Showing posts with label Psalms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Psalms. Show all posts

February 16, 2017

Praying the Psalms: Drawing Near to the Heart of God


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




January 21, 2017

Shalom in Psalms

I love the Psalms. Not only were they the prayerbook of God's people in the early church and synagogue, they contain the prayers Jesus and His apostles prayed in private and in corporate worship too.

Reading these prayer-poems in various translations gives us a broader perspective of their beauty and meaning, but the Tree of Life version (TLV) helps us to hear a uniquely Jewish voice, which Jesus Himself had. Since the TLV especially interested me for its roots in the Messianic Jewish movement, I requested a review copy, which Baker Books kindly sent.

I wasn’t disappointed. Besides better hearing the original voice of the Psalms, commentary by Jeffrey Seif, Glenn Blank, and Paul Wilbur follows each prayer-poem, adding information and insights we might otherwise miss.

As Paul Wilbur tells us in “A Worship Leader’s introduction to the Psalms”:

“This book of meditations on the Psalms has been compiled not only for your edification but with the sincere desire for you to receive revelation that will inspire and provoke you to love and good deeds.

“I pray that the Holy One of Israel who breathed these words into the psalmists so many years ago will revive them in your heart with insight and revelation so that you may finish strong!”


In “A Literary Editor’s Introduction to the Psalms,” Glenn Blank writes:

“The psalms teach us many different ways to pray. Many prayers are deeply personal, reflecting circumstances… to which we can still relate today. Others are corporate, calling us to honor our God as a community.”

The book of Psalms contains worshipful lyrics, poems of thanks and praise, prayers of petition, and wisdom, which “urges us to trust in God’s ways, confess sin and do good, seek answers to difficult questions such as why evil people prosper while good people suffer in this life, and reaffirm God’s faithfulness to those who wait patiently on Him.”

To give you an example of the devotional readings or commentary below each psalm, these words from Jeffrey Seif accompanied Psalm 4:

“People who pursue futility and practice deceit suffer tragic ends, do they not? But ‘prayer changes things,’ as the saying goes, so every human being, though guilty, is but a single prayer away from a changed life – from experiencing God’s graciousness. This psalm assures us that God is particularly predisposed to reach down and help those who reach up and pursue Him.”

Reviewed by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

Shalom in Psalms, paperback


December 2, 2015

Psalms: Jesus’ prayer book makes a great Christmas gift!


My Bible study group at church has been studying the Psalms – the prayer book of God’s people from pre-Temple days through the early church. Not only do these prayer-poems connect us with Jewish and Christian worshipers throughout the ages and today, the Psalms also comprise the prayers and poetry read, memorized, recited, and prayed by Jesus and His disciples.

Think, for example, of Psalm 22, which Jesus spoke from the cross. Although He didn’t recite the whole psalm, the opening verses reminded His followers to consider each line as they wept. Most likely, this reminder of the full psalm brought hope. And, now, once we have heard the 22nd Psalm, the 23rd Psalm gains even more significance and offers even more comfort.

After reading the latter in our study group today, we had a fresh and insightful discussion as we compared various translations and talked about word choices, metaphors, and what we learned about God from the poem.

For example, the psalm begins with the reminder that, with God as our Shepherd, we have everything we need – physically, mentally, and spiritually. We have nothing to fear with God providing for us, protecting us, caring for us, and giving lavish gifts – a banquet where the Lord God treats us – you and me – as honored guests!

Wow! We should be honoring God with every part of our lives, but Psalm 23 reminds us that God honors us, welcomes us, and takes care of every need.

Many of these joys in fellowship with God had occurred to us at one time or another, but with our commitment to read, pray, and study the Psalms, we saw amazing details we’d never noticed. For instance, verse 6 tells us:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall
follow me
all the days of my life.”


In the previous verse, we’re in the presence of enemies – people who want to do us harm! And yet this psalm and others assure us that we’ve nothing to fear. Not only can we totally count on God’s presence to be with us, we can count on the Lord's goodness and mercy to follow us around!

Can you picture it? Goodness and mercy follow us. Goodness and mercy pursue us. Goodness and mercy stalk us!

Even if we’re surrounded by ill will, enemies, and evil, Goodness and Mercy WILL follow us all the days and nights of our lives.

Well, I hope this gives you an idea of why I wanted a separate book of Psalms to read, study, and use as my prayer book – maybe an edition with room in the margins to write “Claimed” and the day's date beside promises or space to make a note, such as writing “stalks” or “pursues” beside verse 6.

You might have heard by now that I also appreciate quality paper with pages sewn into a supple top-grain leather cover that feels great to the touch and should last for generations.

Searching the Internet, I found one such edition of Psalms that fits all of the above – and fits nicely into my hand! So I bought the Psalms in ESV (English Standard Version) published by Crossway for myself, but oh, what a great Christmas gift this would also make for other lovers of prayer and God’s Word. Praise God!

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a poet, writer, and lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the Church in all its parts.

