God's Prayer Book: The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms


There is no better place in all of Scripture than the Psalms to learn to be with God and see with the eyes of faith the face of the One who longs to form us fully in his image. The psalms often stretch and perplex as they teach, but they open a divine window on prayer. How could it be otherwise? The Psalms are God's prayer book, and they teach us to talk to God in his own language.
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There is no better place in all of Scripture than the Psalms to learn to be with God and see with the eyes of faith the face of the One who longs to form us fully in his image. The psalms often stretch and perplex as they teach, but they open a divine window on prayer. How could it be otherwise? The Psalms are God's prayer book, and they teach us to talk to God in his own language.
Features meditations for more than 75 psalms, arranged in numerical order, Scripture and topical indexes. Each devotional includes the complete text of the Psalm(s) from the New Living Translation, a “devotional window” (brief meditative thoughts and/or background on the Psalm), a prayer route (one or more key phrases or verses from the Psalm, followed by suggested ways to use the Psalm in prayer). Tyndale House Publishers

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781414316659
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/1/2008
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 444,603
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008

Ben Patterson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4143-1665-9


James Boice said learning to pray is a little like learning to play the violin with the virtuosos. No instrument sounds worse in the beginning stages of learning; it's all screech and scratch. But if the student is determined to play well, he checks the program guide for the classical music station and notes when the violin concertos will be aired. He buys the music score for each concerto and does his best to play along with the orchestra. At first he sounds terrible. As time passes, however, he begins little by little to sound more and more like the orchestra. But all along, as he groans on his instrument, the orchestra plays the music beautifully-his poor performance is caught up and completed in the music of the masters. So it is with us and prayer: By praying the Psalms back to God, we learn to pray in tune with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is no accident that the great prayers of the book of Psalms are also songs. They are the sheet music, the score and libretto of prayer. They are the building blocks for the music of eternity. Better than the things we ask God for in prayer is the God we pray to-and with-and the sweet h music we make as we do.

I am learning to pray in harmony with the Psalms, but I must admit I got off to a slow start. I became a Christian at age ten, but it wasn't until decades later that the Psalms began to teach me to pray. So although I'm now well into adulthood, you are reading the words of a new convert. I'm still wide eyed and breathless and maybe a little over the top with enthusiasm when I talk about their value. If I succeed with this book, you will be too.

There is no better place in all of Scripture than the Psalms to learn to be with God and to see with the eyes of faith the face of the One who longs to form us fully in his image. But the Psalms can be hard; they often stretch and perplex as they teach. How could it be otherwise? The Psalms are God's prayer book, and they teach us to talk to God in his own language.

Learning to pray is, in fact, like learning language. Most babies come into the world full of some very strong desires and feelings. They are quite capable of expressing them in grunts, gurgles, squeals, and sobs. But it's a stretch to call their utterances language. It would be tragic if, at age eighteen, these noises were still all they knew about communication. And it would be worse than tragic if at age eighteen they were still asking for the things they wanted at three months, if their desires had not expanded and matured as they learned to speak.

The process of learning language is complex and wonderful; it begins with a child listening to his or her parents, then mimicking and copying what he or she hears. But a child is not a parrot, and very quickly mimicry turns to meaning. Words and ideas and desires match up with each other and are woven together in syntax and grammar. With language comes a culture and a way of understanding the world and other people. It's marvelous what happens when we learn language: We are taken out of ourselves to what is beyond ourselves. It's not just our informing the world who we are; it's the world informing us who it is. It's not just our telling others what we want; it's others telling us what they want. Language changes us, making us more than we were when we were merely trying to express ourselves.

Prayer, like language, begins with being able to hear. Prayer starts not when we speak to God but when God speaks to us. In the beginning was the Word; God's word, not ours. Before all time, before you and I were, was the Word; the Light that gives light and life to everyone. There would be no speech if God had not first spoken. We would have nothing to say if God had not first said something to us. Ultimately then, all our prayers are answers to God's prayer-his gracious Word of love to us! We love, and we pray, because he first loved us. That's what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was referring to when he wrote, "The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart." The Bible, the written Word of God, tells us what God wants, and more important, what God is like. It expresses his will and reveals his character. The relationship between the Bible and prayer is profound. This is especially true when it comes to the Psalms.

Picture it this way: Children and other novices to the Scriptures have long been told that the best way to find the book of Psalms, the longest book in the Bible, is to put their fingers in the middle of the Bible-in its heart, so to speak. What is the book of Psalms? It is a book of prayers. And the longest prayer in this longest book is Psalm 119, a prayer about God's Word, the Scriptures. Prayer is at the heart of the Bible, and the Bible is in the heart of prayer.

