Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 28, 2012

An Acquired Taste: Learning to appreciate the difficult Psalms

If you have been following our Psalm prayer schedule this week, you have probably already encountered some texts that do not seem very relevant to you.  Sometimes it is hard to connect with the Psalms, especially when David starts talking about his military experiences.   I don’t really know how to appropriate David’s words in Psalm 3, “strike my enemies in the jaw, break the teeth of the wicked.”  This doesn’t always sit well over a morning cup of coffee!  While some Psalms are easy to connect with a lot of them are difficult to apply and understand.

So why do we pray the Psalms?  Why should we stick with them when they seem foreign to us?  Are we just reading them because they are old and churchy?  Do they have anything to offer us in this day and age?   If you are asking these questions you are in good company.  People have been wrestling with these issues for years.

The Psalms could be likened to a fine wine.  To appreciate them we have develop a palate.  They are an acquired taste.   Like a fine wine, they can seem bitter and hard to digest if we do not know what we are looking for.  If we are used to drinking soda, fine wine will be hard to enjoy.  Similarly, if we are used to a spiritual appetite that has been watered down and over simplified for us, the Psalms will seem complex.   The reality is that a lot of contemporary Christianity has tried to make spirituality very simple.  This has its benefits at first, but eventually we need to move on to deeper things.  That is why the writer of Hebrews says, ” everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.”

So my first encouragement to those of you who are struggling to appreciate the Psalms, is to stick with them, knowing that they are an acquired taste.  The more time we spend in the Psalms, the more we will learn to appreciate what they are all about.  There is a long list of people from every era in history telling us that they are a fine wine.  They are worth the effort.  Praying the Psalm, then, often requires that we step out in faith, trusting the consensus of those of those who have gone before us.

So what do these Psalm “connoisseurs” tell us about the Psalms?  Why are they considered to be such an important spiritual resource?  Eugene Peterson, a  great connoisseur of the Psalms, tells us  that the Psalms, above all, teach us how to pray with fluency.  He writes, “they get us praying when we don’t feel like it, and they train us in prayers that are honest and right.  They are both an encouragement to pray and patterns of prayer.  They represent the experiences of men and women who have prayed in every conceivable circumstance across thirty centuries.”
There is a lot packed into this quote.  Peterson, highlights a number of benefits of the Psalms.  They model for us how to pray in all types of experiences, and they show us how to orient all aspects of our lives to God.  The Psalms are written by people who sought to find God in the midst of the highs and lows of life.

The reality is that we will not connect with all of David’s experiences.  We, after all, are not commanding an army during a time of war.  However, we can learn from how he deals with hardships.  One of the things that David models for us is his consistent attempt to orient his life to God.  Everything is approached and viewed through a ‘God-lens.’  For example, in Psalm 3, David is obviously overwhelmed by his enemies.  However, we notice that he does not put his security in military power.  He writes, “I lie down and sleep: I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.”  Eugene Peterson applies this to our lives with this insight.  David teaches us that, “we do not acquire security by eliminating enemies.  Opposition – and sometimes it is intense – is a continuing reality in this world.  We get security (‘I lied down and sleep . . . I am not afraid’) by putting our trust in God.”

What have you gleaned from your readings of the Psalms this week?  What aspects of the Psalms have been a struggle?
Blessings as you continue to develop an appetite for this profound spiritual resource.  Here’s to becoming a Psalm “connoisseur” this summer!


  1. Ps. are helpful to us, so relate to David. We’re praying for you 3 and know for sure that God hears our prayers. The difficulty is to-
    tally trusting every moment! As we cling to God’s promises, find refuge for Almighty God is faithful.

    • Thanks O’Connor’s – welcome to the blog!

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