Few books have played as integral a part in shaping my faith as the Book of Psalms. I was blessed to grow up immersed in the psalms, and they gave me an invaluable aid in my walk with God.

In order to illustrate how the psalms were designed to strengthen our faith and guide our communion with God, I want to tell you about ten psalms that have been especially meaningful to me. It’s a top ten list because I happened to think of ten, and I had to stop somewhere. The order follows, more or less, my own life’s chronology.

1. Psalm 46

My parents picked a specific Psalm for each of my siblings and myself when we were born—as a prayer for our lives. Mine was forty-six. I read it at different times as I grew up knowing it was “my psalm.” I recently asked my mom why they picked that one for me.

She replied, “We enjoyed singing it because it exalts God so much. His strength and power, His presence over EVERYTHING. But we chose verse ten because we particularly liked the phrase, ‘Be still and know that I am God, exalted over all earth and men.’ It’s funny because you were such a quiet baby it wasn’t like we needed prayer for you to be quiet and calm! But it made us realize, that quiet without the Lord would be awful. We LOVED the phrase ‘be still and know that I am God.’ And that’s what we wanted. We wanted a child that would have peace and know God.”

2. Psalm 4B

When my parents put my sister and me to bed at night as little girls, they laid us down with a lullaby from Psalm 4, “So in peace I lie down; I will rest and sleep, for, O Lord, You only will me safely keep.”*

I’m thirty-one years old now and it might sound silly, but there are still times I find myself singing these words in bed at night. Particularly when I need rest that comes only from the Lord–rest for my soul.

3–4. Psalm 100A and 113A

Growing up, my church sang the psalms. Every Sunday evening at the service there was a time where people from the congregation could pick their favorites to sing.  I was a cheerful, happy kid, which inclined me toward the psalms with upbeat tunes and joyful words. For a long stretch, Psalm 100A from the Psalter was my favorite, which, incidentally, was the Old 100th.

If you’re not familiar with the tune, you may know the Old 100th as the Doxology. Just replace “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below” with “All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.”*

Closely related to Psalm 100A was 113A because it’s another psalm of praise, and another one with a cheerful tune. This one had more of a staccato, upbeat kind of cheer. The kind that’s hard to sing without a smile. And why shouldn’t you smile, when you’re singing:

Praise Je-ho-vah;
Praise the LORD;
Ye His serv-ants praise accord;
Bless-ed be Je-ho-vah’s name;
Ev-er more His praise proclaim,
Ev-er more His praise proclaim.*

This time of singing and picking of favorites may have been the beginning of my growing love for the psalms. The thing about having the psalms put to music is that with the words and melody together, what you find is God’s word being stored up in your heart. Their words come to mind at different times through the day,  at crucial times throughout your life.

5. Psalm 51

As I grew up, I became sobered at the realization of my sin. In those moments where the weight of my sin threatened to knock me over; to keep me from praying for the shame of facing God in my guilt, Psalm 51 taught me how to repent. It showed me the humility of true repentance:

Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight…
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me…
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

Not only did the psalms teach me how to rest in the Lord, how to praise Him when I’m happy, how to repent when I’m guilty, but they showed me how to trust in God when I’m afraid…

6–9. Psalm 31, 40B, 73, and 102

I have to talk about these four together. One day my own hardships arose (you can read more about those here).

I suffered physical pain and long, long years of waiting. It was here that I ran to the psalms of lament and trust… “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). I would tap out a tune on the piano as I sang the words.

This is the drawing I did . . .

In those years I struggled at times with deep depression. A friend opened up Psalm 102 for me, and I came to pray in similar form the words, “Hear my prayer, O Lord! And let my cry for help come to You.” 

I was never much of an artist, but with charcoal pencils I drew an illustration of the words from Psalm 31, “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD.”  

When I laid down to sleep at night, I found comfort for my soul in singing the slow and melancholic tune, yet hopeful words, of Psalm 40:

I wait-ed for the LORD; He stooped and heard my cry.
He brought me from the pit, out of the dungeon mire,
My feet set on a rock, my footsteps made se-cure.
My lips He gave a song, a song to praise our God.*

Even these psalms of lament, I found, ended in words of praise as the psalmist found his hope in God.

10. Psalm 16

As I grew in faith I came to see that the promises of God were far more abundant than what I had once understood. I used to look to God’s promises to find comfort and healing in the present life. But what I came to find was hope and strength in the face of pain and weakness. The times I was physically and emotionally in the poorest state were the times God surrounded me with His abundant joy and peace.

Similar to Psalm 73, where the psalmist finds his hope and answer in turning to God, the psalmist in chapter 16 recognized that, “the sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply,” but those who trust in God will find their protection and counsel in Him. Perhaps this is the most beautiful and clear summation of the message of all the psalms: “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).

The psalms are beautiful not only for their poetic excellence, but for what they teach us about God, about ourselves, about the enemies of God, and about our relationship with God as believers. They express every emotion we could feel; they are tangible and relatable to us as weak and sinful humans, and yet, they always point us to God. In the end, the psalmist finds his answer.

This is why we love the psalms, and this is why we need them. God gave His people this book to sing and pray back to Him. When you read the psalms, when you sing them and pray them, you are storing them in your heart and finding guidance in your life as a Christian.

The psalmist’s most vulnerable and humble examples show us how to bring our heart to God in prayer and praise, in both seasons of cheer and seasons of suffering. With the psalmist we too find our hope and answer in saying of God, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.”

*Psalm 4B, 100A, 113A, 40E from the Book of Psalms for Singing © 1973 Crown & Covenant Publications

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