But that's just a picture, an illustration of the relationship between the Psalms and prayer. Better is a demonstration-the prayer life of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the end of his life, as he hung dying on the cross, he went to the Scriptures for his prayers-more specifically, to the Psalms. "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" (Matthew 27:46) is a quotation from Psalm 22:1. "Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!" (Luke 23:46) comes from Psalm 31:5. At the point of his greatest anguish and extremity, Jesus turned to the Bible for his prayers. Charles Spurgeon reminds us that, when he most needed to pray, Jesus, the grand original thinker, saw no need to be original or extemporaneous. "How instructive is this great truth that the Incarnate Word lived on the Inspired Word! It was food to him, as it is to us; and ... if Christ thus lived upon the Word of God, should not you and I do the same? ... I think it well worthy of your constant remembrance that, even in death, our blessed Master showed the ruling passion of his spirit, so that his last words were a quotation from Scripture."

As a devout Jew, Jesus considered the Psalms to be his prayer book. A close look at the Psalms shows the Lord's Prayer-the prayer Jesus taught us to pray-to be a summary and distillation of all the prayers that are to be found in the heart of the Bible. It's all there in the Psalms: prayer that God's name be hallowed, that his rule be supreme and his will be done, that our needs be met and our sins forgiven, that we be kept safe from all danger to soul and body.

Martin Luther loved the Psalms. He called them "a little Bible," because they contain, "set out in the briefest and most beautiful form, all that is to be found in the Bible."

Sizing Up the Psalms

The psalms that first got my attention were the psalms that always seem to be the right thing to pray, no matter the mood or situation. I call them the "one size fits all" psalms, like the band on my adjustable baseball hat. These psalms can be expanded or contracted to fit any situation. For example, Psalm 103 is always the right thing to pray-always true, always fitting, in every time and place:

Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle's!

Next came the psalms that seemed to fit my mood, that helped me say what I felt in the moment. I call them the "this size fits some" psalms. For instance, when I was feeling guilty, speechless with remorse, Psalm 51 was a perfect fit. No matter how mute guilt had made me, I could open my Bible and my mouth and say, "Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins." Same with Psalm 130: "Lord, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you." I literally couldn't have said it better myself. If God held my sins against me, I'd be toast, dead meat, on the ash heap. But he forgives them all! Therefore I bow in abject, broken, and joyful reverence. Psalms like these gave me confidence to speak to God when I least felt that I could. They still do.

Adding up the psalms in the two categories I could relate to-the "this size fits some" psalms, or the mood psalms; and the "one size fits all" psalms-I didn't know what to do with all the rest, which was most of them. The most obvious example is Psalm 137, with its chilling last line: "Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!" But that's an extreme example. There were plenty of psalms that seemed too remote from my experience to have much to do with my prayer life. Psalm 87 has a good line or two if I was preaching a sermon that needed to reference ancient Jewish attitudes toward Jerusalem, but otherwise I didn't know how I could meaningfully pray personally,

On the holy mountain stands the city founded by the Lord. He loves the city of Jerusalem more than any other city in Israel. O city of God, what glorious things are said of you!

I was really at a loss with psalms like Psalm 88. It doesn't have one happy thing to say about God or life and ends with, "You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend." Those lines do not describe anything I have ever felt. Maybe they will someday, but so far, so good. But most problematic was Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted on the cross. I could preach this psalm as a meditation on the sufferings of Christ, but I couldn't get myself to pray, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?" Would it not be blasphemous for me, Ben Patterson, to pray what only Jesus could pray?

My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all my bones. My enemies stare at me and gloat. They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing.

So there were a lot of psalms that seemed either alien or off limits. Most of them, actually. My slim psalm repertoire was a picture of the thinness of my prayer life-and my heart.

It was also a picture of my shallow sense of Christian identity. I was what someone called a "yearbook Christian." I came to the Psalms like I came to my twenty-year high school reunion-thumbing through the index of my old yearbook, looking only for the page numbers of the pictures of me and my friends, and ignoring the rest.

Not Much in My Heart to Pour Out

My sophomore year in college, my friends and I decided to spend two hours in prayer for the salvation of the unsaved high school students we were working with. We purposed to storm heaven and bring down the blessings of God for these kids. One of us had a part-time job in a church, so he asked the pastor if we could meet for prayer in the church building, a logical place to pray, one would think. The pastor told us just to show up some evening, any evening, and since my friend had a key to the building, we could pray anywhere we wanted. But the night we came to pray the church was bustling with activity, as various committee meetings, youth programs, and choir practice were spread throughout the facility. It was busier and more full of distraction than our homes and dorm rooms. The only free space was a large janitor's closet that smelled strongly of detergent and disinfectant.

So we gathered in that closet to pour out our hearts to God. We had two hours to do nothing but stand before the Lord's throne and plead for the salvation of souls. We prayed every which way we knew: We praised God and confessed our sins and lifted up the names of all the students we could think of. Then we praised and confessed and interceded some more. When we had prayed for everything and in every way we could think of, over and over, I looked at my watch to see if we had any time left. Just fifteen minutes had passed! The next one hour and forty-five minutes of prayer were the longest and slowest I had ever experienced.

