A few weeks ago, someone asked me, “How can I be a disciple if I must endure highs and lows, faith and doubt, trust and fear? I feel like I must doing something wrong.” If someone had asked me that question a year ago, I would have responded with a solution and a relevant quote. But that day, I suggested we read the Psalms.
This was not my relationship with the Psalms twelve months ago. Before this past year, I only read the Psalms to complete my Bible reading plan. I decided that I was too left-brained to enjoy the Psalms and that maybe they were only helpful for the more creative-types.
Then, as I was reading and studying, I started to notice a recurring theme — almost everyone I admired was into the Psalms from George Muller to J. Hudson Taylor to Eugene Peterson to Tim Keller. As I was reading the gospels, I noticed Jesus was into the Psalms as well—quoting or alluding to them in hillside teachings, temple courts, and from the cross.
The same thought kept nagging at me—if I am learning to live like Jesus, how can I ignore the Psalms? I began to realize that true gospel-centered discipleship requires us to become friends with David, Asaph, Solomon, the Sons of Korah, Moses, Ethan the Ezrahite, and the dozens of other unknown Psalmists.
In response, I started reading and praying the Psalms as an integral part of my own discipleship. Before long, the Psalms influenced the way I discipled others—especially in the way the Psalms validate our emotions, shape our imaginations, and teach us to pray.
1. THE PSALMS VALIDATE OUR EMOTIONS
From the cross Jesus cried out Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Not only did Jesus have the Psalms so rooted in him that they were his words in the most agonizing moment of his life, he experienced abandonment—a feeling shared with the author of Psalm 22.
When I started ministry, people (including my wife) would approach me with emotions they were experiencing. I made the rookie mistake of subtly (and not so subtly) downplaying the truth of their emotions. “Sadness and abandonment didn’t line up with the truth of the gospel,” I would tell them. The more time I spent in the Psalms, though, the more I realized that the gospel is roomy enough for all human emotions.
As a pastor to young adult, I’ve seen how liberating it is for their emotions to find a home in the Psalms. In a letter titled “On the Interpretation of the Psalms” Athanasius writes, “You find depicted in [the Psalms] all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.” You cannot read the Psalms without seeing delight (Ps. 1:2) and depression (Ps. 42:5), gratitude (Ps. 100:4) and grief (Ps. 42:3), and nearly every other emotion (John Piper has a good list). The Psalms teach us that it’s okay to ask God why (Ps. 10:1) or how long (Ps. 13:1-2) and to be honest with how you feel.
The Psalms don’t leave our emotions as they are though. They shape our emotions and give them proper context. I had professor in college who said, “The Psalms provide direction for our emotions without repressing them or giving full vent to them. The Psalms help you learn how to feel.” Each of the Psalms has its own rhythm. We enter these through our emotions and are carried into deeper emotions. Although this rhythm may be compressed into a few verses in a Psalm, our experience may last days or even years.