This summer we continue to explore the Psalms together in corporate worship, a journey we started in the summer of 2015.
The Psalms are the poetry of the passions, the songs of the Jesus. For nearly three thousand years God’s people have used the Psalms as daily devotionals; these one hundred and fifty poetic stories are replete with meaning to shape our loves, voice our cries, mold our desires, and reveal the beauty of Jesus’ work for us. Until the late 19th century memorization of the Psalms was a requirement for monastic life and ministerial ordination. They were a fixed part of the curriculum of the Latin grammar school; the phrase “psalteriam dicere” became a synonym for early education. Augustine quoted the Psalms as he died. Jesus did too.
Many of us read the Psalms but rarely do we meditate on them. Practicing prayerful meditation on God’s Word prepares us to respond in faith and repentance. Jesus joins his people in gathered worship to that end.
Here is a summer devotional to walk you through the Psalms we'll preach each week this summer.
Give yourselves permission to stop and meditate on the truth of God through the Songs of Jesus. Read and follow the directions below carefully. Resist the temptation to rush through these devotionals. Go slow. Let the Psalms soak into your soul and offer comfort. Let them regulate you back to spiritual health. Share what you’ve learned with your community group. These rhythms of grace and beauty, death and sadness, struggle and hope give us a framework of dealing with these realities in our own lives.
We will be using the Psalms to learn an ancient way of prayer in the church called lectio divina. Each day you will prayer through a Psalm using seven steps of meditation. As you pray in this way, my chief prayer is that you will enjoy the fellowship of your Savior who loves you.
We look forward to meditating on the Songs of Jesus with you.
Now, let's take a look at how to pray through the Psalms using this ancient practice:
Introducing Lectio Divina
Christians throughout the ages have prayed using a technique called lectio divina - a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures. Lectio divina is a latin phrase that literally means “divine reading”. This ancient practice has been kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition. It is not a mystical reading of Scripture; it is rather an extremely practical way of praying God’s Word as you read it. Lectio divina is not a way of emptying your mind (as some ancient prayer methods encourage) but rather filling your mind with Scripture and meditating on the objective truth of God in its original context. Remember, Scripture is not interpreted by what you feel. It is interpreted by the Holy Spirit, confirmed by the community of God’s people and points to the work of Christ Jesus. You’ll may find that as you pray using lectio divina, you memorize passages with less effort.
You will be trying it yourself. Let me walk you through how it works.
Step one: establish the right time & place
Selecting a time for lectio divina is very important in order to regulate you. You need to teach yourself when to expect to pray. Committing to this time is a critical part of developing a rhythm and habit of communing with God. To begin, set aside a minimum of 15 minutes. As you get used to the practice, you may want to increase the time.
The place to pray free from excessive noise and distractions. This means it should be isolated from other people, cell phones, visual distractions, etc. For those of you who do not have this luxury, feel free to listen to non-distractive music (e.g. instrumental music, certain worship songs). The same place should be used if possible, especially at first. Familiarity with a location reduces the possibility of distraction. One may wish to pray at the office or in a room with the door closed. You can even do this in your car, but be sure to leave it running with the A/C on: don’t confuse visions of heaven with a heat stroke!
Step two: Choose the Psalm of Ascents for the Week (Ps 120-134)
Lectio divina begins with meditatively reading out loud and slowly a short passage of Scripture. I’ve picked your passage each day using a Psalm from our summer sermon series. Once you’re comfortable with this practice, you can choose other passages of Scripture. Narratives and Psalms work particularly well because they are vivid. Choose no more than ten verses at first, and explore longer passages of Scripture as you grow more comfortable.
Step three: study the context
Using a study Bible like the ESV Study Bible, read about the context. Consider where this passage falls in redemptive history and what the original audience may have been feeling and experiencing as God’s people at that time.
Step four: transition into the right attitude
Before you to pray using the Psalm, it is important to transition from a busy, frenetic state to be ready to hear God’s Word. Sit silently. Take a few deep breaths. Ask the Holy Spirit to guard and guide your meditation. Ask God to open your senses to the beauty of Jesus’s work for His people. To help you do this, I’ve put a prayer from Arthur Bennett’s The Valley of Vision at the beginning of each devotional.
Step five: read the text three times
This step is where lectio divina technically begins. Read the passage at a slow pace three times. During this time consider one word or phrase that stands out to you from the text. Pause for a few seconds of silence between each reading. Again, your focus is on one word or phrase, not the entire passage. After you read the passages the third time, allow yourself one minute of silent reflection before God. Focus on that one word. Say that word audibly. “Blessed,” “counsel,” “walk,” “way of the righteous,” for example. Say it out loud. It will feel weird at first, but saying it out loud is intentional to engage your whole body in prayer, not just your mind.
Step six: read the text again
Read the text another time (the fourth reading). After you read the text again, allow yourself one minute of silent reflection before God. Put yourself into the setting of the text. Imagine it what the writer is experiencing. Imagine Jesus saying these words. Focus on something you sense (see, hear, feel, taste, smell). Say what you sense audibly. For example with Psalm 1 you might say, “I hear the sound of the bubbling stream next to the fruit-bearing tree,” or “I see the leaves of the tree glimmer in the sun,” etc.
Step seven: read the text a final time
Read the text one final time (the fifth reading). After you read the text again, allow yourself at least a minute of silent reflection before God. Focus on something God is calling you to do in light of this text (e.g., a command to obey, an area of repentance, a relationship to heal, an aspect of God ’s holiness, what Jesus has accomplished for you, etc.). How does this verse speak to your life circumstance today? Say out loud what God is calling you to do or become in light of Jesus’ finished work for you.
Step eight: contemplation
This final rhythm moment is a simple, focus on how when and where Jesus would have prayed this Psalm. In stillness and silence, imagine when and where Jesus prayed this prayer for himself, for His people, and for you. Imagine if you were one of His disciples on the road to Emmaus, how Jesus would apply this Psalm to your life. Rest in his presence. Lay your burdens down. Cast your anxieties onto Him. Consider journaling what you have gleaned from this time of prayer. Thank Jesus for living the life you could not live and dying in your place, becoming sin for us that we might be the righteousness of God.
Try this with a group:
You may choose to do this exercise in a group. For the first time, one person can lead the exercise and read the selected Scripture. As the group grows more comfortable with one another, consider having a different person read the passage each of the five readings. Give everyone permission to be silent together; resist the temptation break the silence too early. Follow the seven steps and encourage everyone to share their words, sense experience and calls to obedience. Hearing how the Holy Spirit directs each member by God’s Word is one of the beauties of this practice. Discuss the way in which this passages points us to Christ. Close the time by praying for each other.
Try this with your community group or family:
You may choose to do this exercise in a group. For the first time, one person can lead the exercise and read the selected Scripture. As the group grows more comfortable with one another, consider having a different person read the passage each of the five readings. Give everyone permission to be silent together; resist the temptation break the silence too early. Follow the seven steps and encourage everyone to share their words, sense experience and calls to obedience. Hearing how the Holy Spirit directs each member by God’s Word is one of the beauties of this practice. Close the time by praying for each other.