A Free Theme Week into the Book of Psalms
Greetings! I’m introducing a week of devotions based on the Psalms. There are 150 psalms in the Bible. (Note there are Protestant Bible translations and Catholic Bible translations. The psalm number has a variation in Catholic translations. I’ll be following the psalm numbering in Protestant versions ie. NIV, KJV, NRSV etc…)
The word psalm comes from the Hebrew word “mizmor” and means melody. When translated into Greek it is “psalmos” which means song for the harp or the plucking of strings. The key is that they are musical pieces. Just as we sing hymns and praise and worship songs in church, the psalms were written to be sung as part of worship. Most of the Psalms have been used in Jewish and later Christian worship settings for over 3,000 years (and you thought Frank Sinatra or the Beatles was old music).
Not all psalms are alike. Different commentators call them different things and they are grouped differently. I like the following 7 groupings: 1.Wisdom, 2. Royal, 3. Lament, 4.Imprecatory, 5.Thanksgiving, 6. Pilgrimage, 7. Enthronement. During this week I’ll focus on a different type of Psalm and give the description and brief example each day.
Let me also talk to you a bit about how I incorporate psalms into my daily worship. For hundreds of years men who live in monastic communities or monks have used the psalms as part of their daily worship. In many communities they sing/pray/chant through the entire Book of Psalms every month.
A few years ago I came across an idea for going through the entire Book of Psalms every month using 5 psalms a day. On the first day of the month read Psalm 1, 31, 61,91 and 121, the next day read Psalm 2,32,62,92,122. Whatever day of the month you are on, read that, and then add 30 and keep going up by 30. That way, in 30 days you will read all 150 psalms. I break this up during the day: one when I first get up, one mid-morning, one at lunch time, one at supper time and one at the end of the day. This way I surround my day and fill my day with these prayers and songs to God. You don’t have to do it that way, but you might want to try it, or whatever way works for you. (On months with 31 days I just pick a few of my favorites for day 31).
The first type of psalm is a wisdom psalm. It’s a kind of teaching psalm pointing out the way to live a Godly life. An example of a wisdom Psalm is Psalm 1.
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
This psalm is a simple but clear message about the choices we have in life. This theme has been taken up by many through history. Robert Frost talked about having a choice to take one of two paths and he took “the road less travelled” and that it made all the difference. Jesus talked about wide gates and narrow gates and the importance of following his path “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Even the classic rock band Led Zeppelin sang “yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”
This psalm teaches us that we do have choices. We can follow the path of the righteous or we can follow the path of the wicked. The path of the righteous is the “right or correct path.” This path is the path of one who follows God’s instructions. The law of the Lord is not so much a law like a legal code as much as an instruction about the way to live. Jesus showed his disciples/students how to live a life that was faithful to God. Those who follow this path delight in following God’s instructions for life and spend time meditating upon, praying about, thinking about God’s instructions. What do you spend your time thinking about, focusing on, absorbing? The person who is fully absorbed in God’s ways will live a fruitful and prosperous life. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will be financially wealthy, but they will be successful in the way that God defines success, they will be godly, they will have life.
The other path is the path that leads to destruction. This is the path that does not end well. If I told you that there was a fork in the road: if you go right, you’ll end up at Disney World and a lifetime of fun and adventure, if you go to the left, you’ll be at the garbage dump and there’s no turning back. I’m guessing you’d choose Mickey over a trash heap. It all boils down to a simple choice. If you feel like you’re currently heading on the wrong path, there’s good news “there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”