Psalms, ESV, bound in top grain leather




September 25, 2015

New Catholic Version for all Christians


My current study of Psalms caused me to do an online search for separate editions of the book, which led me to discover the New Catholic Version Psalms, Saint Joseph Edition that’s been around since 2002, but I didn’t know existed. Once I’d made that glad discovery, I immediately requested a copy for review, which the Catholic Book Publishing Co. kindly sent me.

Along with the Psalms, the publisher sent an almost pocket-sized paperback of the newly published, © 2015, New Testament, New Catholic Version (NCV) also in a St. Joseph Edition, which the Preface describes like this:

“The St. Joseph Edition is an editorial sytem developed over a span of fifty years. It consists in a series of features intended to ensure that a text (particularly a biblical or liturgical text) is user friendly, leading to great readability and easier understanding.”

In the NT, those notes have been placed after each book, whereas they’re treated as footnotes in the edition of Psalms.

Both books include the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur to show approval by the Catholic church, but I highly recommend these editions for all Christians and students of the Bible, not only because of the study notes but also because of the clear translation of the NCV.

For example, the NCV translates Romans 8:14-17 like this:

“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery, leading you to fear; rather, you received the Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our Spirit that we are children of God. And if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, provided that we share his sufferings so that we may also share his glory.”

Then, at the end of the book, the notes about that passage say:

“Because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in them, Christians possess a new life as well as a new relationship with God. They have become adopted children of God and heirs through Christ, sharing both in his sufferings and in his glory.”

Although suffering is not to be sought, the New Testament tells us it’s to be expected. The book of Psalms shows this, too, as about a third of the poetic prayers express some type of lament.

Whether a cry to God or a prayer of thanks, the Psalms belong in the category of Hebrew poetry, which this edition discusses in the Introduction. More importantly, in the Preface, we read:

“The Psalms may be looked upon as the prayerbook of the Holy Spirit” as “…the Spirit of God inspired the psalmists (typified by King David) to compose magnificent prayers and hymns for every religious desire and need, mood and feeling. Thus, the Psalms have great power to raise minds to God, to inspire devotion, to evoke gratitude in favorable times, and to bring consolation and strength in times of trial.”

Also in the Preface, the section “Jesus and the Psalms,” reminds us that Jesus prayed the Psalms, quoted them, and knew them well. Likewise, the Psalms knew Him!

“This Messianic meaning was fully revealed in the New Testament and indeed was publicly acknowledged by Christ the Lord when he said to his apostles: ‘Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled’ (Lk 24:44).”

Since Jesus “inhabited the Psalms,” this edition encourages us to begin “Praying with the Psalms in the Name of Christ,” “Praying with the Psalms in the Name of the Church,” and “Praying with the Psalms in Our Own Name.”

For example, “By bringing our own experience of life to the praying of the Psalms we makes these ancient prayers our own.” Also, “Because our life is constantly changing, we bring something fresh to the Psalms every time we pray them.”

Furthermore, “In praying the Psalms this way, we must realize that God not only speaks to us but also inspires our response,” making the experience a unique opportunity to grow ever closer to God – and also to one another in Christ Jesus our Lord.

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler


New Catholic Version, Psalms, Saint Joseph Edition, leatherlike cover

July 8, 2014

Psalms and The Wisdom of God


We’ve talked about the Psalms before in The One Year Book of Psalms, a daily devotional from Tyndale, highly recommended for individual use. Recently, Crossway sent me review copies of the Psalms: A 12-Week Study and also The Wisdom of God, a 10-week study which includes 5 weeks on the Psalms. Whether for personal use or group study, I highly recommend both books.

As previously mentioned, studying psalms and wisdom books of the Bible gives an excellent foundation for prayer, poetry, and biblical insights into the people of God, who have turned to these books over the centuries for guidance. More importantly, both books from Crossway show how Psalms provide insight into the mind of Christ as they repeatedly point to Him, prophetically and poetically.

From Crossway’s Knowing the Bible series, Psalms: A 12-Week Study coordinates somewhat with the ESV Study Bible, but any translation you or your Bible study group chooses will, of course, be fine as you proceed numerically through the Psalms.

Beginning with the “Week 1: Overview,” the text offers a helpful outline of the five “books” within the book of Psalms. For instance, Book 1 includes Psalm 1-41, many of which were written by King David where “Prayers issuing from a situation of distress dominate” and are “punctuated by statements of confidence in the God who alone can save.”

In Book 2, Psalms 42-72 present the Korah collection where “Once again, lament and distress dominate the content of these prayers, which now also include a communal voice.” In Book 3, the “tone darkens” as it brings “most of the psalms of Asaph (Psalms 73-83), as well as another set or Korah psalms (Psalm 84-85; 87-88).” However, Book 4 (Psalms 90-106) “may be seen as the first response to the problems raised by the third book.” Then Book 5 (Psalms 107-150) “declares that God does answer prayer (Psalm 107) and concludes with five Hallelujah psalms….”

