James 5:13 “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.”
Are you looking for fresh, inspired material to weave into your too-predictable prayer life that has long been stuck in a repetitive, mind-wandering rut. I would like to share some thoughts from the book Praying the Bible by Donald Witney that have greatly impacted my daily prayer times before the Lord. While I would recommend reading all of the book, no concept has resonated more with me than his thoughts on praying through the Psalms.
Here is an excerpt from his book on praying through the Psalms:
“Why the Psalms? God gave the Psalms to us so that we would give the Psalms back to God. No other book of the Bible was inspired for that expressed purpose. As we pray the Psalms, therefore, we are returning to God words that he expressly inspired for us to speak and sing to him.
I want to commend to you a systematic approach for praying a psalm each day. The approach did not originate with me, but I can’t recall where I first encountered the concept decades ago. It’s called ‘Psalms of the Day.’ Before I explain how it works, here’s why I think it’s worth your time to learn it. If you intend to pray through a psalm, using the Psalms of the Day approach helps you avoid thumbing through the middle of your Bible, randomly searching for a psalm that looks interesting. Too often, such an inconsistent process results in omitting many of the psalms. It also can slow your devotional momentum as you find yourself aimlessly meandering through chapters instead of praying.
With the Psalms of the Day you take thirty seconds or so to quickly scan five specific psalms and pick the one that best leads you to prayer on that occasion. It’s based on taking the 150 psalms and dividing them by thirty days (because most months have at least thirty days). That results in five psalms per day.
What I’m suggesting is that you take half a minute to quickly scan five psalms and pick one of those five to pray through. Here’s how it works. The first psalm is the one that corresponds with the day of the month. If today is the fifteenth of the month, then your first psalm would be Psalm 15. On the fifteenth day of the month you start with the fifteenth psalm. To get your second psalm, you simply add thirty. Why thirty? Because there are thirty days in the month. So thirty added to fifteen is forty-five. Thus the second psalm you would scan on the fifteenth of the month would be Psalm 45. After that you just keep adding thirty until you get your five psalms. So thirty added to Psalm 45 takes you to Psalm 75, and thirty more to Psalm 105, and then thirty more to Psalm 135. So on the fifteenth of the month the Psalms of the Day are 15; 45; 75; 105; and 135.
What psalm do you use on the thirty-first of a month? That’s when you pray through part (or all if you have time!) of Psalm 119. Of course, Psalm 119 will come up on the twenty-ninth, for the Psalms of the Day on the twenty-ninth are 29; 59; 89; 119; and 149. But even if you decide to use Psalm 119 on the twenty-ninth, because of its length chances are that there will be unused portions of the psalm that you can pray through on the thirty-first.
The most important benefit of this little plan is that it gives you direction and momentum. No matter how tired, sleepy, or distracted you might be when you go to pray, with this method you know on any given day exactly which five psalms you will consider. And it helps you avoid saying, “Let’s see. What psalm should I use today? Hmmmm, how about this one? No, I read that one the other day. Then maybe this one? No, I don’t really like that one.” Instead of helping the heart soar in prayer, such an unordered approach tends to pour sludge into the soul. Usually it’s far better to know immediately which psalms you will scan.
A second benefit of using the Psalms of the Day plan is that by it you regularly and systematically encounter each of the 150 psalms. All the psalms are equally inspired, and all are worthy of your consideration in prayer. They are not all equally easy to pray through—the imprecatory psalms are more challenging to use in prayer than Psalm 23—but they are equally God-breathed. And if you will take thirty seconds to review five psalms every day, it is uncanny how one of them will express something that is looking for expression in your heart.”
Is that not simple but profound. It has begun to transform and elevate my prayer time like nothing else! I would have to agree with Ben Patterson’s assessment of this practice, “By praying the Psalms back to God, we learn to pray in tune with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”