Of course, the early church, the apostolic church, as scholars often call the first century Christians, sang the Psalms. The practice came from the Jewish heritage of the first congregations of Christians in Judea. In fact, one of the books I read said this: “…in the English-speaking world use of the psalms has often languished as hymns and worship songs with catchy tunes have tended to displace the psalms…This trend would have appalled the apostolic church…one may hope this modern failure to appreciate the psalms…to be a blip,” Gordon J. Wenham, The Psalms as Torah. I find myself agreeing with Mr. Wenham.
But here is something I had not realized: The Psalms were often prayed by the early church and that practice lasted for centuries. Mr. Wenham devotes a whole chapter to the affect that praying the Psalms would have on us if we did it. Try this today. Read the following verses from various psalms out loud. All right, wait until you are alone if you want to, but don’t forget to do it.
I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence,” Ps 39:1
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High, Ps 9:1-2.
I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD! Ps 116:18-19.
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. — Selah. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. — Selah Ps 32:5-7.
I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil. Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure. I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me. No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes, Ps 101:2-7.
That should be enough for you to get the point. Many of the psalms are written in first person. When you pray it, you are praying for the same things the psalmist prayed for, and allowing the psalmist’s attitude to become your own. You cannot pray these things without it affecting how you live—unless you are a hypocrite.
But shouldn’t we read all scripture that way? Shouldn’t we read the epistles in such a way that we are praying to be what we are told to be, to speak as we are told to speak, to live as we are told to live? Shouldn’t every recitation of a memory verse be a phrase we are willing to live by? Yet how often do we quote what we have learned by rote and then continue to live as we always have, never taking to heart the words that have just left our lips?
Maybe if you start with these few verses from the Psalms today you can train yourself to pray the prayers of the saints gone by instead of the selfish carnal prayers we usually pray—for physical blessings and physical convenience and physical health--and maybe, just maybe, we can start to be the people we talk about being every time we read our Bibles.