Praying the Psalms

Craig L. Adams —  October 19, 2010

Many years ago, back in the days when I was in Seminary, I picked up an Interlinear Hebrew-English Psalter.

It’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

It’s a small, slim volume, a 1974 Zondervan reprint of a much older edition published by Samuel Bagster & Sons Ltd. in London. The correct title is: The Interlineary Hebrew and English Psalter in which The Construction of Every Word is Indicated, and the Root of Each Distinguished by the Use of Hollow or Other Types.

I liked the little book immediately, because it is printed in a way that clearly indicated the Hebrew roots and constructions. I knew immediately that I’d made a good purchase.

But, it was many years before I actually put it to any regular use.

Somewhere, some time, I learned to use the Psalms as my Prayer Book. I no longer remember when I stumbled across this technique of prayer. For years I had found it hard to spend extended periods of time in prayer. My mind wandered (of course). Silence was comforting to me at first. But, the time would often pass slowly. Some days I seemed to have nothing to say.

I began to pray the Psalms.

I would read a verse or two. I would meditate upon it. I would pray. I would intercede for the many people on my heart. And, at the point where I caught my mind wandering (as it so naturally does) I would come back to the Psalm again. The process would begin again.

And, this is where my Interlinear Hebrew and English Psalter came in so handy. It allowed me to actually meditate on the original words of the Psalm. It forced me to slow down. It forced me to read each word. It forced me to reconstruct the meaning of the sentences. It suggested new possibilities of meaning that I might not have seen in translation.

(A stodgy, literal translation like the New American Standard Bible will produce much the same effect, for those who have no knowledge of Hebrew. But, bear in mind, an Interlinear Bible only requires a rudimentary knowledge of the original language.)

And, I began to feel that my prayers were a dialogue with God. I spoke to God. I listened for the echo of God speaking in the Psalm.

You see, I feel like I hear the Psalms in an echo chamber. I don’t know how else to describe it. It echos with the history of Israel. It echos with the life of David, and so many ancient hopes that were pinned on him. It echos with all the varied emotions of the human heart: joy, laughter, sorrow, despair. It echos down through all the history of the Christian faith, as believers have turned to these ancient songs for guidance and inspiration. Because I see the Psalms through a Christ-lens, they yield levels of meaning to me because I see them in the light of a certain, particular fulfillment.

And, in that sense I’m not alone. These songs of faith and devotion, doubt and despair, are the property of a community of faith that has read and cherished them through ages of time.

And, here they lie in front of me. Ancient words, carefully preserved by Masoretic scribes, who added markings so that even their accents and pronunciations might be preserved. It’s really quite amazing if you think about it.

My God,
Thank you for the gift of the Word
and these particular words
very human and yet divine
an ancient and living part of your redemptive plan
a gift to me today.

I do not understand
my prejudices and preconceptions run deep
I am so quick to defend my ideas
so often arrogant and fearful
(maybe they are the same thing)
I am easily distracted;
Inspire me
Teach me your ways.

May your Word
find an entrance into my heart
today. Amen.

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Craig L. Adams


I used to be a United Methodist pastor. I served several small United Methodist churches from 1975 to 2010. My interests include Bible, Wesleyan Theology, science, jazz, mystery novels and Mac computers. You can find out more about me at my web site:
  • Pumice

    Nothing fancy. No special equipment. I like it. I like the part where we slow down and consider the word. It gives the Holy Spirit a chance to speak to us. This reminds us that prayer is not all talking, but has a listening element. Years ago at a prayer seminar, a guy named Elton Gillum taught the concept of praying scripture. This reminds me of that. I will try it this week end when I have some extended worship time.

    Grace and Peace.

  • Craig L. Adams

    I really (as I say) don’t know how I stumbled onto this — but it’s a “discovery” which Christians have been making over & over again down through the years. I never used to understand how people could spend long periods of time in prayer. But, now I do. Praying the Psalms (or, as you say, praying Scripture just generally) makes prayer a dialogue: I speak to God, but in silence and in Scripture, God speaks to me.