February 16, 2017
When I learned that Tyndale House had published Praying the Psalms: Drawing Near to the Heart of God by pastor Ben Patterson, I requested a complimentary review copy, which the publisher kindly sent. Immediately I saw a book meant to be used! The clear font on quality paper sewn into a nice imitation leather cover should hold up well. More important, Pastor Patterson’s response to each psalm gives a book I'm eager to add to my morning devotionals.
As long as I can remember, Psalms have appealed to me not only for the honest, often vulnerable prayers, but for the poetry, wisdom, and profound faith in God. Apparently countless others have felt the same since the Psalms have remained with us at least from the time of King David through the Jerusalem Temple in Jesus’ day and well into worshipful times in contemporary churches or synagogues.
With this amazingly long shelflife, the Psalms speak to and for us with the visual appeal of metaphors and the beautiful sound of rhythmic refrains and a credible speaking voice. Nothing can improve on that! However, some psalms leave us baffled, while others seem too far removed from our own experiences.
In the “Introduction,” Pastor Patterson gives us this encouraging word: “All the joys, pleasures, hopes, fears, despairs, doubts, heartaches, terrors, and longings of which we are capable are mirrored, clarified, sanctified, and transformed in the Psalms, as are all the ways we may pray: supplication, intercession, praise, thanks, lament, and meditation. The Psalms, as many have said, are a mirror; they will reveal you. Yet they are much more. Read them and they will read you. Pray them and they will change you.”
Although every psalm has not been included in this nicely done edition, most of these prayer-poems quote the New Living Translation followed by the author’s commentary, suggestions, and relevant questions, all of which aid us in “Drawing Near to the Heart of God.”
Considering the opening psalms, for example, Pastor Patterson says “The first two psalms have been called the gateway to the book of Psalms. Strictly speaking, they aren’t even prayers but preparation for prayer – meditations on the nature of things in the universe, the world we move in when we pray. So take note and be forewarned: The world of prayer is a world of intense conflict. The enemy is never far away when we pray. Prayer is not escape; it is engagement, and the Psalms are the prayers of a warrior, the Warrior.”
The commentary after the next prayer-poem says, “Psalm 2 reassures us of God’s eventual victory over all evil. The end result is never in question, and because we belong to him, that victory is ours too.”
But maybe we fear we don't belong, or, like the psalmist in Psalm 6, we worry that God might be mad at us! If so, the author reassures us by explaining, “God’s wrath is his rage at the evil that destroys his good creation. The evil is willful, deliberate rebellion against his holy character and will.”
To give you an example of how this book makes the Psalms come alive with relevancy, I’ll turn to one of my favorite psalms – 103:
“Praise the Lord for what he has done for you personally (verse 1-5): He forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, and satisfies – list the ways you have known him to do this. Praise him that he loves you from youth to old age, even renewing your youth like the eagle’s.”
Review by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017
Praying the Psalms: Drawing Near to the Heart of God, imitation leather, sewn-in pages