Writing a Psalm
Each week, there's a suggestion that you might write your own Psalm. If this seems like a daunting task, here are some guidelines. This is a wonderful spiritual exercise and I encourage you to try it! There is no right or wrong way to do it...it's you pouring your heart out to God.
How to Write Your Own Psalm
The book of Psalms is a collection of songs, poems and journal entries from a number of people expressing their heart for God. It’s full of powerful, faith-filled, triumphant songs of faith, but it’s no church hymnal. Right next door, you’ll find entries filled with doubt, frustration and even anger. And yet all of it–faithful and struggling–is offered to us as a model of worship.
Our relationship with God becomes more vibrant the moment we start telling the truth. God already knows our struggles. When we get real about them, then God gets to be in the game with us. Use the model of the Psalms to start telling God the truth about your journey.
1. GET EVERYTHING YOU’LL NEED TOGETHER.
Get yourself in a thoughtful space, with a notebook or journal.
2. ASK FOR GOD’S INVOLVEMENT.
Pray, asking God to speak to your heart in this time. Give God access to shape you through scripture. Ask to receive the promise that the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth.
3. PICK A PSALM.
Especially if you're new at this, you can use a Psalm as a model for your own writing. You could pick a random Psalm, or work through a section of Psalms, doing one every week as a part of your personal worship. Here are a few suggestions.
Psalm 3 – short. Facing hard times and asking for God’s involvement.
Psalm 6 – short. In the middle of sadness, looking for a sign of God’s presence.
Psalm 13 – short. Trying to find faith in the middle of loneliness and depression.
Psalm 19 – medium. Celebrating God and making confession.
Psalm 40 – long. Waiting for God and expressing faith in the time of waiting.
4. READ, DEEP READ, REFLECT.
Scripture shapes us through exposure. Reading for reflection is the goal. That means reading the passage once, twice, three times, while slowly passing over the words, savoring them. Think about what the words mean. Connect emotionally to the text – what is the author thinking? What is the audience experiencing?
Read your model Psalm through all the way without stopping. Think about the overall sense. Is it joyful? Is it sad? Is it more a tone of teaching or a tone of worship? Then read the Psalm again. This time think about the characters involved. Who is speaking? What kind of person do they sound like? Who are they speaking to or about? Don’t read like you’re reading a reference book. Don’t scan. Don’t speed read. Read each line. Pause. Let those words sink in. Read the next line. Listen.
5. FIND YOUR CONNECTING POINT.
Having read the Psalm slowly and thoughtfully, look for where you connect with what is being said. Is the writer expressing joy and celebration? Well, what’s going on in your life that’s worth celebrating? Is the author expressing anxiety, asking for God’s rescue? Where in your life are you feeling alone and in need of God’s intervention? Find the part of the Psalm that speaks most directly to your inner circumstances. That’s going to be your starting point for what you have to write.
6. WRITE YOUR OWN PSALM.
Using your model Psalm as an example, write your own prayer or song. You can use it as a loose model and write from your heart, or if you want more guidance, take it line by line, and let the theme of the Psalm shape your own prayer. If you’re not certain what to write, write the same line but personalize it in your own words and contemporary language. Where it makes sense insert the specifics of your own circumstances or spiritual condition. You are using the template of the Psalm to write your own prayer or song to God. Don’t get hung up on form. Don’t try to make it quality poetry. Let this flow naturally.
7. PRAY YOUR PSALM.
Once you have your own version written, pray it out to God. Speak it out loud. If you’re a musician and you’re moved, sing it out with a simple melody. Repeat it once or twice. Then end with some quiet space of reflection and listening. In your journal jot down thoughts that occur to you. What did this process open up for you about your relationship with God? What did it bring up about God’s character?
Once you’ve done this you have something very precious – your own prayer, inspired by scripture, informed by your own circumstances. Do this a few times and you’ll slowly develop your own prayer book.
Choose a variety of different Psalms – Psalms of celebration, of sorrow, of doubt, of worship. Then repeat this process with each one.
(instructions adapted from Marc Schelske)