By Shawn McMullen
As a child, I memorized the twenty-third psalm (King James Version) in Sunday school. While I didn’t understand every line, the phrase, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (v. 4) gave me comfort whenever I felt afraid. The words continue to bring me comfort as an adult, and I use them often to comfort others in times of fear and grief.
I think of Psalm 100 when I gather with other believers to worship: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs” (v. 1, New International Version). Psalm 121 reminds me of God’s constant presence and assistance: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (vv. 1, 2). And when things are going well at home, at church, and at the office, I recall Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (v. 1).
We need the psalms.
They provide perspective. “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (8:1). We read David’s heartfelt expressions of praise to God knowing he was a flawed man, but nevertheless a man after God’s own heart. And we realize that if God can look past the obvious imperfections of a man like David to see the deep love Israel’s king had for his Creator, then he can do the same for us.
They protect us from complacency. “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of hisholiness” (29:2). The psalms remind us that we serve a holy and sovereign God whose love never fails. They show us how God’s people worshipped him in ages past and challenge us to come before him with awe, wonder, and gratitude.
They encourage us to pray. “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (61:1, 2). What believer hasn’t identified with the psalmists’ desperate pleas for help? And who hasn’t read their responses to answered prayer and felt led to thank God for his mercy and kindness toward us?
They call us to service. “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you” (130:3, 4). The psalms remind us that formal worship unaccompanied by faithful service is vain. They call us to accept God’s grace with gratitude and to express our gratitude through meaningful service.
They give us hope. “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him” (62:5). Hope is a key theme in the book of Psalms, appearing 34 times (New International Version). The writers often wrestled with difficult issues—the prosperity of the wicked, opposition from enemies, betrayal by friends—but just as often, they concluded their psalms with a note of hope. They challenge us to make hope a key theme in our lives as well.
I’m thankful for the psalms. I need them. I believe we all do.