Being Formed Through the Psalms

The Psalms Project started in October 2010 as a seven-year journey. Those participating meditate on twenty-one Psalms each year and memorize at least a few of them. The aim is for the psalms to transform one’s worship, prayers and understanding of Jesus. As part of this journey, those involved share brief meditations each month on what God is teaching them. Each year, they also read one book on the Psalms. In the first years, these have been:

  • The Psalms, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer;
  • The Conquest of the Inner Space: Learning the Language of Prayer, by Sunder Krishnan;
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, by Eugene Peterson (on the Psalms of Ascent: 120-134).

Polina, a staff worker from Central Asia, participates in this journey. When asked about her experience, she shared:

The Psalms Project is a great opportunity for me personally to have a clear Bible reading plan and to be accountable. This project keeps me focused on the Word of God and on God Himself. Memorizing helps me develop discipline in organizing my time and thoughts and to know God’s Word without looking at the Bible. Moreover, every psalm I’ve memorized led to discussions with students and friends that have strengthened their focus on Scripture. Better than any other book, the Psalms describe spiritual life and experiences happening inside a believer. Due to the great variety of psalms (psalms of praise, sorrow, etc.) they can be read anytime and be suitable. The Psalms help shape my prayer as I go deeper into them. All these reasons keep me motivated to go on.

I sometimes struggle with my own laziness, usually not in reading, but in writing my meditations. However, thanks to the clarity of the schedule and the monthly reminders, I have managed to keep going. Exchanging meditations with the other participants is a valuable part of this project. The meditations we send to one another usually reflect our personal understanding of a psalm, something that struck us most or an experience of ours which connects with the psalm.

Tim Berends, IFES staff in Central Asia, facilitates this online spiritual formation opportunity. If you would like to join in this international journey or would like more information, please write an email using the contact form of this website.

Learning to Pray

The Bible not only teaches us that prayer is important, but also how to pray. As we enter into the prayers passed down to us in Scripture, we learn to pray.

One thing which fascinates me about the psalm-prayers is how all of life is taken up in prayer: the bright and the dark sides of life, joy and pain, love and hate. A beautiful psalm of trust follows right after a psalm of lament (e.g. Ps. 23 after 22). Doesn’t that reflect the reality of our walk with God? The psalm-prayers are not all nice and tidy – they express feelings such as anger (e.g. Ps. 137) or painful questions (e.g. Ps. 13). All of life has a place in these conversations with God. These prayers invite us to speak to God about everything, without first editing our thoughts or feelings.

Prayers from Scripture also invite us to pray with a wide perspective. So often, our prayers simply echo the thoughts and feelings which are in us. Biblical prayers help us to pray in light of God’s reality. The Lord’s Prayer encompasses God’s purposes for the whole world (Mt 6:9-13). The prayers of Paul have challenged my tendency to primarily pray for God to change difficult circumstances and solve all problems. Paul’s prayers go far beyond that as he prays for believers to grow in their knowledge of God, to bear fruit, to walk faithfully with God until Christ returns. (See Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Phil. 1:3-11; Col. 1:3-14).

Let me close with a few simple suggestions on how prayers from Scripture can help shape our communal praying:

  • Pray using prayers from the Bible. You can simply speak the words from Scripture together. Or you can pray a few lines from Scripture and let these words lead you into further prayers before continuing with the Biblical prayer. In this way, your prayers alternate between the words from Scripture and your own words of prayer.
  • Pray for one another using one of Paul’s prayers. Personalize the prayer by inserting the name of the person you are praying for.
  • Read a prayer from Scripture together. After a time of silent reflection and sharing allow this prayer to shape a communal time of prayer.

Similarly, you can let prayers from Scripture shape your personal prayer life. As we enter into these prayers, we will be learning how to pray.

Sabine Kalthoff