How to De-Mystify the Psalms

When I was younger, I liked the book of Psalms a lot. At least, I said I liked it. I mean, to my music-and-ballet loving heart, it had some of the best verses of the bible!

Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! Psalm 149:3

Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Psalm 150:4

Yeah, I played flute, too. I wrote those verses in the back of my sticker-filled bible and on the front of my notebook next to my Ichthus fish doodle.

I liked to try to write music, so periodically I would flip through the book and try to put some of them to song… Like,

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens. Psalms 8:1

or

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
Psalms 9:1-2

I felt like they were always so happy. Praise, praise, praise. Yay, yay, yay! They were nice to read if I felt really happy.

But I then I would stumble on something like this:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Psalm 32

And… suddenly I had NO idea what David was up to. So I’d scurry back to the New Testament.

I was taught that the Psalms were actually prayers, mostly by king David. But for a long time, they were mostly incomprehensible to me. Oh, sure, there were times that i was in the pit of despair, and I could flip open to a random psalm and it echoed my sobs.

I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
Psalm 69

(I don’t know who would identify with this more than a kid in high school.)

But as a whole, I was mystified. I read them with the detatched curiosity that you might have if you leafed through your great-great-great grandfather’s daily journal. It was interesting… but I didn’t know any of these people, or understand why he used some of these weird metaphors about sheep or rams or miry bogs.

And then I had a breakthrough. It happened while reading Psalm 1.
Here’s the beginning of it:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

As I was reading, I suddenly had a thought: Who is the counsel of the wicked in my life? And the thought was instantly answered… Teen magazines.
(Don’t be judgy. I was a teen girl, okay?)
But seriously, I got out my notebook and re-wrote that first line in my own words:
“Blessed is the girl who doesn’t live by the advice from teen magazines.”

And then I looked at the next line:

Nor stands in the way of sinners.

Conviction came to my heart again, and I remembered just the previous afternoon. I wrote again.

“or stand in the school halls and gossip.”

or sit in the seat of scoffers.

“Or hangs out at parties, doing drugs and other bad things…
But her delight is in the Word of the Lord, and she thinks about it all day long.”

WOW!
I remember just that much, just those few little lines, suddenly were more illuminating to my life than anything I had read in the bible. I walked around for hours, feeling like… well, feeling like I had pushed the ON button, and my bible was lit up!
I was so excited!
I got a notebook, and started going through the psalms, one psalm at a time, taking each verse and writing out a parallel for my own life. When David talked about other kings, I wrote about other teens. When he cried about battles, I cried about my moms’ divorce. I began to understand so much more what David was feeling and saying…
But more than that happened.

You see, I began to discover the key to the psalms.
It wasn’t that David cathartic-ally wrote out his emotions and “vented.” The key to the psalms is that in almost every instance, David came to the place where he had laid his troubles down, and taken up Trust in the Lord.
When he says

O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God… (psalm 3)

he then chooses to say,

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.

Usually, it was about choice.

As David wrote, “Why so downcast, oh my Soul? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him…”
I had to say to myself, “Why are you so upset, Brianna? You can trust the Lord. So trust him! And show you trust him by praising him!”

And the more I did it, the more I began to understand, really understand, the heart of David, the heart of the Psalms… and the act of prayer.

That it was about being real, really real, with what was going on in your heart… and then choosing to trust the Lord. 

It turned out almost… magic for me. Every time I would start the exercise of writing out a psalm, it seemed to bring out instantly the issue that was most causing my heart turmoil. And as I faithfully wrestled with how to apply each verse of the psalm to my heart, I would find that by the end of each one, I had a key to calming my fears.
So! Do the Psalms feel mind-boggling to you? If they do, I encourage you to try this!


  1. Get paper and a pen, and your bible.
  2. Open Psalm 1. Or Psalm 23. Either are a great way to start.
  3. Ask the Lord for insight!
  4. Take one verse at a time, and re-write it in a way that applies to your life. For instance, if you’re lonely, why not write, “The Lord is my best friend, I shall not be alone?” Or if you’re an athlete, “The Lord is my coach…” Or if you play violin, “The Lord is my conductor?”

It’s okay to wrestle with it. It’s okay to be frustrated and confused and sad. It’s okay to cry and even be angry. The beauty of prayer is that the more you bare your heart to the Lord, the more he heals the hurting.

But I encourage you to go through to the end of the psalm. Find the conclusion to the prayer. And when you find it, choose it.

Choose to trust, choose to praise.
I hope this blesses you as much as it blesses me! Praise the Lord for every new little bit of Him that he gives us!

Amen!

Love you.
Brianna

#bible #help

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