Not only are many of the Psalms examples of prayer, but even those that are not give us wonderful resources for opening our own hearts to God. Look, for example, at the opening verses of Psalm 18. David calls God his strength, his rock, his fortress, his deliverer, his refuge, his shield, the horn (that is, the power) of his salvation, and his stronghold. What great statements of adoration and thanksgiving! In addition, a little meditation here will remind the Christian that David knew himself to be in the midst of spiritual warfare in which God was the sole basis for his comfort, strength, and deliverance.
Probably more commentaries, study guides, and helps have been published on the book of Psalms than on any other book of the Bible. It is not my purpose here to supplant those other works. Rather, I want to offer some suggestions to the Christian on how to use the Psalms so that he can then more profitably use these other works on the Psalms.
The Psalms themselves were written throughout the entire period of Old Testament revelation, from the time of Moses (Psalm 90) to the period after the exile (Psalm 126). The titles of seventy-two psalms ascribe them to David, while others are by Solomon, Asaph, Heman, and the sons of Korah. Some of the psalms may have been used in temple worship (hence the phrase “to the choirmaster” in more than fifty psalm titles). The psalms are of different types. Some are laments, both individual (Psalm 42) and corporate (Psalm 44). Some are psalms of thanksgiving (Psalm 100), while others are hymns, or songs of praise (Psalm 96). Some of the psalms are commonly referred to today as “wisdom” psalms, such as Psalms 1 and 119. These psalms tend to be reflections on the Word of God. Some psalms, such as Psalms 69 and 109 are referred to as “imprecatory” psalms, in which the substance of the psalm is a prayer against the enemies of God (an imprecation).
The New Testament writers refer to the book of Psalms more often than any other book of the Old Testament. This tells the reader that one major focus of the psalms is the work of the Messiah and His kingdom. Since Christ had not yet appeared, He is spoken of generally in types and shadows in the character of the Davidic king. In some psalms, however, traditionally called “messianic psalms,” Christ is spoken of directly and clearly. These messianic psalms include Psalms 2, 22, 45, 72 and 110. Hence one use of the book of Psalms for the modern reader is to search there for Christ. (A very useful guide in this endeavor is William Binnie’s The Psalms: Their History, Teachings and Use, recently reprinted as A Pathway into the Psalter, Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005).
However, the book of Psalms has another use as well. It is, as Calvin says, “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.” It is a guide to piety for the believer. In particular the book of Psalms provides guidance for the Christian in four areas: meditation, expostulation, prayer, and song.