Volumes and volumes have been penned on why the Psalms are so essential to our devotional development in the Christian life. They connect in ways that other Scripture doesn’t (not in a superior way, as 2 Tim 3:16 is clear, but still in a rather unique way). The cry of the psalmist can connect to the cry of our soul when we really aren’t sure how to think about God, let alone how to express emotion to him. Sometimes we’re not even sure what those emotions are until the example of the psalmist shows us how to think about our circumstances and gain a broader perspective. Some of the darkest, most dire moments of my life have resulted in the Psalms moving from words on a page to understanding, comfort, wisdom, hope, perspective, and life.
But thankfully we don’t have to be in the middle of dire circumstances to tap into the life and perspective of the Psalms. How do we make this connection just in our more day-in and day-out moments? I suggest it starts with an unlikely pairing: worship and grammar.
The Psalms are many things, but they’re nothing if they aren’t a direction to worship. They are songs and poems to express the heart of a worshiper after the heart of God, and the very heart of God himself. I like a definition of worship I once heard that goes something like this: it is rightly recognizing who God is and who I am. The more I rightly see God in all his splendor, sovereignty, and glory, the more I recognize there no one or no thing like him (Ex 15:11)… certainly not me! And thus I start to rightly see who I am – both as one in desperate need of his saving, but also one gloriously and graciously saved and brought to new life!
Okay, worship makes sense, but grammar? In particular, I think one key way to read the Psalms is to make note of the subject and the predicate (and if you need a little refresher on that, you might enjoy one of our family’s favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs here). Namely, who is doing something, and what are they doing? Now this is where the worship comes in. If worship is rightly viewing God and thereby rightly viewing myself, then I can look to the Psalms to see what does God do, and then I look in the same psalm to see what is my action or response.
Sarah and I were recently praying for wisdom and direction, and found ourselves looking into Psalm 25. It’s a cry of David for God’s leading and deliverance. But just take a look at some of the verbs assigned to God, and compare them to the verbs assigned to you and me:
God: lift, save from enemies, make me know, teach me, lead me, remember mercy, remember not sins, love steadfastly, be good, instruct, pardon, guide in choosing, befriend, rescues, turn to me, be gracious, consider me, forgive, guard, deliver, redeem
Us: trust, wait, keep covenant, fear the Lord, look toward the Lord, take refuge
Two things quickly become very obvious. First, one list is clearly longer and more active than another. God is saving, teaching, leading, forgiving, and on and on. We’re trusting, anticipating and receiving. I’m not saying that trusting is trivial or easy, but clearly he’s doing all the heavy lifting here!
Second, it’s quite evident that I all too often try to assign myself God’s list and shirk mine. This is where my worship gets warped. I don’t view God rightly enough and thus think wrongly (more highly, more lowly) of myself. Instead of trusting and waiting, I think I’ll lift myself. I’ll be the one to save myself from my enemies, I’ll figure out my path, I’ll instruct myself, I’ll… Sound familiar to you, too?
Oh “turn to me and be gracious to me” Lord! Even when I get this all inside-out in my thinking, the Psalms guide me even in how to repent. Let’s stick to our verbs and grow in trusting God for his. So, walk through the Psalms and take time to write out such “You vs. God” lists of predicates like the above, and let that little bit of grammar drive a lot of worship.