1. Connection to Christian history
When we pray the psalms, we pray not only with many believers who also pray the psalms daily, but we also pray in the stream of history with all those who have prayed the psalms. It is quite humbling to realize that you are praying the same words (although in a different language) that the apostles, prophets, and even Jesus himself prayed.
2. Discipline in prayer
Sometimes we don't know where to begin in prayer. We sit down and struggle to put words behind our thoughts. This leads to difficulty in praying: if we can't put the words together, why bother? The psalms help us grow in discipline. Not only do they give us the words to use, but in having these before us, they enable us to sit down at a regular time. Further, if you are keeping to a cycle of praying the psalms (monthly, bi-monthly, etc.), that schedule is its own encouragement to practice discipline in prayer.
3. Language for prayer
The longer we pray the psalms, the deeper we move into the language of prayer. The more we learn the rhythms of prayer. The psalms give us many words to pray--words of hope, challenge, praise, thanksgiving, lament, despair, comfort, peace, etc. The psalms teach us a vocabulary of prayer. The psalms stretch and challenge us to go beyond the same basic, generic prayers we are used to saying.
4. Language to lament
Included in that vocabulary of prayer is the language of lament. Lament happens when we cry out to God out of our despair and doubt. Many are fearful of these feelings and do not think praying to God out of doubt or despair is appropriate. The psalms teach us otherwise. They show us that these prayers emerge out of a deep trust in God in which it is okay to voice our discomfort. God hears us and is faithful. God listens. God responds. While we wait, we speak to God out of the core of our experience, hurts and all.
5. Balanced spirituality
The psalms teach us a balanced spirituality. Many of us operate out of a weak theology where we believe that God will do good things for us because we are his children. Then, when something bad happens that we don't like, our faith in God is shaken. The psalms give us a balance. As we pray the psalms repeatedly, over and over again, we see the movement of faith--from praise, to trial, to lament, and back to praise. The psalms cover the gamut of spiritual experience. Regardless of what we are feeling, we can find a psalm that gives voice to that emotion. In our best and worst times, the psalms speak for us.
6. More praise and thanksgiving
The exposure in the Psalter to the psalms of praise and thanksgiving teaches us to have more praise and be more thankful in our lives. The psalms are filled with praise to God for everything from the creation to the law. Thanksgiving is offered in abundance for all the blessings God has given to his people. My prayers, for example, were anemic. They were missing a healthy presence of praise and were weak on thanksgiving. The more I prayed the psalms, the more I came to incorporate these aspects of prayer into my own prayers. It became easier to spend time simply giving praise to God for what he has done and offer thanks for his blessings.
7. Awareness of God
The psalms see God and his glory all around us. God's glory is seen in creation, in redemption and deliverance from Egypt, in rescue from sin, and in the law. We cannot read or pray the psalms without growing in awareness of God. Praying the psalms has helped me slow down, to be more aware of God's presence in my life.
In part three, I will offer guidance in how to pray the psalms.