I came to pour out my heart to God and discovered that there wasn't much in my heart to pour out. It would be years before I understood why I saw prayer in the same way I saw the Psalms-only as a tool to help me ask God for what I wanted. The problem was that I wanted so little! What I didn't understand was that learning to pray was learning to desire the things God wants to give, and then asking him for them.

The greatest enemy of prayer is not asking for too much of God but for too little. We're like Bontsha the Silent in the Yiddish writer Isaac Peretz's sad tale. All his life he had been denied, passed over, oppressed, and forgotten. Chronic disappointment had robbed him of the ability even to dream or desire; he had come to expect nothing and want nothing. He was Bontsha the Silent.

When he died he found himself standing before God in the court of heaven. God smiled tenderly at Bontsha and said, "My son, all your joyless life you had nothing. You lived without hope. But now, here in my presence, there is the fullness of joy, eternal pleasures at my right hand. Only ask, and you shall receive. Anything, anything you want, shall be yours."

The little man with a shrunken soul squinted his eyes and pondered the offer. "Anything? Anything at all?" he asked suspiciously.

"Yes," said the Almighty. "Anything you want."

After a long pause, he said to the Almighty, "I would like a freshly baked roll, with real butter."

Heaven wept. The greater tragedy of Bontsha's life was not what he had been denied, but what he had ceased to desire. God had been reduced to the size of a loaf of bread and butter. This man had become far too easily pleased.

It wasn't-and isn't-that Bontsha's desires or ours are unworthy to express to God in prayer. He is our loving and compassionate Father, and he listens to all we say with a kind and wise heart. But he knows better than we do what we need-and better yet, he desires things for us that we may not even desire for ourselves.

More than a Tool for Self-Expression

Prayer is more than a tool for self-expression, a means to get God to give us what we want. It is a means he uses to give us what he wants, and to teach us to want what he wants. Holy Scripture in general, and the Psalms in particular, teach us who God is and what he wants to give.

When the members of his synagogue complained that the words of the liturgy did not express what they felt, Abraham Heschel, the great philosopher of religion, replied wisely and very biblically. He told them that the liturgy wasn't supposed to express what they felt; they were supposed to feel what the liturgy expressed. To be taught by the Bible to pray is to learn to want and feel what the Bible expresses-to say what it means and mean what it says.

Those who have practiced this kind of prayer over time make a surprising discovery: As they learn to feel what the Psalms express, their hearts and desires are enlarged. They find that what they once regarded as strong desires were really weak, puerile little wishes, debased inklings of what is good. Of course! Would not the God who made us in his own image understand better than we ever could what we really need? And shouldn't we ask him for it? As C. S. Lewis put it,

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The best part of prayer is who you pray to. Answers to prayer are wonderful, but the Answerer is better. Spend enough time with Jesus, and you'll start to look and think and act like Jesus. Seeing is becoming. The church father Irenaeus said, "The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." It's true: God is never more glorified than when we come alive to the vision of God. Prayer is anticipation and preparation for the great day promised in Scripture when we will see Christ fully and "will be like him, for we will see him as he really is."

Augustine prayed,

How shall I call upon my God, my God and my Lord, since in truth when I call upon him I call him into myself? Is there any place within me where God can dwell? How can God come into me, God who made heaven and earth? O Lord my God, is there any place in me that can contain you? (Continues...)

Copyright © 2008 by Ben Patterson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents THE PSALMS: MUSIC TO GOD'S EARS....................1
PSALMS AND DEVOTIONALS PSALM 1....................23
PSALM 2....................27
PSALM 3....................31
PSALM 4....................35
PSALM 5....................40
PSALM 6....................45
PSALM 7....................49
PSALM 8....................54
PSALM 12....................58
PSALM 14....................62
PSALM 16....................66
PSALM 19....................70
PSALM 22....................75
PSALM 23....................81
PSALM 24....................85
PSALM 27....................89
PSALM 30....................94
PSALM 31....................98
PSALM 32....................103
PSALM 36....................107
PSALM 37....................111
PSALM 40....................117
PSALM 42....................122
PSALM 46....................128
PSALM 51....................132
PSALM 52....................137
PSALM 53....................140
PSALM 55....................144
PSALM 56....................149
PSALM 57....................153
PSALM 63....................158
PSALM 67....................161
PSALM 69....................164
PSALM 70....................171
PSALM 71....................174
PSALM 73....................178
PSALM 75....................183
PSALM 76....................187
PSALM 77....................191
PSALM 78....................196
PSALM 83....................204
PSALM 84....................209
PSALM 87....................213
PSALM 88....................217
PSALM 90....................222
PSALM 91....................227
PSALM 100....................237
PSALM 102....................240
PSALM 103....................245
PSALM 119....................250
PSALM 120....................257
PSALM 121....................261
PSALM 122....................265
PSALM 123....................269
PSALM 127....................272
PSALM 128....................276
PSALM 131....................280
PSALM 133....................284
PSALM 137....................288
PSALM 139....................292
PSALM 150....................297
PSALMS FOR SPECIFIC NEEDS....................311
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Great prayer tutor

