Patristics, Psalms, and Prayer

In his book, (which I mentioned previously), Christopher Hall has as useful section on how the church fathers used the Psalms as models for prayer (Craig Blaising spoke on this at the Psalms Project previously).

In this excerpt you see the point of the Psalms shaping our affections and guiding us in what we ought to pray.

“I bring up the issue of models for prayer because the church fathers believed that our dispositions – our deeply habituated thoughts, words and actions – are shaped by those we listen to and imitate.  There are, for instance, some people who really know how to pray.  King David comes to mind.  A principle reason that the ancient church prayed the psalms again and again – early monastic communities would pray all 150 psalms in one day – was a firm belief that the repetition of the psalms nurtured the dispositions that foster prayer.  Through repetition, the dispositions and words of the psalmist, the fathers believe, become those of the one who continually prays the psalms.  Early monastic communities offered this model to the church as a whole.” (89-90)

“The goal of praying the psalms daily, even hourly, is not vain repetition.  It is the forming and shaping of human character. ‘Psalmody gives its rhythm to the life of a monk and each of the faithful ought to practice it to some extent’ (Oliver Clement).  The Holy Spirit desires for us to hear these words, to meditate on them, to speak them with our tongues and hide them in our hearts.  Without doubt the Spirit could have provided a different prayer book for us or no prayer book at all.  Instead, the Spirit has given us the psalms.

The Holy Spirit knows we need help learning how to pray; the Spirit knows we are apt to stumble and perhaps lose our way if we exclusively rely on our own words and thoughts in prayer.  The point is that it is our thoughts, words and actions that need remolding, reshaping.  We need mentors in prayer, and the psalmist is one of the best.  If we listen carefully, immersing ourselves in his words and life, our own disposition will change, in prayer and out.” (91)

One Comment

  1. I grew up loving the Psalms because I heard them on such a regular basis. Then, interestingly, it was Psalms that turned me to praying Scripture. I don’t believe I would have ever turned the corner without the love of Psalms in my heart. The Psalmist is truly a mentor used by the Spirit. You have put words to what I have known on the deep inside of myself, not finding such an accurate description. Thank you!

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