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Three Ways to Pray the Psalms


One of the reasons I decided to cover the Psalms while we’re not able to gather together for corporate worship is because the Psalms teach us how to pray in all seasons of life. It is my prayer that you will grow in prayer during this strange and difficult season of life.

Praying is difficult all the time. Our minds wander, we get in a rut, we even get bored. Prayer is especially difficult when we’re living in difficult days. We may not be sure what to pray. That’s where the Psalms come in. They give us inspired words from God to pray back to God. Eugene Peterson calls it “answering God.”

Learning to pray Scripture has been the most revolutionary practice in my prayer life over the last decade. I want to share some of what I’ve learned with you in this post. Then starting tomorrow, we will be sharing a post each week with prompts to pray the psalm that was preached the previous Sunday. These prayer guides will be designed to help you learn through practice how to pray the Psalms as an individual or even in a group.

Let’s get started. How do you pray the Psalms? Let me suggest three ways:

1. Use the words of a psalm as a springboard for your prayers.

You may begin with psalms that are more familiar or psalms you’ve studied, so you have some idea of the meaning of the psalm. After you’ve read through the psalm a time or two, then slow down and simply read a word or a phrase at a time. Then use that word or phrase as a springboard for prayer. For example, if you’re praying through Psalm 23, you’ll read, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Stop there! Use that truth about who God is to lead you into prayer. For example, you can thank God that he is a shepherd to you. Thank him for sending his Son to be the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. Pray that God would protect, guide, and provide for your loved ones. Continue on in this way for as long as you like. Then move on to the next line; “I shall not want.” And so on and so forth.

2. Use the ACTS acronym to pray through a psalm.

ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Again, begin by reading the psalm a time or two. After you get a sense for its meaning, ask what you learn about God that is worthy of your adoration or praise. Then ask what you learn about yourself that leads you to confess specific sins. Then thank God for the forgiveness you have in Christ and look for any other themes in the passage that are worthy of your thanksgiving. Finally, identify things in the passage that lead you to ask God to provide for you. Often this will be a supplication for growth in godliness or Christ-likeness.

3. Paraphrase a psalm and make it your own.

Take the very words of Scripture and put them into your own words that apply to your life today or to the lives of those you’re praying for. You can even record these prayers in your journal. This method works best if you have a solid understanding of the passage, so you can avoid stripping the psalm out of context.

I hope these methods can get you started. Let me know if you have any questions or need further guidance.

This post has been mainly practical. If you’d like more of a theology of praying the Psalms, you may want to listen to the “Prayer is Powerful” sermon from our Means of Grace sermon series in 2018. For deeper study on praying the Psalms here are a few additional resources:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Prayerbook of the Bible
Ben Patterson, God's Prayer Book
Eugene Peterson, Answering God
Donald Whitney, Praying the Bible