Formations 06.01.2014: We Begin with Praise

Psalm 145:1-13a

Eastman Johnson, Child at Prayer, c. 1873

Eastman Johnson, Child at Prayer, c. 1873

Many of us first learned to pray by memorizing brief prayer texts, usually in poetic form: “Now I lay me down to sleep…” “God is great, God is good….” Our parents may not have given much thought to teaching us these prayers. Whether they knew it or not, however, they were exposing us to some important basic lessons about prayer.

First, they were teaching us the importance of a routine of prayer. Sometimes prayer can become a mere routine or thoughtless recitation, but that doesn’t take away from the importance of building prayer into the routines of everyday life. When we eat, we tell God thank you. When we go to bed, we remember God’s protective care.

Next, by teaching us these simple prayer texts, our parents taught us the appropriateness of praying in words composed by someone else. We don’t always know how to pray or what to pray. Words sometimes fail us when we try to express what is on our hearts. In times like that—and I find they come more frequently, not less, as I get older—it is comforting to turn to the words of believers who have gone before and experienced something like what we are experiencing today.

The psalms are a treasury of such prayers. It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that Psalms is one of the most quoted books in the New Testament and one of the richest mines from which believers in every century have extracted words, phrases, and images that have given shape to private and communal Christian prayer.

Throughout the month of June, we’ll explore some of the many movements and expressions of prayer that are found in Psalms. It is fitting that we begin this week with prayers of praise, for praise is an excellent place to start in any prayer!

In Psalm 145, the psalmist expresses his desire to extol, bless, and praise the name of God forever, joining his song to those of past generations. He notes God’s works, majesty, power, and goodness as grounds for his exuberant praise. He confesses his faith in God’s grace and mercy (v. 8) and anticipates a time when all will know God and rejoice in God’s kingdom.

Rather than asking for anything, the psalmist merely lavishes God with words of unbridled, exuberant praise.


• What is your earliest memory of prayer?
• Did your parents teach you to pray? If so, how?
• How often do you pray without asking God for anything?
• What other attitudes, emotions, or intentions are part of a healthy prayer life?
• What does the way we pray—and what we pray about—say about us as believers?

Reference Shelf

The Psalms in Ancient Israel

The Hebrew canon is divided into three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Psalms, almost without exception, have been placed first in the third section, the Writings. In the Writings, they are presented in five “Books” (Pss 1–41, 42–72, 73–89, 90–106, 107–150). It has been suggested that they were thus compiled in order to create a fivefold human response to God’s fivefold demands in the Pentateuch. This, however, is only a final arrangement; there are numerous witnesses to many other groupings, titles such as Psalms of David, Psalms of Korah, Psalms of Asaph. In 72:20 we read: “The prayers of David, son of Jesse, are ended,” although we find many psalms ascribed to David later in the book of Psalms. It is even likely that some of them (42–83) come from the Northern Kingdom, because they consistently use Elohim instead of Yahweh, and Israel, Joseph, and Ephraim instead of Judah, Zion, and Jerusalem.

As we read the psalms we can readily see that they express different moods. On this basis they have been placed in groups: hymns, laments, thanksgiving psalms, wisdom psalms, et al.

Reidar B. Bjornard, “Psalms, Book of,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 723.

Pilgrimage Songs of Faith

The poetic dimension of the Psalms holds more than stylistic devices. It is helpful for readers to see that the Psalms are different in form from historical accounts or prose narratives, and so we read the Psalms differently. I have already described the Psalms as poetic prayers; they are in a sense a response to God. Perhaps the best way of thinking about what the Psalms are is to describe them as pilgrimage songs of faith. They are the songs ancient Israel sang on pilgrimage to worship God at the Temple. But there is also a broader sense in which life is a journey or pilgrimage. These are the songs the community sang while moving through the life of faith, the songs that kept them going. The songs articulated their faith and thus spoke to their faith. Anytime a person can articulate the experience of faith, he or she can give shape and definition to the experience and express it. Bernhard Anderson’s introduction to the Psalms is entitled Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today. The Psalms derive from the depths of human experience and so can speak to us, but these songs also speak for us. They mouth our experience of faith even when we cannot.

W. H. Bellinger Jr., The Testimony of Poets and Sages: The Psalms and Wisdom Literature, All the Bible (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1998) 6–7.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.

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  1. Thank you for your post. ♥ We will pray for you!!! We pray for wisdom that you would know God’s will for your life. Stay in His preoicus Word and continue to sit quietlly before Him. He will give you direction. We are so blessed that this site is helping you. It is an encouragement to us!! Keep us posted with your praise reports!! We know God will come through for you!! ♥ Much love in Jesus,Joe and Melissa 🙂