Rest does not come naturally to me. I have two modes: Running on a tightly stretched, hour-by-hour planner that leaves me exhausted and burnt out, or flopping on the couch and succumbing to social media all day. Those are the two extremes I have operated in lately, and neither are healthy. Part of the problem is that I do not have a biblical view and understanding of rest. I either take rest too far, or I don’t give myself enough rest that my body and mind require.
In this season of rest, God is teaching me some of the basics of rest, part of which has been resting in the Psalms. I’m embarrassed to admit, but I didn’t give much time or thought to the Psalms. They didn’t contain the exciting stories of the other Old Testament books, and they didn’t contain the doctrine and commands like I loved in the epistles. I also had no idea how to study the Psalms. All of this combined led to my avoidance of them.
God has taught me to love the Psalms and rest in them. In weary times when my mind is too tired to focus and my heart is jumbled and distracted, I have found rest in studying the Psalms. I didn’t believe that a study of the Psalms would challenge me like it has and cause such growth. I was a fool to doubt God’s beautiful and inspired Word.
The Psalms Teach Us How to Lament
The idea that we need to be taught how to lament or be sad may sound a bit ridiculous. But there are many of us who truly, if we examined ourselves, do not know how to lament biblically. We either ignore it until it boils over without warning or we drowned in it.
Some of us may believe that as Christians we should never be sorrowful, which is why we shove our sadness away and refuse to deal with it. However, the Bible, especially the Psalms, never give us that impression. The Psalms instead teach us that sorrow is the time in which we fall on our knees before God and cry out to him. God doesn’t expect us to hide our sadness from him and pretend it doesn’t exist, but he shows us the pattern over and over of the Psalmists bringing each of their sorrows to him.
See how the Psalmist pours out his grief honestly before God in this passage:
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Psalm 42:1-4 ESV
Not only that, studying the Psalms shows us that despair doesn’t need to drown us. Despite how deep in despair we may be, we can keep our heads above the water when we find refuge in God. As believers, we can experience grief and joy in tandem. Though the trial is still blazing, we can rejoice our hearts with the truth we know about God.
In this same Psalm of lament, the Psalmist writes,
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
Psalm 42:5-8 ESV
In our sadness, the Psalms can remind us of our hope in God and teach us how to rightly talk to both our souls and God about it.
The Psalms Teach Us How to Pray
My prayer life has the tendency to become a rearrangement of yesterday’s prayer. I pray for the same people and the same needs and give thanks for the same things with a slightly different order and wording. But by reading the Psalms, I have learned to craft my prayers after them. I am reminded of new reasons to praise God each day and other needs I should be praying for myself and others. I am reminded to pray for both myself and my congregation. When I am aware of the grandeur of my sins against God, I am reminded likewise of his abundant grace to me.
It’s easy for my prayer time to become a mindless repetition that I do out of habit. But the Psalms have taught me to pray more earnestly and thoughtfully, and have reminded me of the God who I am lifting my prayers to—he’s not a genie waiting to grant my wishes or a source of energy to appease. God is my perfect, heavenly Father, my Saviour, my King, my Comforter, and Counsellor. He is near to me when I am broken-hearted, ready to forgive when I am sinful, and sovereignly conducting my life for his glory and my good. He is always present and always hears me. It is to this God I come humbly before in prayer.
A Book to Guide You Through the Psalms
As I have studied the Psalms this year, Lydia Brownback’s book, Sing a New Song, was at my side. Her book takes you through each of the 150 Psalms of the Bible, examining the historical and literary context, and bringing them together to form a solid application you can take with you. Since the whole Bible continually points us to Christ, she shows us how each Psalm reminds us of Jesus and what attributes of God are present in the Psalm. She also ends each Psalm with a passage from the New Testament that helps us meditate on the Psalm at hand.
But what I really enjoyed from this book were the appendixes. She includes a step-by-step guide for studying the Psalms on your own (which I use each time I study a Psalm), a guide for forming a Bible study group on the Psalms, and study aids to help you study the Psalms such as definitions of the types of Psalms in the Bible and the various literary devices used in the Psalms to help you interpret them rightly. Lydia also provides a list of commentaries and devotions for further study of the Psalms that I look forward to reading in the future.
This book has helped me not only understand the Psalms but also see their importance and value in the Christian life. In my times of weariness—anxiety, depression, pregnancy, and lack of sleep as a mother—this book has taught me how to rest in the Psalms. Especially in this season of running around the house with a crying baby on my hip, Lydia’s book has helped me take away a truth to meditate on from each Psalm I read.
If you are going through a season of emotional crisis, burn out and exhaustion, a simple lack of love and excitement for God and His Word, or you haven’t taken the time to study the Psalms, I want to challenge you to stop and study the Psalms with me. God has taught me the immense necessity of the Psalms in each believer’s life, and I hope you will see the same as well.