When thou recitest thy canonical hours...recite them thyself leisurely to the congregation, if though wilt gain the profit of them. Every verse that thou recitest, expound their texts minutely; speak in thine own character exactly, and fix on them thine understanding...
- Anonymous, Life of Colman Ela, Irish, 12th century from an earlier ms.
Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
- Matthew 27.45, 46
Imagine you are invited to audition for the lead in, let’s say, Hamlet. How exciting! Someone thought enough of you to invite you to come and put forth your best Danish prince, with the possibility of pleasing the director and gaining the part!
Now suppose you show up for the audition, the director invites you into his office, and you’re ready to get started. He hands you a script of Hamlet, but you humbly decline. “Oh, that’s OK,” you say. “I won’t need that. I feel Hamlet in my soul, and, like, I can say whatever lines come to my mind, and you’ll see what I mean.”
Do you think that audition’s going anywhere?
When God invites us into His Presence for an “audition” – literally, a hearing – and hands us His own scripts for our use, why do we think we know better than He how to satisfy what He’s seeking?
We don’t know how to pray as we should, as Paul observed (Rom. 8.26). We need all the help we can get. Even Jesus understood that.
Celtic Christians – such as Colman Ela – understood this well, and made a point to instruct individual believers and worship leaders in the art of praying the psalms (“thy canonical hours”) and making them their own when they did. They wanted them to have God’s words whenever they approached Him with their concerns and needs.
And that sounds like pretty good advice to me.
We have no one greater to look to for an example of this than our Lord Jesus Himself. Just at the point of His death, Jesus cried out the first verse of Psalm 22, which He seems clearly to have been meditating on, as the writer of Hebrews seemed to understand (12.1; see how Psalm 22 goes from suffering to triumph half-way through, just like Jesus suffering with His eye on the joy to come).
Jesus also must have been finding strength by praying His way through Psalms 31, 34, 69, and 88 as well, using the words of Scripture to help Him to bear up under the incredible suffering He accepted on our behalf. Snippets and excerpts and images from each of these come from Him as He died for our salvation.
As He found in those psalms words to describe His suffering, express His pain, and inform His voice in crying out to God, He also must have found great reassurance in the psalms, that He was precisely where He needed to be, doing exactly what He had been sent to do.
Praying the psalms, making them your own, can have a powerful effect on your prayer life. Here are words to express your every mood, expand the horizons of your prayers, lift you up into the heavenly court of our ascended King, and offer you the comfort, insight, purpose, guidance, and help you need for whatever you may be facing.
To begin praying the psalms, start with a familiar one, praying it over and over for several days, slowly and reflectively, until you make its words your own. Go on to another psalm, then another, until you can pray all the psalms in your own words.
The psalms will meet you at any and every point in your walk with the Lord, lifting you into His Presence, bathing you in His Light, and connecting you with His power in new and fruitful ways.
When the inspired words of the Spirit of God express the deep sentiments of your soul, you will be lifted into the very Presence of glory in prayer. You may not always pray the psalms when you pray, but if you pray them often enough, they’ll inform and guide all your prayers, any time you pray.
If you struggle with prayer – and even if you don’t – you can find using the psalms in prayer a source of much confidence and delightful conversation with the Lord.
Psalm 47.7, 8 (Truro: Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns!)
God is the King of all the earth,
sing praise to Him with glorious psalms!
He rules the nations by His worth,
and on His throne receives their alms.
Teach me to pray Your scripts, O Lord, and help me get started in your prayer Book, so that my prayers…
Two books can help enrich your efforts at praying the psalms. God’s Prayer Program offers a detailed explanation of the various ways to approach praying the psalms. Click here to order a copy. And, of course, The Ailbe Psalter gives you the psalms in familiar hymn tunes – like the one just above. Order your copy by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore
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.
 Plummer, p. 164.