Psalms: The Heart of Prayer

The Book of Psalms is the unique book in the Bible. Whereas most books provide historical narrative, prophetic teaching, or doctrinal prose, Psalms is a collection of 150 songs and prayers and nothing else. Each Psalm expresses the full range of emotions that any human goes through during the course of a lifetime: joy, sorrow, desperation, anger, vengeance, praise, peace, and thankfulness.

What's striking about the Psalms is that they're real, brutally honest outpourings of emotion along the roller coasters of life. When times are good, Psalms speak out in great thanksgiving and celebration, but when life is bad, the emotions expressed are more candid than what you hear on Oprah. Because of this, anyone, no matter where he or she is in life, can relate to the Psalms. Psalms truly expresses the heart of prayer.

The Book of Psalms was separated into five minibooks a long time ago: Book 1 (Chapters 1–41), Book 2 (Chapters 42–72), Book 3 (Chapters 73–89), Book 4 (Chapters 90–106), and Book 5 (Chapters 107–150). However, these aren't assembled chronologically or even topically, so a much more practical way to think of the Psalms is to categorize them by topic.

You can group the Psalms into six major categories:

  • Psalms of praise and worship: Many of the Psalms focus on praising God. Look to Psalms 19, 33, 103, and 109 to find out what adoration and worship mean.
  • Psalms of confession: A second set of Psalms contrasts the holiness of God with the sinfulness of man and cries out for mercy to God for his forgiveness. Examples are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, and 143.
  • Psalms of anguish and lament. Many Psalms are written by an individual or group as a cry to the Lord for help in a crisis. Some of these Psalms address God boldly and even harshly because the writer perceives that God is abandoning them. However, these Psalms usually end with a confidence that God will intervene to deliver and save. Examples include Psalms 13 (individual) and 44 and 74 (communal).
  • Psalms of history:Another set of Psalms focuses on incidents and events from Israelite history. Examples include 14, 44, 46, 47, 48, and 105.
  • Psalms of anger: As you read the book, you may believe that several of the Psalms are simply out of place in the Bible. Instead of dealing with love and peace, they sound like something you'd hear in a Terminator movie. An imprecatory Psalm is one that deals with the defeat or destruction of an enemy. Examples include Psalms 35, 37, 69, 109, and 137.
  • Messianic Psalms:Christians believe that several Psalms make prophetic references to the coming of Jesus Christ, hundreds of years before he was born. These Psalms focus on a future ideal ruler who will defeat the enemies of Israel and stand up for righteousness and justice. Some examples are Psalms 16, 22, 45, 69, and 110.

Most people think King David wrote the Psalms, but that is only partially true. Nearly half are, in fact, credited to David, but several other authors contributed as well, the most famous of whom are Moses (one Psalm) and Solomon (two). The authors of 51 Psalms are anonymous.

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