On learning to like the psalms
By Jessica Brodie
I have a confession: I used to dislike the psalms.
To my narrow mind, they all sounded like platitudes. Maybe I’d seen one too many coffee cups with random psalms on them and didn’t understand the context, but they just fell flat. Or maybe it’s because I felt the psalmist was a big whiner. I know that’s harsh, but let’s be real—David, who wrote most if not all the psalms, spent a really long time throughout this book lamenting his life. While I know he’d fallen on incredibly hard times, half the chapters sounded like one big manipulative ploy to convince God everybody was so mean to him and urge God to wake up and set his enemies straight. The other half sounded like he was laying on the flattery so God would want to help him.
Later, I thought maybe I didn’t like the psalms because most of them were meant to be sung, but I was merely reading them. I kept hearing verses from the psalms in a lot of contemporary Christian songs on the radio, and I liked those songs, so maybe that was the problem. Maybe I just needed to hear them with music to really understand them.
All I know is that when I finished reading the Bible for the first time, I decided I had a few favorite books, but the psalms were definitely my least favorite.
After I finished the Bible, I decided to start over again. It was a good exercise because I found I got something entirely new out of it, but still—when I got to the psalms I flipped right past. “Been there, done that,” I thought, and I didn’t feel the need to revisit.
God had other ideas.
Here’s where the magic began. I’d just finished reading my third round of the Gospels and was working my way through Acts, but suddenly the message didn’t seem to hit home in the same way it had.
“Maybe I’m just distracted,” I thought, or, “Maybe I’m not devoting enough time each morning to spending time in the word of God.”
One day I prayed, “God, I’m just not feeling this. Can you steer me to the book you want me to be reading right now?”
Then it happened. Almost immediately I simultaneously heard, felt, and saw the word “psalms” rush over me.
Be careful what you ask for.
I wasn’t excited about returning to the psalms, but I decided to keep an open mind. After all, I’d gotten something different from the other Bible books I’d reread. Why not from the psalms?
What a difference! This time, instead of seeing David’s groans throughout the psalms as whiny and petulant manipulations, their raw authenticity surprised me. Instead of platitudes, these verses took flight within me.
Each time I sat down to read, I prayed that God would help me understand what I needed to understand from that chapter, and each and every time, the message I received was unbelievably poignant and spot-on—exactly what I needed to hear in that moment, in that day, in that week.
Time and again I find myself saying God knows best, not me. And yet time and again I find myself slipping into prideful, egocentric know-it-all mode—thinking I know what I should be reading or doing instead of pausing and trying to listen to what God would have me do.
My experience with reading the psalms exemplifies that perfectly for me.
I don’t have a favorite book in the Bible. I don’t have a favorite verse. My favorites change from season to season and sometimes even day to day. But right now in this moment, I’ll leave you with one of my new favorites—naturally, from the psalms:
“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Psalm 25:4-5 NIV).