Of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! [2] Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, [3] who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, [4] who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, [5] who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. - Psalm 103:1-5 (ESV)

If any book of the Bible is highly revered for its value for the life lived for God, it is the Book of Psalms. The Psalms is a collection of 150 individual psalms, which are songs and prayers written to be sung and/or recited by worshipers of Yahweh.

The Big Idea of the Psalms

I have taught that the big idea of Yahweh is the following: "Worship Yahweh like this for who he is and what he does." The passage at the head of this article is a helpful representative passage for the book. There is worship of Yahweh. King David exhorts his soul to bless Yahweh, and in doing so helps all of us to understand how and why to do it. David lists many benefits and blessings that come from Yahweh. These are reasons that God's people can worship him, be thankful for him, and live for him.

An Outline of the Psalms

The Psalms is one of the few books of the Bible that is clearly broken down into an outline for its readers. It is divided into five books of psalms, which are comprised of the following:

Book One: Psalms 1-41 (David)
Book Two: Psalms 42-42 (David and the Sons of Korah)
Book Three: Psalms 73-89 (Mainly Asaph)
Book Four: Psalms 90-106 (Mainly Anonymous)
Book Five: Psalms 107-150 (David and Anonymous)

It is not obvious how the books are arranged or compiled to convey a particular kind of meaning or significance. It seems to be arranged mostly in terms of authorship. However, there is plenty to consider and analyze in terms of its arrangement. Surely it is significant that the collection begins with a psalm about the benefits of delighting in Yahweh's law and ends with a universal call to praise Yahweh. There is a sort of fittingness and flow about the way the psalms progress from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150.

Nevertheless, the majority benefit by far of the book is found in looking at individual psalms and treating them as individual songs and prayers for God's people. The Psalms contain a wide variety of emotions and respond to a wide variety of circumstances. There are psalms of lament, confession, supplication, adoration, thanksgiving, and more. There are psalms written from places of desperation and personal pain. There are other psalms written after great victories or are intended to be sung during times of great celebration. There is a whole section of psalms called, "Songs of Ascent" which I understand to be intended for travelers to Jerusalem to sing and/or pray as they journeyed to worship there.

Benefits of the Psalms

The fact that the psalms are so rich and replete with benefits for God's people and that the outline is so simple means that extra space is worth devoting to this section. I have often heard the book of Psalms referred to as the hymnbook of the church. I have also heard it referred to as the prayerbook of the church. I have used it in both ways myself and recommend others do the same.

The Church's Hymnbook

When believers refer to the Psalms as the hymnbook of the church, we mean that the Psalms give us a rich resource of songs to sing to God and also provide a standard for knowing how to write modern songs of worship. We also mean more generally that the Psalms teach us how to worship God via song.

The Psalms give expression to all sorts of worship to God. Some psalms praise God for who he is, while others focus on what he has done. Some focus on the awesomeness and fearfulness of God while others focus on God's tenderness and kindness.

In this way, the Psalms are also a great boon to modern songwriters. For those seeking to express their devotion to God via song and to bless the church in this way, a deep familiarity with the Psalms would be of immense help. Modern songwriters shaped by the Psalms are a gift to the church.

The Church's Prayerbook

When believers refer to the Psalms as the prayerbook of the church, we mean that the Psalms give us a rich resource of prayers to pray to God and also provide a standard for how to develop our own prayer lives. We also mean more generally that the Psalms teach us how to relate to God via prayer.

We have already observed that the Psalms are filled with prayers reflecting a wide variety of circumstances. There is enormous benefit in orienting ourselves to God by cross-referencing our circumstances with psalms that parallel them. In this way, we can use the psalms that reflect our circumstances to help us understand how we might relate to God in them.

This is of great help for many who may feel like they cannot go to God for some reason or another. It is common for people to believe that their heart must be in a certain kind of state for prayer to be acceptable. But the psalms teach us that we go to God in prayer for him to change our hearts as needed. If we wait for our hearts to change before we go to God in prayer, we have it backward. We should go to God in prayer to have our hearts changed.

But the Psalms also help with the inverse problem. There are plenty who go to God presumptuously, not considering the state of their heart or God's true perspective of them according to Scripture. Far from recognizing the need for change in their heart, they are blind to their arrogance and hypocrisy.

But the Psalms can help with this too. All people should desire to relate to God in a way that pleases him and which he accepts. All of us should fear our prayers being an affront to God. The Psalms help us to avoid just that. Thus we conclude with a reminder of the big idea of the Psalms: Worship Yahweh like this for who he is and what he does. May we all do so.

On the Psalms and Living for God Through Christ