Studying the Psalms: Devotional Helps

I’d like to take a few minutes today to share some resources that I find particularly helpful in my devotional study of the psalms.  Perhaps we’ll have some recommendations for scholarly study in another post someday, but these are all sources meant to be read on a more daily basis.  For that reason, I have chosen works divided into short, quick reads.  We’ll save commentaries for another day.  Each of these sources has led me to love, learn, and listen to the Psalms in a much deeper way.

I’ve divided (somewhat arbitrarily) the sources into the categories based on how I use them.  Just click on the book title to be taken to the publisher’s site to learn more about the book (or to purchase it).

Prayer: Prayers on the Psalms from the Scottish Psalter of 1595

(published by Banner of Truth, 2010)

This tiny booklet is part of Banner of Truth’s “Pocket Puritan” collection, making it very affordable and very portable (it literally does fit into a pocket with ease).  As the title suggests, the book is simply a collection of prayers, one based on each biblical psalm, taken from the Scottish Psalter of 1595.  The prayers are each only a few sentences long and elegantly summarize the prayerful thrust of each psalm.  These prayers are eloquent and explicitly Christian and can guide us to see how each psalm can and should be prayed by the New Testament Church as well as the Old.  The prayers make Christ explicit and can be a good way to “get the juices flowing” in our own private prayers.

Exegesis: The ESV Study Bible 

(published by Crossway Bibles, 2008)

Since its publication, I have been very pleased with the ESV Study Bible.  It does a particularly good job with the psalms.  Each psalm is introduced with a succinct summary and outline, including not only exegetical insights but also a few seeds of application to the Christian reader as well.  This makes the ESV Study Bible an excellent way of overviewing the psalm, providing guidance and wisdom in personal application.

Christology: Christ in the Psalms by Patrick Henry Reardon

(published by Conciliar Press, 2000; revised 2011)

This is a recommendation that could be a bit controversial.  This is a book written by an Eastern Orthodox theologian and is written explicitly from that perspective.  So if these books were being given ratings like movies, it might be a “PG-13” book for United Reformed folk – reader discretion advised!  What I mean is that this book needs to be read with wisdom.  And yet I still put the book on the list because I think it is an invaluable resource.

The book provides a simple two-page meditation for each psalm (including the apocryphal Psalm 151 – one reason for the “PG-13” rating).  These meditations are well-written, quickly getting to the heart of each psalm.  What’s beautiful about these meditations is Reardon makes a conscious attempt to show each psalm explicitly in the light of Christ.  For that reason, this book is a treasure trove for meditation.  Reardon has a beautiful writing style and shows each psalm off in its New Testament fulfillment.

Now there are cautions, as I mentioned before.  The most jarring difference is the numbering system.  The Greek Old Testament used by Eastern Orthodox churches numbers the psalms differently.  They combine Psalms 9 and 10 into one Psalm.  They do the same with Psalms 114 and 115 and divide Psalm 116 into two.  This makes their entire numbering of the Psalms quite confusing.  But do not be afraid – Reardon places the traditional numbering system (the one used in most English Bibles) in parentheses after the Greek number.

There are several places where Reardon goes on tangents that might seem foreign to our Reformed ears.  Unfortunately, he uses one or two psalms as soapboxes to attack certain perceived flaws in Protestant theology.  That is why this is a “PG-13” book.  But I want to again emphasize that this book is a tremendous help.  The very concept and existence of this book is a challenge – to set out to see each psalm as beautifully pointing us to Christ.  Reardon’s short, precise, and Christ-centered looks at the psalms are a wonderful way to open up the psalms and show off all their Christological facets.

Application: Praying with the Psalms by Eugene Peterson

(published by HarperCollins, 1993)

Eugene Peterson is well-known for his pastoral insights, and this book is no exception.  This book was meant as a daily devotional, working through the psalms.  But I ignore that and just read the entry for whatever psalm I’m studying.  Sometimes he just has one entry for an entire psalm, sometimes several.

Each entry is only a paragraph, once again just a quick read.  But that paragraph is perceptive, revealing, and challenging.  It cuts me right to the heart every time!

He ends each entry with a short and personal prayer based on the psalm, meant to help us apply the lesson of the psalm to our lives.

Praise: The Book of Psalms for Worship

(published by Crown and Covenant, 2009)

I just can’t tell you often enough just how much I love this Psalter!  But I’ve done it before, so I won’t repeat it here (read my past review HERE).

In connection with the topic of praising God through the singing of the Psalms, I would like to give you a heads-up about one other resource, and that is the excellent book Sing a New Song: Recovering Psalm Singing for the Twenty-First Century, a collection of essays on psalm-singing edited by Joel Beeke and Anthony Selvaggio.  It is really a great resource, showing the history of psalm-singing, the biblical call to psalm-singing, pastoral need for psalm-singing.  Michael and I have been reading through this book together and intend to share some of our reflections on the book starting next week.  So look forward to that, but as Levar Burton always used to say, “You don’t have to take our word for it!”  Check it out, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.  But more on that next week.


Of course, no book about the psalms is going to magically bring us closer to God.  These books are merely recommended as tools to help hone us in our devotional reading of the book of Psalms.  Any study of the book of Psalms, if approached with prayer and a heart blessed by the Spirit and focused on Christ, will glorify God and bless our walk with Him.  This is true of a devotional study done with or without “helps.”  But these books are meant to help facilitate our growth.  They have certainly helped me and I pray that perhaps they can help some of you.

Have you read any of these books and found them helpful?  What books have you used in your study of the psalms?  What recommendations would you add to this list?  Respond in the comments section below.


3 Responses to “Studying the Psalms: Devotional Helps”

  1. 1 Joe Allyn September 2, 2012 at 9:29 am

    I’d highly recommend Singing the Songs of Jesus by Michael Lefebvre and War Psalms of the Prince of Peace by James E. Adams. The first one I reviewed here:

  2. 2 Franks September 4, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    You must add Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms by Andrew Bonar. Fantastic book, wouldn’t you say Jim?

    • 3 James O September 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm

      Ha ha, yes, David, a truly excellent old gem from one of my favorite authors. I hope you’ve been using the copy that I encouraged you to buy! I intend to feature that title in a future post.

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