I am not typically pleased or impressed with guides to the Psalms. The Psalms are examples of engagement with God meant to be used and most study guides treat them as objects of analysis. While the guides often make true statements, they end up with abstract categorizations rather than helps for making use of these songs and prayers in pouring out our hearts to God.
Therefore, when I received a copy of Invitation to the Psalms: A Reader’s Guide for Discovery and Engagement by brothers Rolf and Karl Jacobson, I did not expect much. However, I was delightfully surprised. These authors get the Psalms. Here are two exemplary quotes:
“The psalms are meant to be read, they are meant to be experienced. Analysis of poetry is helpful and important – but only if that analysis serves to assist the reader to enter into a poem with greater sensitivity” (1).
“Because the psalms are the poetry of faith, they are not meant to be studied; they are meant to be read. The prayers of the Psalter are meant to be prayed. The songs of the Psalter are meant to be sung. The lessons of the Psalter are meant to be lived. The angry psalms are meant to be shouted. The meditations are meant to be meditated upon. When it comes to Psalm 23, the most well-known of all psalms, it is not meant as a lesson for a teacher to commend to a student, but a prayer that is meant to be prayed:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths,
For his name’s sake. (vv. 1-3)
“The psalm does not just describe trust: it is an expression of trust. When the faithful follower prays the psalm, the psalm does not merely express how the pray-er feels. Rather, through praying the psalm the pray-er comes to trust.
“If there is any value in learning about the psalms, it is just this – that by learning about the psalms, the students may learn to read, pray, sing, shout, chant, and wonder the psalms” (2).
This is a useful tool in learning to pray and sing the psalms.