Exercises to Help You Experience the Psalms

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (6:05) |

A study of the Psalms should never be merely an academic or cognitive exercise, as important as that may be. The psalms were written as poetry and song to be experienced, to touch the heart and emotions.

In order to encourage you to truly experience the psalms and make them your own, I'm asking you to complete one of the following exercises for each of the lessons in this study. These aren't designed to create busywork, but to stretch you spiritually. When you finish, report back on the Forum how the exercise worked for you. Ideally, you'll vary the exercises from lesson to lesson to allow the Psalms to become part of you in new ways.

  1. Praying a psalmPray a Psalm. Select one of the psalms along the theme of the lesson. Then, using the ideas and as many of the words as seem to fit your situation, pray that prayer to God, inserting your own struggles and needs within the prayer. Go through the entire psalm, paraphrasing it as you pray it sincerely to God. Many people have exercised this kind of prayer -- they pray through every Scripture passage they read. Why don't you start this practice with one of the psalms?
  2. Meditate on a Psalm. To meditate means to think deeply about something and mull it over in your mind over a period of time. You might read it several times in different translations. Say it over to yourself to feel the words on your lips. Write it out longhand. Consider the meaning of each important word. Memorization is another exercise, but memorizing is a good way to meditate on a verse or a passage.
  3. Read a Psalm to a Shut-in. Reading a psalm to a shut-inPeople who are home-bound or in hospitals, nursing homes, jails, etc. need encouragement. As your exercise, read a psalm from this week's theme to a shut-in. If you read more than one you'll be doubly blessed!
  4. Paraphrase a Psalm. Write out a paraphrase of the psalm of your choosing in your own words. Try to find modern-day synonyms and thoughts that correspond to the thoughts in the psalm. Don't be afraid to be creative. If you need ideas, try reading a few psalms from The Message to see how Eugene Peterson creatively paraphrased the Psalms.
  5. Writing a psalmWrite Your Own Psalm. Write your own psalm based on the theme of this lesson. You're entirely free in how you do this. Some approaches include:
    • Write in the style of Hebrew poetry using thought parallelism and imagery. This will be fun, though you may find it challenging. Consult my Introduction to Psalms in the section on Hebrew Poetry before beginning.
    • Write a psalm with lines that rhyme like traditional Western poetry.
    • Write a psalm in free verse, not bothering to make the lines rhyme. Just express yourself to God.
    • Write a psalm in Haiku style.

    Write a psalm in any style you wish. The idea here is to learn to express yourself to God more freely.

  6. Singing a psalmSing a Psalm. Find a song, hymn, or praise chorus that relates to the theme of this chapter -- and that is based on a psalm. Then sing it or lead it for your group. If you like, write your own song, or find a melody that you can use to sing the words of the song from a translation you prefer. Be creative here.
  7. Prepare a Liturgy, Responsive Reading, or Choral Reading from a Psalm. Psalms are at the core of the liturgy of Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican branches of the Church. Explore adapting a psalm for public worship. You might enjoy writing the script for a choral reading of a psalm or portion of a psalm creating parts for 3 or 4 readers. Then try it out during a worship service or in your small group or class. For an example of how this might look, see my Reader's Theater Script on Psalm 19.
  8. Teach or Preach a Psalm. It's hard to prepare a message for people without really getting inside the text. Teach a psalm to a class of children, youth, or adults, or preach a psalm to your congregation.
  9. Memorizing a psalmMemorize a Psalm. "My mind is too old to memorize!" Hogwash! Try it, but perhaps start with a short psalm, or one you've already partially memorized. It's work, but you can do it and you'll find it very spiritually enriching. In ancient days many Hebrew boys memorized the entire Psalter. In his 90s, Billy Graham put it this way: "Over the years I've memorized many passages from the Bible, and I'm especially thankful now that I did this. I wish we gave more attention to Bible memorization in our churches today."1 Memorize one psalm that relates to the theme of the lesson.
Experiencing the Psalms, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, a Bible study on Psalms in 12 lessons
Now all the lessons are available together in e-book and paperback formats.

Once you've completed the exercise you've chosen for this lesson, report it in the section of the Forum designated for that purpose. You can share the words if your exercise is written. Or share what doing this exercise meant to you personally. Or complain about being forced to memorize. Whatever. As you are accountable to other members of the Forum, it will help stretch you to be more than you are today.

1. Billy Graham in "Quotation Marks," Christianity Today, June 2007, p. 19.

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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