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Prayer and the Psalms
by Estee in

I'm teaching the Lamplighter Sunday School class at our church this Sunday. Instead of printing off my lesson to share with them, I'm going to direct the class to this blog if they want to see notes from my lesson.

Prayer and the Psalms
Notes taken from “The Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible,” handout by Dr. Toni Craven

The Book of Psalms is the prayer book of ancient Israel. Some of the prayers are communal, official acts of praise or petition. Others are personal and offer in intimate detail the pain, fears, delights, and hopes of individuals. Over the centuries such prayers, the public and personal ones, were written down and collected. The book in its present form with 150 Psalms was established between the second century BCE and the first century, CE. No other biblical book consists entirely of collected prayers, even though psalm-like texts are embedded elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.

The Psalms are poetic discourse between Israel and God, who is said to hear and answer. Many are frank, unrestrained conversations. Some are prayers and praises that soar to the heights of spiritual devotion. Some arise from the deepest pain and distress, and display the depths of human misery, anger and frustration. A few are complacent and self-congratulatory. The Psalms present a rich cross-section of speech to and about God, and in some cases include speech about God. At their heart is the conviction that God is one to whom all can speak. Countless generations have learned from these prayers how various experiences provide contexts for understanding faithfulness and identity, both of God and those who find their voices in such dialogue.

Name of the Book
In the Hebrew Bible the title of the entire collection is tehillim which means “praises.” In the Septuagint (Greek Bible) the prevailing title is psalmoi, suggesting songs sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. The English Bible title Psalms is taken from the Septuagint and the New Testament (see Lk 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33, 35).

Five Books
The Book of Psalms is a collection of 150 prayers, divided into five books. Each book concludes with a doxology or benediction, a prayer of praise to God.
Book I: Psalms 1-41
Book II: Psalms 42-72
Book III: Psalms 73-89
Book IV: Psalms 90-106
Book V: Psalms 107-150

Literary Forms
One way to classify the Psalms is to group them according to their genre or literary type. The book can be analyzed as containing nine types of prayers:
1. Hymns of praise – celebrate God as the creator of the universe and sustaining controller of history
2. Enthronement Psalms: marked by the exclamation “Yahweh reigns” or “Yahweh is king”
3. Songs of Zion: psalms that focus on Jerusalem or Zion as the place of God’s presence
4. Laments: prayers of complaint about crisis situations
5. Prayers of Thanksgiving and Trust: praise God for deliverance already experienced
6. Royal Psalms: express the concerns of the king.
7. Liturgical Psalms: reflect either solo or choral parts used in entrance liturgies, judgment liturgies, and liturgies of divine protection
8. Wisdom Psalms: characterized by advice concerning behavior, contract between the wicked and the just, “better” or “happy” sayings, and inclusion of the “fear of the Lord” formula.
9. Mixed Types: combine elements from various kinds of psalms.

Number of types in the Psalms:
15 Hymns of Praise
7 Enthronement Psalms
6 Songs of Zion
60 Laments: 43 Individual and 17 Communal
17 Prayers of Thanksgiving and Trust
9 Royal Psalms
15 Liturgical Psalms
12 Wisdom Psalms
9 Mixed Types

Hymn of Praise structure:
15 hymns/150 psalms = 10% of the Psalter
Prayers of praise of God as creator, God as sustainer.
Marked by an imperative mood
A-B-A form

Classic example: Psalm 117
A Call to Worship
Praise Yahweh, all nations!
Extol [God], all people’s!

B Motive for Praise
For great is [God’s] steadfast love toward us;
and the faithfulness of Yahweh endures for ever.

A Conclusion (recapitulation)
Praise Yahweh!

Lament structure:
60 Laments/150 Psalms = 40% of the Psalter
Prayers of complaint, times in the pits that are taken to God
Characterized by six-fold structure:
1. Address of God
2. Complaint
3. Confession of trust
4. Petition
5. Words of assurance
6. Vow of praise

Marked by unrestrained honesty, complete surrender to God; trust.
Individual and communal complaints about crisis situations involving personal enemies, or sickness, military affairs, concern for the sanctuary, friends who are no longer friends, problems with God’s inaccessibility, or other distressing situations.
Classic example: Psalm 13

Prayer Methods
One new method of prayer to try is to write your own psalm. In the ancient and medieval world, there was no such thing as “copyright.” Many of the psalms are compilations of verses from other psalms.
For your personal prayer time, sit down and compose your own psalm. Use verses of other psalms to appeal to your current situation and your feelings. Write new verses to add as well. When you are finished, pray your newly composed psalm to God.

Lectio Divina (information taken from Method X http://www.upperroom.org/methodx/thelife/prayermethods/lectio.asp)

Another method of prayer to try is Lectio Divina (divine reading), one of the most central and ancient practices of Christian prayer.

We often think of reading the Bible as a process of study. But there is a way of reading the Bible devotionally to satisfy spiritual thirst. In general, our post-Enlightenment twentieth century tends to emphasize a historical and analytical approach toward any text. While this approach has achieved many gains, it has neglected an older tradition that viewed the Bible as an aid to the spiritual life rather than chiefly a source of data or information!

In lectio divina, we begin by reading a few verses of the Bible. We read unhurriedly so that we can listen for the message God has for us there. We stay alert to connections the Spirit may reveal between the passage and what is going on in our lives. We ask, "What are you saying to me today, Lord? What am I to hear in this story, parable, or prophecy?" Listening in this way requires patience and a willingness to let go of our own agendas and open ourselves to God's shaping.

Once we have heard a word that we know is meant for us, we are naturally drawn to prayer. From listening we move to speaking -- perhaps in anguish, confession or sorrow; perhaps in joy, praise, thanksgiving or adoration; perhaps in anger, confusion or hurt; perhaps in quiet confidence, trust or surrender. Finally, after pouring out our heart to God, we come to rest simply and deeply in that wonderful, loving presence of God. Reading, reflecting, responding and resting -- this is the basic rhythm of divine reading.

The pattern of Lectio Divina. For Sunday school, we used Psalm 46:10-11.

READ: "Lectio"
1. Read the scripture slowly. Watch for a key phrase or word that jumps out at you or promises to have special meaning for you.
It is better to dwell profoundly on one word or phrase than to skim the surface of several chapters. Read with your own life and choices in mind.

REFLECT: "Meditatio"
2. Reflect on a word or phrase. Let the special word or phrase that you discovered in the first phase sink into your heart. What thoughts come to mind as you meditate on this word, phrase or idea? What are you reminded of in your life? What does it make you hope for? Meditation is no easy task. As you try to concentrate, don’t be disappointed if random thoughts enter your head. As they do, offer them to God.

RESPOND: “Oratio”
3. Respond to what you have read. Now begin to speak to God. Form a prayer that expresses your response to the idea, then "pray it back to God." What you have read is woven through what you tell God. Tell God what word, phrase or idea captured your attention and what came to mind as you meditated upon it. How is God using this word, phrase or idea to bless and transform you? Tell God what you have been thinking and feeling as you’ve listened and meditated.

REST: “Contemplatio”
4. Rest in God's word. Let the text soak into your deepest being, savoring an encounter with God and truth. Listen at the deepest level to God who speaks within you with a still, small voice. When ready, move toward the moment in which you ask God to show you how to live out what you have experienced.


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