Praise the LORD, O my soul….I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to Him, as I rejoice in the Lord. But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the Lord, my soul. Praise the Lord [Hallelujah]. (Psalm 104:1,33-35)
Pastor Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) counseled, “Let your thoughts be psalms, your prayers incense, and your breath praise.” Spurgeon may have been thinking of any sacred songs or hymns in his first phrase, but I will use his words to talk about some features/aspects of all 150 Psalms in Scripture.
The Bible’s Psalms Are Full of Teaching about God (from Christ our Prophet)
They celebrate the Lord’s character and conduct, all He is and all He does for us. Martin Luther called the Psalms a “mini-Bible” because they summarize all the key Scripture themes. They recite key events in Old Testament (“OT”) history and theology and they look forward to the Lord Jesus’ incarnation and ministry. Christ and His apostles sang, chanted, and quoted often from the Psalms, more than any OT book. Jesus taught that the Psalms pointed to His sufferings and His glories that would follow, and that He fulfilled them.1
Psalms focus on the Lord (Father, Son, and Spirit) and how He is the sum of all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Knowing ourselves comes from knowing God rightly. And thinking biblically, with the Spirit’s blessing, enables us to follow Christ in everyday life. Then the God of peace will be with us.2 That’s what we want and need desperately.
The Psalms describe God as the Most High, the Holy One, the King of kings, the Lord of Glory. The Psalmists love to talk about the Lord as our Rock, our Refuge, our Redeemer, our Strength, our Stronghold, our Shield, and our Savior. King David writes, “Behold, God is my helper….For He will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.”3 The Lord (Father, Son, and Spirit) reveals Himself to us in nature and in Scripture so that we seek Him and find Him, though He is not far away. For in Him we live and move and have our being….We are His offspring.4
John Calvin says that knowing God is meant to drive us to prayer and to trust and obey the Lord Jesus. Does your learning about God make you seek to love Him and live for Him?
The Psalms Are Full of Prayers Too (from Christ our Priest)
Helen Hayes (1900-1993), the actress, said “I never feel satisfied with my own made-up prayers. So I often turn to the Psalms. They are my favorites. They roar and sing. They never sweet-talk or whine. They provide me with sustenance as they have for countless other believers through the ages.” King David said, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”5 Just as the smoke and fragrance of incense in the OT tabernacle floated up, so our prayers to the Lord rise up to express our need for His help in everything, our 100% dependence upon Him. Apart from Christ we can do nothing, but we can do all things which He has called us to do through Jesus who strengthens us.6 That’s why we pray.
The prompts to prayer in the Book of Psalms are very practical:
- We ask the Lord to deliver us from enemies who taunt us and try to harm us.7
- We ask Him to refresh our souls, make us wise, give joy to our hearts, and light to our eyes as the Holy Spirit works in us by His Holy Scriptures.8
- We ask Him to help, protect, and support us when we are distressed and to make our plans succeed.9
- We ask God to guard our life, rescue us, and not let us be put to shame because we take refuge in Him.10
- We ask Him to deliver us from all our fears.11
- We ask the Lord to make us holy even as He is holy.12
- We ask Him to bless and keep our families.13
When our prayers are shaped and guided by the Psalms, we are praying according to God’s revealed will and we can be certain that He will hear us and help us in the best way and at the right time.14
The Psalms Are Full of Praises (to Christ our King)
Thinking about the Lord biblically and asking for His assistance leads us to exalt and extol Him, to honor and pay homage to Him. God blesses us every day and throughout each day, so He deserves our thanks and adoration. Worshiping the Lord is good for us because it decentralizes self and recognizes that Christ is the Center of the universe and that every square inch of it belongs to Him, not to human beings. The Lord is holy and enthroned on the praises of His people.15 God lives in a high and holy place, but He also lives among His believers who are contrite and lowly in spirit, and He comes near us to revive us.16 What a Savior!
A big reason we appreciate the Lord is because He is in a class all by Himself. He has infinite perfections, infinite greatness, and infinite worth. God’s glory is His infinite, eternal, and unchangeable beauty, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, love, compassion, and truthfulness. We adore and admire God for the way He is and for all the ways He acts. Here are just a few samples of reasons to celebrate Him:
- Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.17
- Because your loving kindness is better than life, my lips will glorify you.18
- The Lord is exalted over all the nations, His glory above the heavens.19
- I bow as I worship you. I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness; for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name.20
The book of Psalms concludes, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!”21 Matthew Henry reminds us not to fear saying too much in adoring God; our danger saying too little. In thanking the Lord, we focus upon His favors to us. And in praising Him, we focus upon His perfections in Himself. The two overlap. Henry reminds us that what we receive from the Lord through prayer we must return back to Him with praise.
The writer of Psalm 104 clearly loves the Lord who first loved him. So do all the Psalm writers. I want that enthusiastic love for God to rub off on me and on you who read this.
O worship the king all glorious above, O gratefully sing his power and His love;
Our shield and defender, the ancient of days, Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.
To be continued
Notes (various translations): 1 Luke 24:27,44. 2 allusion to Phil 4:8-9. 3 Psalm 54:4; 72:12. 4 Acts 17:27-28. 5 Psalm 141:2. 6 John 15:5; Phil 4:13. 7 Psalm 3. 8 Psalm 19:7-8. 9 Psalm 20. 10 Psalm 25. 11 Psalm 34. 12 Psalm 119. 13 Psalms 127-128. 14 1 John 5:14. 15 Psalm 22:3. 16 Isaiah 57:15. 17 Psalm 23:6. 18 Psalm 63:3. 19 Psalm 113:4. 20 Psalm 138:2. 21 Psalm 150:6.