Praying the psalms can be intimidating. There are 150 of them. Where does one begin? How does one begin?
I came across the idea of praying the psalms while going through a leadership training course put together by Lynn Anderson. In the training materials, Lynn advocated praying one psalm each day. He suggested a simple format: read the psalm for a basic comprehension of it. Then, begin to make it your own prayer. Substitute "I" when necessary. Add in your own specific needs when appropriate. Pray it back to God.
(Lynn Anderson has also written a very helpful book about the psalms called Talking Back to God. In this book, he specifically addresses praying the psalms. I recommend it as a good introduction to this spiritual practice.)
Later, as you begin to practice this daily, you will be able to read a psalm and use the thoughts, and even the outline of the psalm, to guide you in prayer. What themes was the psalm about? What images did it use that struck you? What sins were confessed? Use these to form your own prayer that you offer back to God.
As an example, consider Psalm 1. The themes that emerge from this psalm are faithfulness and wickedness. The image of faithfulness is a tree that is firmly rooted in the ground, receiving sustenance from a stream of flowing water, and yielding fruit in season. The image of wickedness is blowing chaff. It is not rooted and is tossed about by the wind. Rootedness comes from obedience to God; wickedness comes by following a path of one’s own design, apart from God.
A simple prayer based on this psalm would direct your desire to be faithful to God and fruitful for him, for help to learn obedience from his word, for illumination into his word to show you how to be obedient, for awareness of the path of wickedness and guidance to stay away from the path. Psalm 1 is an important psalm that puts the importance of obedience to God by his word right in front of us.
There is also value in allowing the words of the psalms to be your own words, in praying them back to God in humility and with reverence.
Although I suggested starting with one psalm each day, many Christians pray the entire book of psalms every month. This is my practice as well. It can take as little as 10-15 minutes to do this. There are schedules that divide the psalms into 30 and 60 day cycles so that the Psalter can be prayed through monthly or every other month.
The first chart includes a 30 day cycle. This second chart follows an arrangement of the psalms that will allow you to pray the psalms over 20 or 60 days. Each of the twenty sections is divided into 3 smaller sections. A person could follow this schedule and pray through the psalms every twenty days, or, by praying through one of the smaller sections each day, could pray through the psalms every sixty days (every two months).
Praying the psalms is a journey. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or contact me. I would enjoy helping you on this journey as you use God's word to draw closer to him.