In my read through the Bible I have reached Psalms. I didn’t find it a very easy book to read through, as each Psalm is like a poem, and if I wasn’t in the right mood, it was hard to connect with what the psalmist was writing. Lots were written by David, when he was fighting for his life, so he was in a different situation to most of us. It’s quite difficult to hope all your enemies will die horrible deaths, if you don’t feel you actually have any enemies. However, there is still lots to glean from reading them.
This book is made up of songs, which we tend to read as poems (and is actually divided into five separate books). I used the books by Michael Wilcock to help me understand them, and if you want to study individual psalms in detail, I would recommend it. (It’s part of The Bible Speaks Today series, ISBN 9780851115061) He describes the Psalms as being like “a photograph album, full of pictures that show us a variety of places in a land of spiritual experience.” I rather like that description.
As I read through, there were three main themes which struck me: The absolute power and sovereignty of God, the importance of remembering what God has done in the past, and the realisation that we are very temporary. These themes are repeated and intermingled throughout the Psalms, and I think they’re important. (There is also a lot of poetry, but I’m not a great appreciator of poetry, so that side was a bit lost on me.)
If you have ever faced a potentially terminal illness, you will have faced the fact that you might die soon. This is probably not a bad thing to realise, especially in our culture, which tends to hide away from death. We need to acknowledge that we have a ‘use-by’ date, and that our life is relatively fleeting. I guess for the psalmists, who lived in an age when dying in battle was likely, when diseases were mostly incurable, and when life expectancy was short, knowing that you would die one day was much more relevant. But it’s something we all need to consider. Not because we want to be gloomy, but because then we will have some urgency to how we choose to live our lives. What exactly is important? What really matters? (Probably not the designer handbag, nor being a best-selling novelist, or the CEO of a major company!) In the novel Clara – A Good Psychopath? Clara makes the observation that the writers of the Bible were weak people, who made lots of mistakes, and they’re all dead now anyway. And yet, their lives had meaning and significance, simply because they followed God and HE gave their lives significance. Their lives were worth something, because HE was worth something. I think this is what the Psalms remind us. Unless we look to God, it’s all pretty meaningless in the long term.
Which leads on to the importance of remembering. I don’t know about you, but I am fairly fickle when it comes to praise and worship. I remember, right after I had brain surgery, when I was so grateful to God for his support, that I wanted to tell everyone I met about it. Talking about how great God was, happened naturally, it was sort of bubbling up inside of me. But I’m not like that now. Most days I’m a grumpy middle aged woman who has a crisis when the cat brings in a mouse. Therefore, remembering is important. We need to stop, regularly, and remember what God has done. The Israelites were told to remember being rescued from Egypt, long, long afterwards – in fact, generations afterwards. Remembering what God has done for us is important, especially when life is tough. If life is like a series of mountain peaks and valleys, then remembering how we felt on the mountain will help us to get through the valley.
Finally, the Psalms deal with the absolute power and sovereignty of God. The God who created the heavens, who formed the mountains, the power of the waves – there is no other. When we’re in the doldrums, it’s good to lift our thoughts upwards, to think about who God is, to remember to worship him. Which challenges us to think about how we do that. Do we make time to pray regularly? Do we bother to kneel down when we pray? Do we make space for the God we claim to worship in the busyness of life?
So, the Psalms was not a favourite book of mine, and is one I would rather dip into when I’m in the mood, than to read from beginning to end. But reading it has, I think, helped to change me, just a little.
Thank you for reading. The UK Amazon links for the books mentioned are below.
Clara by Anne E. Thompson: