I’m sure there are thousands of books and web articles about how to get the most out of reading the book of Psalms. I don’t pretend to compete with any of them, but just want to share a few things that God has been showing me in and through the psalms, over the last few months.
As a background, I finished reading the Bible through in December 2019. In January 2020 I decided to start again at Genesis 1 and to read two chapters a day. By August I reached one of my favourite books, the wonderful book of Psalms. Rather than read two psalms a day, I wanted to spread the book out a bit, and started to read one psalm together with one other chapter each day, starting the “other chapters” at Proverbs 1. That way I could enjoy a psalm a day for almost 5 months, as well as seeing some interesting comparisons and contrasts with the wisdom and prophetic books that I read alongside the psalms (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song, Isaiah and Jeremiah).
The plan worked well. Psalm 1/Proverbs 1 was of course a great starting point, with the first psalm being very much in the style of Proverbs. The wisdom of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes contrasted nicely with the psalms; combining Song of Songs with the royal wedding psalm (45) was beautiful; while reading the psalms alongside the major prophets was a daily inspiration to find the prophetic in the book that is both the longest in the Bible and the one with the most connections to the New Testament.
So I have just finished, reaching Psalm 150 on Sunday. And I’ve decided to do it again! Some very rough calculations suggest I can read a psalm a day for the next 300 days (ie twice through the book) together with one other chapter, then two chapters a day in December, and finish the Bible by the end of the year. So that is the new plan.
Psalms has connections to pretty well every book of the Bible, from Genesis (8, 33, 89, 105, 136, 146 etc) to Revelation (46, 96, 141). It is also well-known as the source of Messianic prophecies, those that predicted the coming Messiah (2, 22, 45, 68, 72, 110, 118 etc). And the book is frequently quoted in the New Testament, both by Jesus and the apostles. When I have time, I love to check out all the cross-references from the day’s psalm that connect to the New Testament. There’s usually something either to learn or to be inspired by.
Our housegroup recently took David as our theme throughout the autumn. We looked at specific stories in First and Second Samuel; we considered how David is a forerunner of Jesus; we looked at his family and family tree; we looked at some of the New Testament references to David. The book of Psalms is also full of references to David and the events of his life. Perhaps most famous is Psalm 51, David’s account of his prayers for mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing following his affair with Bathsheba. Including Psalm 23, with its obvious connection to David’s former life as a shepherd, there are more than 20 of David’s psalms with some personal connection to him. Perhaps I should have read David’s psalms alongside the two books of Samuel!
Themes Connections Progressions
There are so many more ways to read the psalms. My Bible provides helpful lists of psalms to read when you need particular kinds of help or encouragement. It also has a list of the ways that God is referred to in the psalms, a list of references to the Messiah, and a list of psalms that have inspired famous hymns. I’ve found some interesting themes myself, for example the connection of incense with prayer in Psalm 141:2 which led to the conclusion that this is the first place in the Bible where incense is directly connected to prayer (rather than to worship). The connection to Revelation (5:8 and 8:3) is also fascinating.
Singing through the psalms
So many of the psalms have inspired songs and hymns, ancient and recent. When a psalm reminds me of a great song, I love to then use that song in my worship that day, either playing it myself or just singing it. Of course, it is also straightforward to find and play any song on Spotify, Youtube or any other music player. And if you’re feeling inspired, why not try writing a new song based on the psalm you’re reading?