Teaching Your Congregation to Pray the Psalms
I have found Praying the Psalms to be a transformative spiritual practice. When you just don't know what to say in prayer, you're always on firm ground by using God's own words, right?
What a concept! I have nothing against other prayer books, but God wrote the first one Himself.
Why You should Pray the Psalms in Private Prayer
There are several reasons why I think praying the Scripture, especially the Psalms, is a valuable prayer practice.
1. It Keeps Your Prayers from Becoming Stale
One of the tough things about prayer is that extemporaneous prayer can get into a rut pretty quickly. You tend to focus on the same things, and get locked into a few themes. Using the Psalms for prayer helps to connect you to a greater variety of types of requests, thanks, laments, and praises.
2. Jesus Modeled Praying the Psalms
Jesus used the Psalms as his prayer guide frequently, even in times of deep distress. Even on the Cross, where does Jesus turn in his cries to the Father? The Psalms!
Jesus' last prayer to his Father was from the Psalms! This wasn't the first time he'd done this. You remember those times "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed"? (See Luke 5:16) No doubt, the Psalms were often used in his conversations with His Father there.
3. It's easier to know that Scriptural prayers are the will of God.
We are pretty good at projecting our own will onto God. I'm pretty gifted at expecting that whatever I want to say is exactly what God wants to grant.
But what about the commands of God to pray according to God's will (1 John 5:14)? How can we be sure we're doing that?
One way is by praying what God has already inspired David (and other writers) to pray for. Praying the Scriptures helps us know we're firmly on God's side by planting our prayers firmly upon His Word.
But how can we teach our congregations to pray this way?
Finding Ways to Integrate Praying the Psalms into Public Worship
Have you ever noticed that Jesus assumes that prayer is corporate at times? Even the the Lord's Prayer is couched in "us" and "our" language:
Here's what I take from that: Using the Scripture to shape and inform our prayers is valuable for personal, private discipleship and prayer, but it's also important that congregations do this together.
I've been on a campaign to integrate more and more actual Scripture into our worship services at The Bible Methodist Church in OKC. We don't use formal liturgy heavily (like many evangelical churches), and that sometimes has created a place where the Bible is only referenced for preaching.
One of the ways I'm doing this is by including praying the Psalms as part of the flow of our public worship. If we want people to do it at home, we should include it in worship.
But for a long time, I would say to my congregation, "I would encourage you to pray the Psalms back to the Lord! It keeps your prayer life from becoming stale, it's what Jesus did, and you know you're asking God for things the Spirit already has spoken!"
But I sensed they weren't connecting with it. What they needed was MODELING.
Praying the Psalms Videos for Worship
So I decided to do something about it. I wanted to create a resource that would be enable me to model HOW to pray the Scripture for my congregation, and make it possible for us to do it together.
So here's what I did:
1. Use technology to facilitate Praying the Scriptures congregationally.
I created a series of videos we use for worship.
Technology is so powerful for creating alignment, especially in a crowded worship space. Video can help create alignment in a moment of worship.
Each Praying the Scriptures video is structured like this:
INTRO: a 10 second intro slide to the Psalm we are about to pray together.
READING SLIDE: giving 10-12 seconds to read 1-2 verses aloud corporately
PRAYING SLIDE: The video changes, and gives 20 seconds to pray over the verses we just read.
2. Use beautiful visuals to theme praying the Scriptures congregationally.
I value beauty, especially coupled with its natural friend, Truth. So I created themed videos full of gorgeous nature scenes, that follow a thematic element in the Psalm:
Psalm 8: Grandeur, Space & Planets
Psalm 10: Rain and Melancholy (slowly giving way to sunshine)
Creating a set of worship videos for congregationally praying the Psalms together is obviously a huge project. It will take months to complete. But I'm not a theorist, I'm a practitioner. We are including these in our worship services virtually every week. Over the course of a year, we'll have quite a few of these created.
3. Use technology to encourage praying the Scriptures privately.
I'm also making these available for download to churches who would like to use them in their discipleship resources. This might include:
Sharing in small groups
Posting on Facebook
Sharing a link on email
Use in prayer groups or prayer concerts
This set of videos for worship will include:
25 Praying the Scriptures videos - featuring great prayers & other Scripture passages (the Lord's Prayer, Paul's prayers, Solomon's prayer, Jabez' prayer, etc.)
All accompanied by quiet music (or supply your own).
Get a free Video to model prayer from the Psalms here:
If you'd like, you can get a free worship video for your congregation so you can model praying the Psalms for them in public.
Here's the video you'll get:
I'll be releasing lots more of the in the days ahead, so please feel free to give me your feedback in the comments below about how your congregation uses them to improve your church's worship experience or discipleship process.