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Praying the Psalms The path to spiritual depth

Praying the Psalms opens a mystical channel between you and God through which God reveals Himself to you and brings depth and deep change to your Christian life. 

How? 

Praying the Psalms is the manna for the spirit; 

Praying the Psalms opens the prayer of the ‘unveiled face’; 

Praying the Psalms daily helps in developing a disciplined spiritual life; 

Praying the Psalms has a spiritual cleansing effect; 

Praying the Psalms strengthens the frail soul; 

Praying the Psalms tears the veil. 

Since the beginning of Christianity the believers of all times and all churches loved and greatly cherished to pray, recite, and sing the biblical Psalms. Jesus himself prayed them. Praying the Psalms is praying with and in Jesus.

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The apostles and the first Church prayed the Psalms

Praying the Psalms is a worship that can be traced back as early as the start of the Christian faith, and it was a continuation and extension of the worship of the Jews. The first Christian groups worshipped in the temple at certain hours in the same way the Jews worshipped. According to historians, like Philo the Jew, Jesus used to pray the Psalms with His disciples during His life on earth. In the book of Acts, we read: ‘Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour’ (Acts 3:1). We also read: ‘The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour’ (Acts 10:9). 

The prayer of the hours, using the Psalms, continued and extended in the early Church. The early fathers of the Church had a very close relationship with the Scriptures. They regarded the book of Psalms as a unique gift from God to His people, a book of prayer, inspired by the Holy Spirit. They believed that praying the Psalms fills the person with the anointing of worship, thus they prayed them every day. 

A key to worship in spirit and truth 

The early fathers of the Church believed that the Psalms should be used as the foundation with which worship should start, and that our personal worship and prayer should begin with the Psalms for a number of reasons:

  • Praying the Psalms is like taking a spiritual shower for our souls, minds, and spirits. It cleanses us of the dust and filth that clings to us from the spirit of the world, and clears the mind of its busy activity and distracting thoughts, and at the same time revives our spirit.
  • According to the fathers of the Church, the Psalms are the heavenly manna, the real and true food for our spirit. Praying the Psalms nourishes and strengthens our spirit by filling it with the Word of God.
  • At the same time, praying the Psalms is like a bridle for our soul. It prevents our soul from subjective roaming and keeps it on the clear path of the Spirit. Due to the fall our soul lacks stability. It is often wobbly and wavering. One moment I can be happy and confident, but only seconds later fall into melancholy and frustration, often over trifles. This instability and moodiness do not only hinder true and fruitful prayer, but is a severe hindrance for our spiritual life in general. That is why we can also say that praying the Psalms is like a trellis along which the soul can climb and gain firmness.

Therefore, starting our prayer times with the Psalms is like coming home after a hard day’s work and taking a shower to get rid of the dirt and sweat of the day, then eating a bit to strengthen yourself and get ready for the joyful parts of the evening. Likewise praying the Psalms prepares us for our personal prayers and worship—be it in pouring out our hearts, thanksgiving, praising, supplications or  interceding—to worship in spirit and truth. Thus we will be following the biblical commandment that says: ‘God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth’ (John 4:24). In other words: Praying the biblical Psalms will make us pray our own “Psalms”.

… and to be transformed to the image of Christ

Psalm prayer helps us to be transformed into Christlikeness. Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ as we behold His glory with unveiled face, as in a mirror. Praying the Psalms tears the veil that keeps being formed on our inner eyes through the defilement of the spirit of the world. This veil prevents our inner eyes from beholding His glory and being transformed by it into His likeness. Thus, tearing this veil through praying the Psalms allows us to enter into true transforming prayer—the prayer with unveiled face, as the fathers of the Church called it.

… and to deep unity with God

Above all, praying the Psalms unites us mystically with God, the heavens, and the heavenly hosts. It is a heavenly way of worship. Worship in heaven is liturgical. 

“Liturgy” comes from the Greek word leitourgia and means “ministry to God”. The worshipping ministry of the angels is liturgy, as we see it in the book of Revelation. It consists of repeatedly praising and glorifying God with the same words and phrases—and then prostrating before God (Revelation 4:8-11; 5:13-14). 

So is praying the Psalms, as we use the same words again and again. It is true ministry to God and makes us one with the worship in heaven. In praying the Psalms, we serve God and are mystically lifted up into the heavenly spheres!

Praying at set times/hours

There is an additional value to praying and worshiping at set times/hours. As mentioned above, the Jews used this practice. Of Daniel we read that he prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10). In fact, praying regularly at set times has its deep mysteries and riches.

… lays the basis for altars of worship in our temples

Just like the temple of old that had its altar of worship, our inner temples (1 Corinthians 3:16) should also have their altars of worship. If we set apart specific times of the day for prayer, we lay the basis for these invisible altars. The same happens when a family gathers regularly for prayer at certain times. This may become a family altar or house altar of worship. In fact, each Christian home should have such altars of worship. The early Church understood that such altars would be surrounded by angels. 

… and brings to us the fullness of Christ’s salvation 

However, this is not all. Since the early times, the Church has arranged the hours of prayer throughout the day in a way to connect the worshipper with the acts of Christ’s salvation, like the resurrection in the early morning, the crucifixion at noon or Christ’s death at about 3pm. We still find this in the monasteries. Consciously praying at these hours makes the worshipper pass through all the central stages of our salvation daily, which in itself helps us to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12) and to receive its fullness in our lives. 

The special hours

1st hour (6am: His resurrection )

We awake with the hope and might of the Resurrected Christ just as He awoke from His sleep (death). This is of great significance because according to the teaching of the early Church, there is always a battle for ownership at the beginning of each day between the kingdom of light and that of darkness. To whom will our day belong? With the power of His Resurrection, we can freely hand our days over to the Light and gain all the eternal rewards that come with it. 