    I'm really enjoying this book. I've used it both for my own personal devotional time and adapted some of the chapters for small group prayer time. It is both informative and encouraging. He gently leads you into addressing the things you really want to pray about. It has a structure, but the structure is freeing rather than restricting. I'd really love to see the author create a small group study on prayer based on this information, but it is readily adaptable without any additional help.

    One of the most helpful observations that the author makes is that we need to learn to pray rather than just muddling along and through the psalms, God teaches us to pray what He prays. The working out of this insight is what makes this book such a treasure. He is not afraid to push you into praying about uncomfortable things, but provides a framework for making the disconcerting welcome.

    I wish the language was a little more accessible at times. The author is clearly articulate and well educated and the less erudite may struggle at a few points. That's a shame because it holds some real gems. I loved it, but I was hesitant to strongly recommend it for some of my blue-collar friends. I have, however, adapted some of the chapters for "concert of prayer" use and they have really enjoyed the content in this form although it would not have been helpful for them as published. Having said that, I'd hate to ruin a great book by watering it down excessively. This is one I'd like to see a separate version of, without losing the original.

    Outstanding work!

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  • Posted November 4, 2008

    Wonderful Devotional

    I really enjoyed this book! I love the Psalms and I think Patterson does an excellent job of reminding us how beautiful the Psalms are and how much they reflect human emotion. It is easy to read and follow. The chapters are short tackling one psalm each. This is an excellent devotional book and would make a lovely Christmas gift too!

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  • Posted November 4, 2008


    This was a real peaceful and enjoyable journey for me. In a time where everything is in chaos over the current elections this book was a peace in the midst of the storm. It took focus off of the current situation and put it back where it should be. Having never prayed the Psalms before it was a definite moving experience. I highly recommend this book, and give it 5 out of 5 stars!

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  • Posted November 4, 2008

    God's Prayer Book

    My Review:<BR/>This book I would put more in the study helps more than devotional category. Use as a parallel bible or commentary. Everyone has their own preference of Bible versions. The author however, doesn't use my preference KJV, so therefore, I'd use it along side of my own version putting it in the parallel context. As far as theology not everyone agrees 100% with everyone. You pick and choose what you want; Throw out what you don't want.

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  • Posted November 4, 2008

    Illuminating look at the Book of Psalms

    God's Prayer Book by Ben Patterson is a beautifully written guide and encouragement to praying the Psalms. The book of Psalms was used by the Jewish people for hundreds of years as a way to praise God, appeal to him, and beg his forgiveness, and we can do the same thing. Patterson really opens up the book with Biblical history, Scripture, and deep insight into why they were written and why they are still applicable today. I have loved reading this book. Sometimes my prayers feel stale or worn, but reading these Psalms with new eyes has allowed me to pray for my country, my family, my church, and my soul in new ways. Each chapter feels like a refreshing dip in warm water: comforting, cleansing, uplifting, renewing. Patterson lists several different ways to pray through the Psalms, making them your own personal prayer book so they will never grow old and will always offer new wisdom and comfort. Jesus quoted from Psalm 31 in his final words on the cross, "Father, into your hands, I entrust my spirit." Patterson says that some biblical scholars believe that Psalm 31: 5 was one of the earliest prayers Jewish mothers taught their children to pray for sleep each night. I entrust my spirit into your hand. Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. Knowing that Jesus prayed that prayer before death, a child's prayer before slipping into slumber, brings the Psalm to life and lodges it firmly in my heart. Full of depth, heart and wisdom, this is a book I will reread again and again.

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  • Posted November 4, 2008

    Great Gift and Wonderful Reading

    This is such a great book. It is not one to sit down and read in a day or over a weekend. It is more of a journey. Mr. Patterson walks you through the Psalms (though not all of them) and then encourages you to pray them, memorize them, and apply them to your life. It is a guided journey, of sorts, that refreshes, enlightens, teaches, and most of all helps you to get better acquainted with the Father and the Son - with the help of the Holy Spirit! I have thoroughly enjoyed this journey so far. This is definitely a great book to give as a gift - and I plan on ordering several for the holidays!! I have already had a couple of requests for the book from people that I have talked to about it!! You will NOT regret adding this one to your collection!! Thank you, Mr. Patterson, for such a wonderful resource!!!

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