...and when the abbot began to recite a verse the choir responded humbly...
- Anonymous, Vita Brendani, Irish, perhaps 12th century
So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage…’”
- Acts 4.24, 25
Start praying the Lord’s Prayer in a group of believers, and all will join their voices together and pray with you. Intone the first few notes of “Amazing Grace” in a crowd of believers, and you’ll soon be part of a glad choir.
How wonderful it is to have such treasures stored in our hearts, for ready access and use. Such classics will not soon go the way of so many impromptu prayers or already-forgotten praise songs. There will always be a place for composing prayers and singing new songs to the Lord, but this should never be so at the expense of the prayers of Scripture and the great hymns of the Christian tradition.
Especially those that are rooted in the book of Psalms.
The first Christians prayed the psalms as readily as we, when prompted, pray the Lord’s Prayer. They sang them as easily as we do “Amazing Grace.” And they did not forget them or lay them aside as outdated and irrelevant.
Because they weren’t, and they aren’t.
This account from Acts 4 is extraordinary because, by the time the events of this verse occurred, thousands of people from all walks of life had united with the Body of Christ in Jerusalem. And yet, with but the slightest cue, they “raised their voice to God with one accord,” and prayed from their hearts, two psalms relevant to their immediate situation – excerpts from Psalms 146.6 and 2.1.
They could do this because it’s how they learned to pray. And it’s what they treasured in their hearts. So important were these psalms as means of comfort, encouragement, and hope, that we find Paul and Silas singing one out of the depths of the Philippian jail (Acts 16.25: “praying a hymn”, that is, a psalm described as a hymn, perhaps Ps. 67).
The same was true of the Celtic Christians. There are accounts of Celtic Christians praying and singing psalms as early as age 3. So it doesn’t surprise us when we see the monks in the monastery at Ailbe singing together when prompted by their abbot to join their voices in a psalm.
Christians throughout the centuries have found in praying and singing the psalms, strength for the daily journey, hope for a brighter tomorrow, and words to help them grow in love for God and their neighbors.
We don’t know how to pray as we should; prayer is a learned skill (Rom. 8.26). What better way to pray, our forebears from just about every age reckoned, than to take up the words God Himself provided, and to emulate our first parents in the faith? God breathed these prayers and songs to us; we breathe them back to Him in prayer and song.
The psalms provide a rich and varied libretto for prayer. They can guide us to heights of praise and thanksgiving we can never reach on our own. They meet us in our deepest, darkest affections, and lead us through to renewed souls and lifted countenances. They show us how to pray for enemies, persecuted believers, and all our daily needs. They lead us to seek the Kingdom in prayer, and cause our hearts to swell with the prospect of that coming glorious realm.
The imagery of the psalms draws us into unseen realms and glory-filled places where our spiritual vision is enlarged and we sense the presence of God more acutely. The poetry of the psalms makes our prayers delightful to express. Singing the psalms fills us with melodies of grace and words of trust which we may draw on at any time of the day or night.
Our texts for today challenge us to take up this discipline, so that we may unite our voices with those of saints from every age. Begin with a psalm you love and know well. Read it slowly, meditating as you read. Let the Spirit prompt and guide you. Follow His leading, as you allow God’s words to form your own. Take your time. Breathe in the psalm, breathe it back in prayer. Soon you’ll be praying the psalms in your own words, and your prayer life will never be the same.
Then move on to the next psalm, and do the same. Make it your goal to pray all the psalms on a regular schedule, and you will find your prayer life greatly enriched, and your time in prayer abundantly more rewarding. Add a psalter (such as The Ailbe Psalter) to your time in the psalms, and you’ll soon be singing them throughout the day.
There is power in prayer and power in singing – that, we all know. But there is more power, I’m persuaded, in following the example of Scripture and our Christian forebears by letting the psalms guide us as we pray and sing, a treasure stored up in our hearts which will pay dividends in every area of our lives.
1. Have you ever tried praying the psalms? What psalm would you begin with in learning to pray the psalms?
2. How could praying the psalms more frequently bring greater depth and a larger scope to your prayers?
Psalm 95.1, 2, 6 (Tidings: O Zion, Haste, Thy Mission High Fulfilling)
Come, let us sing with joy to God, our Savior!
Let us with joy to Him, our Rock, bow down!
Come now before Him, grateful for His favor;
Let joyful psalms break forth from all around.
Come, let us worship, kneel to our Lord;
Worship our Maker: Father, Holy Spirit, Word.
Lord, may it be said of me, as it was said of Colum Cille, “He fixed the psalms.” Set them in my heart, Lord, so that I may…
Daily Worship with the Psalms
Our daily Scriptorium teaching letter leads you in the study of a book of the Bible, and incorporates praying and singing a psalm as part of each day’s lesson. Here’s an excellent, free resource to help you grow deeper in God’s Word and stronger in prayer and singing. Use the pop-up at the website (www.ailbe.org) to update your subscriptions by adding Scriptorium to your daily disciplines.
A good place to begin in understanding the value and power of the psalms would be C. S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms. His delight in praying the psalms is palpable throughout this slight volume, and he offers many important insights to help us receive the psalms as a treasure for our hearts. Another helpful volume that can guide you in learning to pray the psalms is our book, God’s Prayer Program: Passionately Using the Psalms in Prayer.
And may I encourage you to seek the Lord about becoming a supporter of The Fellowship of Ailbe? It’s easy to give to The Fellowship of Ailbe, and all gifts are, of course, tax-deductible. You can click here to donate onlinethrough credit card or PayPal, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Dr., Essex Junction, VT 05452.
T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.