In addition, a footnote in this Overview tells us “the basic type of psalms can be summarized as laments (presenting a trouble situation to the Lord), hymns of praise (calling believers to admire God’s attributes) and hymns of thanksgiving (thanking God for an answered prayer). There are also hymns celebrating God’s law…, wisdom psalms…, songs of confidence…, historical psalms…, and prophetic hymns (echoing themes found in the Prophets, especially calling God’s people to covenant faithfulness).”

Throughout the study guide, a consistent format considers the setting, glimpses of the Gospel, theological terms, and personal implications with ample room for writing responses in “Reflection and Discussion.” Besides the high quality of information provided, Bible students and discussion groups will appreciate the high quality of the paper, cover, and print in this well-done series.

In the Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament series, previously included in a review of Bible Study Resources, Nancy Guthrie gives us insight in studying The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books.

As a 10-week study that also includes the books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, five of those weeks focus on the Psalms. Instead of a sequential study, however, the author groups the psalms, not by book, but by divisions of “Psalms: The Songs of Jesus,” “Blessing and Perishing in the Psalms,” “The Royal Psalms,” “Repentance in the Psalms,” and “The Suffering and Glory of Messiah in the Psalms.” The wise insights and personable writing style make you feel as though you’re having a deep conversation with Nancy about the scriptures, but this series works well in group study too.

If you’re as interested in the psalms and wisdom books of the Bible as I am, you might decide to do what I did: Soak up both of these excellent resources from Crossway.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of the Bible, writer in all genres, and poet-author of the Bible-based book of poetry Outside Eden


Psalms: A 12-Week Study from the Knowing the Bible series, paperback



The Wisdom of God (A 10-week Bible Study): Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Book, paperback



Outside Eden,paperback


May 9, 2014

The One Year Book of Psalms


As a Christian poet, I’m naturally (and, most likely, supernaturally) drawn to the biblical Psalms. Over the years I’ve collected a number of books that approach these prayer-poems from various angles, ranging from poetic retellings to lengthy discussions about as dry as parchment left out in the sun. However, The One Year Book of Psalms brings another perspective by placing a lively New Living Translation of each Psalm on one page with a related word or reading on the page adjacent.

Published by Tyndale House, this highly recommended book gives us entry into “exquisite poetry, crisp theology, and stirring history,” but, as the Preface goes on to say, Psalms “are far more than all that. Most of all, they are intensely personal. The Psalms meet us where we are, and they take us to where we ought to be. You don’t have to dress up for the Psalms. Come as you are.”

We’re free to bring our real selves to these biblical writings mainly because the Psalmists did! Their honest responses to life and their vulnerability in laying themselves open before God (and us too) give credibility to their faith whether they're expressing their fears, worries, laments, thanksgivings, or praise. We, too, have been there, working through our doubts and bouncing along our up and down emotions, so I felt stunned when I heard someone admit, “I don’t like reading Psalms! I just don’t get them.”

Frankly, this could mean low esteem of God or high expectations for ourselves, straining to “be good,” in which cases, the Psalms might seem shocking. For most of us though, Psalms can become remote whenever the customs, situations, or surroundings seem too distant from our own experiences or background for us to connect well. But, that’s where the readings accompanying each Psalm in this book come to our rescue!

For example, Psalm 24 “may have been written in honor of the Ark coming at last to Mount Zion (I Chronicles 13:8), but that’s only part of the story…. As it approached the city, the gates were commanded to open. The Ark came in, and King David came in," then David’s call to “Open up, ancient gates” not only spoke to that present moment, but also prophetically to the coming of the King of Glory, Jesus Christ.

Many Psalms and, indeed, the whole Bible point to Jesus, so when we read Psalm 68 and see “The Psalmist’s View of the World” where “The kings of all the other nations are coming to pay tribute to the Lord in Jerusalem," we have hope for the future as peoples everywhere return to God.

Besides helping us to envision the situations, scenes, or prophetic possibilities in many Psalms, the adjacent readings in this book also give us a glimpse of some ways the Psalms have spoken to and through social reformers, historical and political leaders, hymn writers, and poets, each of whom brings new insights.

For example, Isaac “Watts had written his first hymn in his teenage years as a protest to his father, a minister. Watts had complained about singing from the old psalter that had been around for over a hundred years, and his father told him, ‘If you don’t like these hymns, write better ones.’ So he did.” Watts then “wrote metrical versions of all the Psalms” with his timeless rendering of Psalm 98 coming to us as “Joy to the World.” Later, George Frideric Handel, who was partially paralyzed and recovering from “bankruptcy after several musical failures,” produced the music for Watts’ poem in the gorgeous masterpiece known as Handel’s’ Messiah.

Lord willing, these blessed prayer-poems and the readings about them will continue to uplift, inspire, and empower us for the work we've been given to do in Jesus' Name.


© 2014, Mary Sayler, reviewer


The One Year Book of Psalms, paperback