studying the psalms

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

September 13, 2007

Some of the most wonderful acts of worship in all of history are those that are recorded in the Psalms. In fact, when David was writing most of them, they expressed a kind of worship that was quite revolutionary for his time. You have to remember that during his days, getting into heaven was more about following the rules than it was about having a heart for God. I don’t believe that it was intended to be that way, but it was simply human nature for man to just respond to the rules and offer the sacrifices that were required. But David danced! David was different because of his heart to please God and to be near Him, and the Psalms are the outflow of his heart expressed with pen to paper.

Therefore, when studying the Psalms there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration. Typically with God’s Word, we look at it as His Word to us. We can look at it, and find the principles that we need to center our lives around. We build doctrine, and rules and guidelines for Christian living. But the Psalms do not fit into this category. Psalms are not messages to us, but they are messages to God and about God. They are expressions of someone’s heart to God in various situations. They are prayers. So, the rules change here. The words are not rules or doctrine that we need to apply to our lives, they are examples of the expression of love to Him, and testimonies about His character. We can, therefore, use them for learning how we should express ourselves to Him, and to learn more about Him.

The next thing that you need to understand is that these expressions to God were not written in English, but in Hebrew. I have learned that Hebrew is a much more emotional expression of language than English. The words tend to carry more feeling and emotion in them than do the words in English. And considering that the Psalms are a form of poetry, what we find is that these expressions of love for God are quite emotional by their very nature. In a sense they are more than just poems, they are very intimate love poems. Think for a second about writing a love poem to your lover while you are the peak of your passion for them. What would that look or sound like? They would be very personal and intimate expressions of some very deep feelings that you have. Well, in a sense, that is exactly what David was doing with the Psalms. These writings represent very deeply felt love poems to the most important One in his life.

So when you are studying the Psalms, try to stay away from getting into the mindset of finding the things that you need to do in order to live a Christian life. Simply soak up the opportunity to get to know your God through the expressions that David made. Then identify the things in each Psalm that David (or other authors) was praising God for, and take note of how he did it. You will find some very interesting word-pictures and metaphors that were used to even say something as simple as “I want to be near you”.

Then as an exercise in worship for yourself, try to express the same “thanks” that were made in the Psalms, but in your own way. Maybe you can write a poem or a song. Maybe it is by creating a picture with photography, or drawing, or painting. Maybe it is a dance or a dramatic presentation. Maybe it is by simply falling to your knees and crying out to God, and thanking Him for loving you. Then for some, it is simply reciting the Psalms just as they have been written. Whatever it is, if there is any “to do” that we should take away from the study of the Psalms, it is in helping us to act out our own Psalmic worship to the King.


Related article: the gift of psalms


  1. Stanaxe

    The Psalms have always to me being a source of inspiration to meditate on the wonders of God not only in the spiritual, but in the wonder of His creation, the earth the universe and to think that he still created me as well!! That is humbling .

  2. BibleDude

    That is a wonderful perspective, and I agree with you 100%! I love to study them not to get doctrine or rules for Christian living, but to better understand the true heart of worship. It amazes me to see David displaying a very “New Testament” approach to worship, even hundreds of years before Christ even came.

    God bless!

  3. BibleDude

    Please feel free to share the links to your “halal” post or any others that you think may be relevant here. I have done some similar studies in the past, and agree that it really does help to digger deeper.

    Thanks and God bless!

  4. sdtwj

    Hey Dan,

    Here’s the link to my site:

    You can find the article I wrote on “Halal” in this link:

    Now, Dan, apart from psalms that are directed to the Lord. There are Psalms directed to our souls. In the new testament Paul speaks about this in the epistle to Ephesia. He says,”Speak to yourself [one another] with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”. This is what I call as “soul songs”. Songs we sing to ourself and others to lift ourselves up in the faith. For example in Psalm 103, we hear the Psalmist speak to his soul saying, “Bless the Lord, O my soul. Forget not his benefits, who forgives all your iniquities and heals all your diseases”. There are then prophetic psalms. A number of psalms are prophetic in nature- they are often labelled as “Messianic psalms”. I hope to write something later on these.

    In Him,’

  5. sdtwj

    You can join us in our study if you will.



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studying the psalms

by Dan King time to read: 3 min