3rd hour (9am: Pentecost—the outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto believers)

Now that we are in the safety of the Light, we should be mindful of our mission as children of light. Our days are not random, but have a worth and weight in the Kingdom of God. This applies to our personal fellowship with the Lord and our transformation into Christlikeness, and also to our ministry and work in His Kingdom. The Spirit of God is the only One who can accomplish this in us and through us. Therefore, we need to continually receive a renewed infilling of the Holy Spirit.

6th hour (12 noon: His Crucifixion)

This hour is known to be the most intense in spiritual battles, especially of those against the flesh and its needs. The passions and lusts try to hinder us from accomplishing our day’s work. ‘With His shoulders will He overshadow thee, and under His wings shalt thou have hope. With a shield will His truth encompass thee; thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day, Nor for the thing that walketh in darkness, nor for the mishap and demon of noonday.’ (Psalm 91:4-6, LXX). From Christ’s crucifixion comes the victory to overcome that which pulls us downward to the world. 

 9th hour (3pm: His Death)

The hour of victory completed: ‘It is finished!’ The point of Christ’s death is also known as the moment in which He descended into Hades (Ephesians 4:9) to free the imprisoned souls (1 Peter 3:19) waiting for Him since the fall of Adam and who urged Him to save them through their living hope and patience over the centuries. We receive here encouragement that the redemption of Christ will take its full course in our days and in our beings. 

 11th hour (5pm: Bringing His body down from the Cross)

The early fathers always spoke of this stage as the stage of rest. Not the rest of the body, but the rest through divine consolation after the long day’s toil.

12th hour (6pm: His Burial)

We use this hour to ask for protection during the night and darkness from the kingdom of darkness and all its powers.

Midnight prayer

Finally, there are three watches throughout the night that are purposed to give us grace to live for the eternal and remember that Christ is coming again, which means that we must remain watchful: ‘And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants’ (Luke 12:38).

Of course, these hours do not have to be prayed at their exact times to be effective. It is common practice to pray the hours in the early morning for the day ahead and then take a very short pause for prayer at the allotted times during the day to lift the heart up to God. This helps with our walk with God, always remembering Him in whatever we are doing. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  

Discover the power of praying the Psalms

If you want to discover the power and beauty of praying the Psalms in your own life, we suggest that you start by praying a few Psalms (see selection below) every day for one or two weeks. For example, you could  begin your daily quiet time with God with the Psalms. 

Consistency is key

Please, note that consistency is of enormous importance and value here. Like with any spiritual practice, lack of consistency hinders the spiritual progress and brings only limited or small results. First, God’s work is always advancing and never stagnant or interrupted, and thus is built up steadily. Pausing this work hinders our growth. Second, subjecting the soul to a rule rather than allowing it to follow its mood swings is a powerful way of crucifying the flesh of the old man in order to release the resurrection power of Christ for the growth of our new man. Third, we offer our worship not only for our sake. It is an essential part of our work in God’s Kingdom which impacts all and everyone in His Kingdom.  

Beyond the mind and emotions—trust the mystery

This is the mystical aspect of praying the Psalms as a liturgical way of prayer. This means that the real work that happens during such prayer is mystical and spiritual, in the sense that it works in us, even if we do not notice or feel it. Yet we will be able to look back after some time and see that a true inner change has taken place, and our prayer life has become richer and more solid and sound. The point is that the Psalms you pray do not need to express your feelings or what is on your mind at the moment, nor do you need to have an emotional reaction to them. Rather, you worship God with the prayers given to us by Himself, speaking to God in His own language. As we mentioned earlier, this is like the worship that is offered in heaven before God’s throne (Revelation 4:8; 7:11-12; 11:16-17).

Praying standing up and prostrating 

In the early Church they read the Psalms aloud standing up and at a normal reading speed.

At the end of each Psalm, as an expression of their adoration of God, they liked to prostrate themselves by falling on their knees and touching the ground with their foreheads. This is a proclamation by our body of God’s Lordship over our body, soul, and spirit. You may want to try it and see the effect on your life by worshipping your King with your body, too: ‘Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker’ (Psalm 95:6).

Continue to pray with unveiled face 

After the Psalms, it is good to take some time for personal prayers of thanks, praise, or intercession as may have been stirred in your heart while praying the Psalms. Remember that the Psalms are the preparation for “free prayer”, for the free conversation between you and God. The early fathers called it the “prayer with unveiled face” according to 2 Corinthians 3:18. This is the prayer that will transform you as we mentioned above.

Praying the Agpeya — uniting with the one Church before the division

To get started you may pray the following selection of Psalms plus a short passage from the gospel of John. This selection is taken from the Prayer of the Third Hour of an ancient prayer book called “Agpeya” (which means “hours”). 

The Agpeya was put together under the  guidance of the Holy Spirit in Alexandria and the Egyptian deserts in the first centuries of Christianity when these areas were the spiritual powerhouse of the Church. The Agpeya is still in use in one of the oldest churches today, the Coptic church. 

Of course, you can put together your own selection of Psalms. However, there is a particular blessing in praying the Psalms according to the Agpeya. It unites us with the early Church that was still one and undivided. By praying with the Agpeya, you unite yourself in the spirit with the desert fathers and so many other believers over the centuries who prayed these prayers before us—and thus proclaim the unity of the Body of Christ. This is why we love praying the Psalms of the Agpeya. 

Start praying!

We recommend starting with the following selection from the Prayer of the Third Hour. You can either download the texts or use your own Bible and pray Psalms 20, 23, 24, 34 and 46; John 14:26-31; and John 15:1-4 in your preferred translation.

Get in touch

If you enjoyed this experience and want to learn more about praying the Psalms and share in our experience, please contact us.