm writing.

notebook and pencil

Why Write Psalms

A psalm is simply a sacred song or hymn, particularly modeled after the psalms of David.  While many psalms are laments, and sometime I will write one of those, many psalms are pure adoration and praise.

I find my attitude and spiritual perspective improve greatly when I spend concentrated time praising God. Praising God means focusing completely on who God is and what he has done. During this time I do not confess my sins, thank God for personal blessings, or ask him to answer my requests. This time is devoted to recognizing God for who he is and what he has done.

I can begin writing a psalm of praise in a spiritual dull and ambivalent mood, and by the time I am done my spirit has been lifted, encouraged, and strengthened simply because I have been reminding myself who God is. This is why God told his people to always be talking about God and his works; we are encouraged through who he is.

How to Write a Psalm

Begin by choosing an attribute of God, and then start writing down the ways God shows himself in your life as that attribute.

That’s all.

This is not a time to be grammatically perfect, but to be perfect in spirit.

An Example

Here is a psalm of praise I wrote earlier this month. On this particular day I decided to focus on God as my Provider. Here is what I wrote, with only one name edited out for privacy.

God, you are my Provider
on my left hand and on my right;
in difficulty and ease
you fill my heart and life with good things.
I will meditate on all your wondrous deeds.

When I was depressed and overwhelmed
by my guilt and shame
you sent encouraging angels
and friends to comfort me.
When I was struggling under poisonous stares,
you were my shelter,
my umbrella in the rain of accusations.
When I needed nothing material
you were the satisfaction of my heart
and the source of all my good.
When I was desperate and without hope
you became my hope and assurance.
You showed me a way when I could not see
and gave me a hope I did not know.
I was rejected, and you welcomed me
and said, “I was rejected, too.”
I was distraught, and you encouraged me,
for you wrestled with God at Gethsemane.
I was poor and you made me rich;
your people brought me money out of their abundance
and paid my bills.
I was tired from weeping and despair,
and you revived my spirit.

All my life you have been my good;
and nothing good have you withheld.
Your grace and mercy are greater than I know
and more integral than I can express.
You are the blood in my veins and the breath in my mouth,
O God, my Strength and my Provider.

What attribute of God would be most beneficial for you to meditate on?

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God’s Call to Action

For decades now I have been praying the armor of God in Ephesians 6 over myself nearly every day, and today I realized something new.

Ephesians 6:14-17 (NIV 1984) says:

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Here are the components mentioned in the above passage, with my non-seminary observations:

  • Truth.  This is God’s perspective on anything and everything.
  • Righteousness.  This is right standing with God, which we receive only through the grace and sacrifice of Christ.
  • The Gospel of Peace.  The good news is that God has reconciled us to himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, thereby giving us peace with him.
  • Faith.  Hebrews 11 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV 1984)  While my thought had always been that faith is the one “act,” if you will, that Christians “do” when they accept Christ as Savior, it was pointed out to me recently that in Ephesians 2:8 the grammar actually states faith itself is a gift of God.
  • Salvation.  Again, this is the work of God in our lives; we cannot save ourselves.
  • The Spirit, or the Word of God.  God’s word, the Scriptures, penetrates to the core of our soul and reveals God’s truth through the Holy Spirit.

In the past month or two I have become more aware of how every component of God’s armor is something he does for us.  This morning, however, something else became clear to me:

Our shoes, the gospel of peace, give the expectation that we will spread peace to each other and with God everywhere we go through the good news of what God has done in our lives.

Think about that for a moment.  Do you bring peace to every situation you enter?  Does your story of what God has done for you permeate everything you do?  When people look at your life, do they see someone responding to God’s gift of peace with him by acting peacefully with everyone, or someone taking advantage of the peace of God in their own lives but refusing to allow peace in their everyday relationships?

I would propose that putting on the shoes of the gospel of peace is similar to wielding the sword of the Spirit; they are both offensive, not defensive, parts of our lives.

  • We are to engage culture, not retreat from it.
  • We are to take steps of faith, not simply hold our position.
  • We are to enter into conflict, not avoid it.
  • We are to forgive, not hold a grudge.
  • We are to speak and act peacefully, and not just when it is convenient.
  • We are to share what God has done for us, not keep it to ourselves.

For me entering into conflict rather than avoiding it is something I regularly have to choose; it does not come naturally.  Sharing my faith outside of church is hard for me, not easy.  Taking steps of faith is difficult for me.  I am grateful, however, that God has been helping me to grow in these areas.

God will help you in your unique situation; all you have to do is ask.

In which of these areas do you need to grow?

spiritual grammar

I have been thinking about the primary questions of life: who, what, when, where, how and why. These questions unleash the truth of any situation, idea, or creed. Police use them to reconstruct a crime or crime scene, CEOs use them to challenge the validity of a new product, elementary school students use them to discover the meaning behind a sentence or paragraph, and scientists use them to analyze processes and substances. These questions are the foundation of the modern age.

We also use these questions in belief. Who led the Israelites through the Red Sea? Moses. When did Pharoah let the Israelites leave? After God killed the firstborn of Egypt. What is the color of my true love’s hair? Wait a minute . . . wrong post.

You get the idea. The same thing goes whether the faith system is Christianity, Islam, or any other religion. They are the language of taste, touch and feel.

These questions are completely appropriate for human experience and existence, but what about God? Can these questions illuminate him as they illuminate so much of the human experience?

Example: God says, “I will remember your sins no more.” If God is all knowing, can he forget something, or is he simply talking about making a choice to set aside our sins because of Christ and not “remember” them when he thinks of us? Every systematic theology has an answer for this, but my question is, Can one say definitively HOW God does this? God does give us hints throughout Scripture on this issue and so many more, but God does not lay out a blow by blow description of how his omniscience and grace coincide and cooperate. We have to embrace some mystery.

God says in Isaiah, “My ways are not your ways, neither are your thoughts my thoughts.” We get into trouble when we attempt to describe God using human terms and tools. He is “other,” and we should be willing to grasp a little mystery. Search Scripture for sure; Solomon said it is the glory of kings to search out a matter. “I don’t know” could be the best answer to some questions of God, however.

Ultimately, if you can describe God completely using the scientific method (who, what, when, where, how, why), you suddenly have no God at all. Embrace the mystery of faith in a God you cannot completely explain, and suddenly your faith will have life, because we cannot give life to an idea on our own. Allowing God to be God allows him to fuel your faith, rather than trying to charge up your spiritual car on human batteries. A car can run on batteries, but it’s nothing like the real thing, baby. 🙂