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6 Lenses for Reading the Psalms (Part 2)

Photo of Matt StaffordMatt Stafford | Bio

Matt Stafford

Matt is the Director of the Worship and Creative Arts Department at Ozark Christian College. A faculty member since 2004, he currently teaches in the area of creative and technical arts, music, worship leadership and the Psalms. In his more than thirty years of college ministry, his focus has been on discipleship and spiritual formation. His latest endeavor is directing the Creative Arts Academy, a summer arts camp for high school students. He also serves on the board of directors for Casas por Cristo. Matt is married to Joy and together they have two adult sons, Aaron and Ethan. His education includes a Bachelor of Theology in Old Testament from Ozark Christian College and an M.A. in TESOL and Linguistics from Ball State University.

(For Part 1, check here.)

One of the most fascinating set of lenses to wear when reading the psalms are the “Jesus glasses.”

We can be quite confident that Jesus grew up hearing, reading, praying, and singing the Psalms.

Raised in a Torah observant Jewish home, attending weekly synagogue services, at the age of twelve he was bright enough to baffle the learned teachers at the temple. It is likely that he was fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, so there is no doubt that Jesus was intimately familiar with the Psalms.

It is not speculation to suggest that he had prayed every one of them at some point in his life.

Sometimes we know exactly when he prayed them (e.g., Psalm 22:1 as he hung on the cross), but other times we can make some reasonable guesses. For example, the Egyptian Hallel [Psalms 113-118] was traditionally read at the Passover meal which Jesus shared with his disciples.

Thinking about how Jesus prayed these psalms to the Father can be an enlightening exercise, yielding insights about the understanding that Jesus had of his own identity and reminding us that Jesus shared fully in our humanity. Jesus quoted the Psalms extensively in his ministry and gave the two disciples on the Emmaus road a lesson about himself from them (Luke 24:44). Jesus prayed the psalms himself and we can pray the same words with him when we pray the psalms today.

The apostles were overhearing Jesus pray the psalms and when it came time to preach the good news and eventually write the New Testament, they were quick to turn to the Psalms for material.

No other book of the Old Testament is quoted by the authors of the New Testament more than the book of Psalms.

Peter quotes from Psalm 16 in the very first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost, and the author of Hebrews relies heavily on the Psalms to remind his readers that Jesus came to complete the temple worship to which the Psalms were central.

So, as we read a psalm, we should also consider how the first Christians would have prayed the Psalms.

The first Christians were Jewish, and like Jesus, had prayed the psalms daily to Yahweh. No doubt where they had once only seen Yahweh as the LORD of the Psalms, they were now seeing Jesus take his place on the throne. The songs of praise to Yahweh became the songs of praise to Yeshua, as he had come to complete them.

The Book of Psalms became the songbook of the early church (Acts 4:23-31) and continued to be the primary source of the language of singing and worship throughout much of the history of the church.

The final lens is the one that we wear every day. It is our modern worldview and our own unique life experiences.

In spite of rapid technological change, our life experiences are common to those of the psalmist 3,000 years in the past. Floods, fires, famines, war, betrayal, sickness, and death still plague mankind, and the psalms give us the words to speak to God in each of those moments.

The psalms run the gamut of human emotion, from deep lament to unspeakable ecstasy.

These ancient prayers are always contemporary. In every generation they have remained relevant because they speak timeless truth to mortal men.

So as we meditate on the psalms, we need to take the time to change glasses each time we read them.

  1. First, read the psalm with the author’s situation in mind.
  2. Then read the psalm as a theologian, gleaning the big truths about God.
  3. Next, read the psalms like a worship leader who is putting together a collection of prayers to assist his community in worship.
  4. Then envision Jesus praying the psalms and seeing himself in them.
  5. Read them as the early church did, ancient words now completed in Christ.
  6. Read them as your own prayers, conversations with the eternal God of the universe.

(For more from Matt, check out Used with permission. )