16 December, 2006

Engaging God: Retelling a Psalm - Brief Summary

[Written for our small group, which is just taking their first steps this week.]

There are three things you have to do to retell a Psalm in a way beneficial to yourself and us.

1) Choose a theme and a Psalm

A theme is not strictly necessary, but it sure makes things easier. This theme should not be doctrinal or idealized, but warm-blooded. Your sweat or tears should be in this theme. You are not trying to write something wonderful and impressive. You are trying to write yourself, and none of us is perfect. You will find that the Spirit wants to speak something, too. He is always stirring something in your heart, so listen a little while before you start, and see whether you can find something both you and the Spirit wish to say.

Sometimes your Psalm is chosen for you, but a good choice is important. Ideally, you would choose a Psalm that sounds vaguely like your theme. Even more, though, you want a Psalm that cries or rejoices somewhat like you want to cry or rejoice. If your theme is rejoicing, you might find the mourning Psalms don't sound like you want to sound, even if you are rejoicing over forgiveness received. It's nice when you find a Psalm that really is "where you are." (If anyone knows a good summary of the Psalms, I'll buy it!)

Mostly, though, don't get stuck here. Your pick won't be perfect, but the Lord will speak to you anyway! Let's get started.

2) Retell each verse, one by one

Put away that really cool journal where all your prayers are going to be recorded. You'll want to do this on scratch paper, and throw lots of stuff away when you're done. It's cool. When you like your final product, then copy it over to that journal.

+ Think about what the Psalmist said, and what he was seeing that caused him to say it.
+ Then think about things that you have seen of Christ that are similar, but more completely revealed. If David sees God's mercies that never fail, then you might see Christ, the Mercy of God in flesh, Christ Who paid the eternal price irrevocably, and Christ Who was dedicated to seeing the Father's plan completed at all costs.
+ Finally, think about your theme. Can you see how the Spirit might be saying something that you want to say? Remember to make this real, not theological.

You might get stuck here. That's OK. Be encouraged! You are experiencing the birth pangs of all art. That's why they call it, "labor." Spend a few minutes. Pray a while. Think about and study other verses in which Christ is doing what the Psalmist is talking about, or Christ is overcoming what the Psalmist is mourning. Restate your theme. Don't dig for an answer. Keep looking at the Psalm, at Christ, and at your heart. The answer will come.

Then, write something down. Write something lame, if you have to, and move on. Even if you decide it's a good time to get up and walk away, write down where your mind was before you left. Amazing things happen when you just put something on paper. Remember, this is scratch paper. Nobody will see it, and God loves our simplest doodlings.

After you have finished all the verses (whether it takes a day or a week) put your finished version aside. Some prayers are perfect at this point, but most are not. I never trust anything I've written unless I've proofed it after at least 1 day away from it.

3) Make it flow

Read it again a day or two later. The first time through, you were working verse by verse and refering to the Psalm, the Lord's revelation and your theme. This time, just read what you've written.

If my experience is any indication, you will find redundancy, vagueness, wordiness and a general lack of communication skills when you come back to it. That's OK. There are no points deducted for editing!

Remind yourself again and again, we really want to hear your struggles and joys, and we really want to hear you giving them to God.

In our next lesson, we'll talk about how we can join in with your prayer.


pearlie said...

That was great! - thanks for posting it. This is what my lecturer use to ask us to do - to appropriate the psalms for ourselves. I have not really tried it yet and I should really get into it already.

If anyone knows a good summary of the Psalms, I'll buy it!

hmm ... first, you gotta define what you mean by "summary" :) :)
How about James Montgomery Boice's 3-volume commentary. Check it out here.

Milly said...

Thanks for the list on Timeless. hmm you make it sound like I might be able.

codepoke said...

By summary, I mean something that is much shorter than the original. Ideally, I would be able to say, "I am looking for a Psalm of triumph over enemies." It would be able to suggest 30 Psalms that are like that. I would then be able to read their quick summaries, and figure out that Psalms X, Y, and Z might be my cup of tea.

codepoke said...


About as nice a thing as you could say, short of, "Here's my first try." :-)

pearlie said...

I see - I will let you know if I come across a book like that - I am alway on the look out for books on the Psalms. The last one I saw was entitled something along the lines of Psalms and worship in Israel. I did not buy it ... yet :)