God has used the Psalms to shape and reorient Christians throughout the history of the church. Below are some reflections on how the Psalms shape us.

Speak to the Human Condition and our Chaotic Lives

The psalms speak to the human condition. That is why we recently named a Psalms youth group series what we did—a song for every season. No matter what you are feeling, what you are going through, there is a Psalm for that. They are more varied and direct than emojis. Even if we have trusted in Christ and know the big story, we can still find ourselves living broken up lives. Think about it this way, we know the entire meal, but sometimes all we see is spinach, and other days it’s just cheesecake. The Psalms help reorient us and put the pieces together. But, the real beauty is not in the pieces, but in the one who reigns sovereign in it all. This leads us to the next point.

Speak of Jesus

Throughout the Psalms, there are pictures of both true humanity and true deity. God is presented as something great, He is beyond anything we can fully comprehend. We see God’s power and strength, His wisdom and love. We also see the weakness of people, the harsh realities in life and death. They point ahead. Bullock writes, “David prayed them, and Christ became them. David could pray them because Christ became them.”[1] The Psalms, he continues, are “phrased in the overarching glow of the incarnation.”[2]

The Psalms, by giving us a picture of both God and people prepare us for Jesus. He is fully God and fully man perfectly in one person. Reading the Psalms provides us with a glimpse of Jesus, and knowing Jesus helps us understand the Psalms better.

Speak of Jesus Prayers

Not only do the Psalms point ahead to Jesus, but they also help us understand Christ’s work for us. Jesus intercedes for believers. That means that he prays for us and pleads our case. The Psalms help us know what that might look like. When we hear the innocent sufferer arguing their case in the Psalms, it is appropriate to think Jesus is pleading those words (or similar) for us right now. What is amazing is that our innocence is because of Him.

Jesus prays for us, that is great assurance, but he also praised, thanked, and lamented perfectly. We fall short of praying and praising as we should; Jesus didn’t. While this might be impossible for us, it wasn’t for the one who walked in our place. For those who are in Christ, Jesus was a perfect worshipper for you, in your place.

The Psalms Anticipate a Better Kingdom[3]

John Hilber explains a forming work of the Psalms is their anticipation of the kingdom that is to come. He writes, “when Jesus teaches us to pray first that God’s kingdom come (Matt. 6:10) or seek first the kingdom of God (Mat.. 6:33), he could have just as well pointed us to the Psalms.”[4]

He explains that the message of the Psalms could be this: “Yahweh, the King of the Universe, is establishing his just rule upon the earth in and through His people, who pray for its realization and exhort praise and trust in Yahweh.”[5]

Yahweh, King of the Universe

First, the idea that Yahweh is King of the universe is a central theme in the theology of the Psalms. This is especially clear in the Psalms that are structured to be sung by the people. Two categories of Psalms are dedicated to this, enthronement psalms (Ps. 47; 93; 94-99) and royal psalms (Ps. 2; 72; 89; 110).

Rules in and Through His People

A call to submission to God and his rule is throughout the Psalms. Along with this call to submission is the idea of fear. Pastor Nate Archer once had a series on the fear of God being “the good fear that we need.” Click here for the first sermon, I highly recommend the series.

In the Psalms, we see two major sides of the fear. The first is “the humble recognition that rebellion leads to destruction”[6] (Ps. 1:6; 66:5-7; 145:19-20). The second is the longing to “draw near to experience God’s goodness”[7] (Ps. 34:8-12; 63:1-3; 107:43). Yahweh also rules through His people, others get a glimpse of God’s good rule through His people living faithfully in this life.

Pray for the Kingdom to Come and God to be Praised

The laments, and even imprecations, can be understood as longings for God’s just and perfect rule to be fully realized. As we pray in the Lord’s prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.” The Psalms remind us that God forms character and our trust through difficult seasons of life. There are also praise Psalms which showcase the goodness of God. They give a foretaste of future shalom and also future worship of God by all nations in heaven.

What About You

How might God use the Psalms in your life? Don’t neglect the devotionally rich treasures that God has given us to study, sing, and meditate upon.



[1] C. Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction, Second Edition., Encountering biblical studies (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2018), 75.

[2] Bullock, Encountering Psalms, 75.

[3] Much of this content is condensed and adapted from John W. Hilber, Class Notes: Psalms in Spiritual Formation and Worship, BBL-523/J-Term 2020, 1-2.

[4] Hilber, Class Notes, 1.

[5] Hilber, Class Notes, 1.

[6] Hilber, Class Notes, 1.

[7] Hilber, Class Notes, 1.