To the Choirmaster

The Psalms are collection of powerful poems, teeming with emotion and theology, rich with expression, and, I believe, inexhaustible in meaning. I don’t always think about this, however. In the past I have found myself turning to the Psalms when I “need to” do a devotional, and I want something quick, understandable, and easy. Rather than savoring each unique Psalm, I find myself viewing them as repetitive iterations of each other.

Although it’s good that I find myself reading Psalms frequently, it’s less than profitable that this turns into a mindless activity for me. Instead, I have been recently convicted of being a informed, intentional, and regular reader of the Psalms. There are three reason that we (I) should read Psalms on the reg.

  1. Reading Psalms on the reg allows us to affirm the timelessness of truth and tradition. David wrote many of them. Jews and Christians have prayed them. Jesus uttered one with his last painful, desperate breath. There’s something meaningful about appreciating the tradition of our faith and reading the thoughts and praying the words of those who have come before us. I’m not suggesting that there is some magical quality to chanting a Psalm. It’s not a spell that ensures that God conquer your enemies [or annoying colleagues], pull you up from your proverbial pit [that you’ve dug yourself into], or deliver you to victory [that is, landing that dream job.] Rather, it is an active  celebration and adoption of truth. It is an affirmation that truth is not relative but objective, and consistent throughout time. It is a declaration of God’s name: I am that I am, I will be what I will be, I am the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
  2. Reading Psalms on the reg provides an opportunity to appreciate and recognize the objective beauty of scripture. Classics stand the test of time because they express something true or ask something noteworthy. It transcends time because of its complexities, beauties, or perplexities. Do the Psalms have these? You bet they do. If we want scripture to be taken seriously we should be comfortable discussing and defending it as good literature. Read the Psalms as narratives. Read the Psalms as poetry. Study parallelism and chiasmus. Notice the metaphors. Allow yourself to be moved by the imagery. Embrace the emotion. See the beauty.
  3. Reading the Psalms on the reg gives us an honest picture of what a human life, and life as a friend of God, looks like. Although there is one book, there are numerous genres of Psalms. These span from thanksgiving to imprecatory, hymn to lament. There is a false perception, both of by those within and those outside of the church, that being a Christian entails having a perfect life or at least acting like one does. There are many victims of this false gospel. But that’s what it is: false. Life – full of illness, health, loss, joy, injustice, surprises, confusion – is the same whether you’re a Christian or not. What changes, however, is the perspective and response to what life throws at us. Psalms embraces the complications of life and gives vocabulary of prayer that we can adopt. There is a comfort in the fact that David, a man after God’s own heart, wrote many of these poems. They provide a model for how to address God, even in the most confusing or heartbreaking of times. We find can find confidence in this.

To make this practical for reading Psalms on the reg, I have included two reading plans for going through the Psalms on a monthly cycle. Full disclosure, I got these two reading plans are from the Anglican Common Book of Prayer and Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. Even if you are a not a part of either of these traditions, don’t hesitate to participate in these practices. It’s great to learn from and enjoy the fruits of other Christian traditions.

Reading Plan #1
Most closely mirrors the Jewish practice. If the month has a 31st day, one may read the Psalms of Ascents (Jews would have read as they were nearing the Temple in Jerusalem), 120 and 134.

Day Morning Evening Day Morning Evening
1 1-5 6-8 16 79-81 82-85
2 9-11 12-14 17 86-88 89
3 15-17 18 18 90-92 93-94
4 19-21 22-23 19 95-97 98-101
5 24026 27-29 20 102-103 104
6 30-31 32-34 21 105 106
7 35-36 37 22 107 108-109
8 38-40 41-43 23 110-113 114-115
9 44-46 47-49 24 116-118 119:1-32
10 50-52 53-55 25 119:33-72 119:73-104
11 56-58 59-61 26 119:105-144 119:145-176
12 62-64 65-67 27 120-125 126-131
13 68 69-70 28 132-135 136-138
14 71-72 73-74 29 139-140 141-143
15 75-77 78 30 144-146 147-150

Reading Plan #2.
Each week shaped around the Passion Week of Christ. If a month has a fifth week, the fourth week is repeated until the start of the new month. When one verse in 119 is listed, one is to read that entire portion (e.g. Aleph).

Office Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week4
Sun Morning 1, 2, 3

63, 149

104

118, 150

145

93, 148

24, 66

118, 150

Sun Evening 118

110, 114

23, 76

110, 115

118

110, 111

23, 76

110, 112

Mon Morning 6, 9

5, 29

95, 31

42

109, 84, 96 73

90, 135

Mon Evening 19, 7

11, 15

119:41, 40

45

119:89, 71

123, 124

119:129, 82, 120

136

Tues Morning 10, 12

24, 33

37, 43, 65 68

85, 67

102

101, 144

Tues Evening 119:1, 13, 14

20, 21

119:45, 53, 54

49

119:97, 74

125, 131

119:137, 88

137, 138

Wed Morning 18:1-30

36, 47

39, 52

77, 97

89

86, 98

103

108, 146

Wed Evening 119:6, 17

4, 27

119L57, 55

62, 67

119:105, 70, 75

126, 127

119:45, 94

139

Thurs Morning 18:31-50

57, 48

44

80, 81

83, 90

87, 99

44

78, 143

Thurs Evening 119:17, 25

30, 32

119:65, 56, 57

58, 72

11:113, 79, 80

132

119:53, 128, 129

144

Fri Morning 35

51, 100

38

51, 147

69

51, 100

55

51, 147

Fri Evening 119:25, 26, 28

41, 46

119:73, 59, 60

116:1-9, 121

22

134, 135

119:161, 133, 140

145

Sat Morning 105

106, 117

136

92, 8

131, 132

107, 117

50

92, 8

Sat Evening 119:33, 34

141, 142

119:81, 61, 64

16, 91

119:120, 34

113, 116

119:169, 45

122, 130

 

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