I was brought up on the idea that prayer was personal and extemporaneous. In other words, you talk to God like you do a friend. I still pray primarily in this manner, but I have found that other more formal forms of prayer can help me to pray in ways I would not have done on my own.
One of these more formal methods is to pray a psalm to God. Most of the psalms are poetic prayers to God, so why not use them as a guide for your own personal prayer?
There are two ways to do this. One is to simply read the psalm as written, but personalize it when appropriate. Some psalms are not written in the first person or not written directly to God, so a little changing of pronouns can make it more personal. For instance, Psalm 40 starts out
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
To pray this psalm just change the pronouns for God.
I waited patiently for You, Lord; You inclined to me and heard my cry.
With that simple change it goes from a psalm about someone else to a prayer between me and God.
Sometimes this works and other times it just seems awkward. Maybe the psalm doesn’t express what is on your heart. You could choose another psalm or you could try method #2.
Use the psalm as a spring board for ideas in your prayer time. In general, I think this is how we should always approach scripture. God is speaking to us in His Word and it seems disrespectful not to discuss what He said with Him.
What if when you read this line of psalm 40 you instead think, “God hasn’t responded to my prayer?” Then, stop right away and discuss it with God. Now your prayer goes something like this:
I waited patiently for You, Lord; but You don’t appear to have inclined to me and heard my cry.
At this point you can talk to God about how you feel and listen for God guidance in this situation. The prayer is still freely drawn from God’s Word but not so formally restricted by the actual wording or even thoughts. The prayer is guided by the ideas of the psalm but not restricted by it.
Next time you are reading a psalm, pray it to God.
Question: Do you ever pray the psalms? If so, do you have any addition ideas on how to do it? Please leave a comment.
by Jerry Wyrick, President of Worship Arts Conservatory
Worship Director at Crosspointe Church.