Write Your Own Psalm

7 min. to read.

Intentional spiritual living is about more than just thinking new thoughts. It comes to life in actions, practices and habits.

Because my goal is to help you have a more intentional spiritual life, I am making some changes in how I blog.

First, you’ll notice that at the end of most every post there’s a new section called “Take the Next Step” that gives you a number of ways you can practically respond to the post. If the content resonates with you, then take the next step and do something concrete to bring it to life.

Second, I’m going to go back to an old habit I had early in this blog’s life. That’s providing periodic posts that are step-by-step walk-throughs of activities you can do that will engage your spirit in some way. They may be worship activities, spiritual practices, ways to engage the Bible, or even practical things you can do in your life.  Something for you to try.

Here’s the first one.  Actually, it’s a repeat from a long time ago up-dated for you.

Do you tell the truth when you worship?

How about taking a tangible step to make your spiritual life more intentional? Photo Credit:  Unknown
How about taking a tangible step to make your spiritual life more intentional? Photo Credit: Unknown

The book of Psalms is unexpected if you let it speak for itself.  It’s 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 where you can write comfortably, and won’t be disturbed for twenty minutes or more.  You’ll need a notebook or journal. If you’re really aesthetic, light a candle and dim the lights.  For some people this helps shape the mood a lot.  It’s not necessary for me, but I have friends that it’s really important for.

2.  Ask for God’s involvement.

One of the mistakes we often make when we come to scripture is to assume that God will speak to us.  It’s God’s word, right?  Well, it is, but God doesn’t often speak to hearts that aren’t open.  (Or at the very least, hearts that aren’t open can’t hear.)  So, make sure your heart is ready.  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.

Writing a Psalm can connect your faith, your emotions and your circumstances. Photo Credit:  Unknown
Writing a Psalm can connect your faith, your emotions and your circumstances. Photo Credit: Unknown

3.  Pick a Psalm.

You’re going to 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. The length of the Psalm will impact how long this worship activity takes, so choose one that fits for the time you have to give.  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. 

As a culture we have moved away from deep reading. We want things direct. 3 bullet points. 140 characters. But that doesn’t work for scripture.  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 emotively to the text – what is the author thinking?  What is the audience experiencing?

Take your Psalm this way.  Read it through all the way without stopping. Think about the overall sense. It 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. 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. If you’re a musician, don’t shift over into song-writing mode. 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.

I’ve done this quite a number of times.  To close the post, I’ll share one of my own examples. My model was Psalms 13.  It’s a powerful song that talks about feeling abandoned by God.  Here’s what I ended up writing:

Aching, empty, alone I cry out.

Father, where are you?  Where am I?

Left alone in a moment, darkness.

I wonder will I find my way to you?  Can I?

I need Your guidance.

I need You to light the way.

I need to hear your voice calling me.

I long to hear Your song so I can sing with all my heart.

I long to know Your touch so I can know that I am real.

I long to see the beauty of Your glory so I can lose myself in You, my weakness burned away.

Yet, Father, I believe.

I have in moments heard Your voice, and felt Your touch.

I have caught a glimpse of Your beautiful land.

And so I will walk, trusting  that You are there,

That You led me here,

That I am not

Alone.

Take some time to pray the Psalms like this and you too will discover that you are not alone. You’ll find that the Psalms are a rich and relevant way to learn how to pray – something our spiritual parents have known for centuries.

24 thoughts on “Write Your Own Psalm

  1. This may sound strange, but I find a lot of comfort along these lines from Psalm 137. It starts out beautifully, with almost a weeping aspect to it, as the writer laments the lost kingdom and homeland. It ends with a shocking, brutal declaration – one of anger and bitterness and violence.

    It was _this_ Psalm that helped open my eyes to how real God wants us to be with him, and how honest we can be about our emotions and desires. He is not surprised or shocked by us. He is not taken aback by our passions, however bright or dark they are.

    1. Boy, jump right into the mess! Ps 139 is definitely one that puts to bed any ideas that the Psalms is all happy, faithful, celebrations of worship. If you take it seriously, it must show that God wants to hear *all* of our feelings, even the hard, dark ones. I also find that really encouraging and hopeful.

  2. I can’t wait to find that quiet spot and try this. Maybe one night after the kids are in bed, but I’m not falling asleep myself. 🙂

  3. Wonderful article…so glad I stumbled upon it…I am suppose to lead our women’s group next week and the topic is honesty with God. I will practice at home first and them I will be teach them how to do what you said. May God bless you.

  4. i have written a couple of psalms, but I needed more understanding and this as really helped. I already have my own space in the house, specially to write my psalms and pray, your article is a blessing, and may God bless you. amen

  5. Thank you for this! I was approached Sunday (8-21-16) by the Director of Music and Associate Director of Music of our church about working with them on a “Psalm Sunday” in 2017. They want me to write psalms to be used in the service and they will work on finding music for the hymns, anthems, etc. I jumped at the chance, immediately saying “YES.” Then I gulped and walked away wondering how to begin my own personal preparation before the flow of words. This is a tremendous help.

    1. Wow, I’m so glad to hear that this was helpful! I hope you have a wonderful worship service.

  6. DEAR JESUS I PRAY TO YOU NOW BECAUSE THINGS ARE HAPPENING IN MY LIFE THAT ARE QUITE DIFFICULT I WILL NOT GO OVER ALL THE SITUATIONS IT WOULD TAKE TOO LONG I ASK YOU JESUS TO COME INTO MY HEART AND BRING PEACE AND LOVE I NEED YOU NOW

  7. Thanks for this. Some of us are preparing for a retreat with teachings around the area of Praise & Worship with a couple of families from different church denominations here in Fiji and this article and related activities has been very helpful. I plan on using the writing a personal psalm activity at this retreat. I thank God for your life. May He continue to bless you abundantly.

  8. After reading your helpful hints I wrote what I think is a psalm. Homework from Bible Study. Is this correct ?

    MY HEART IS HEAVY
    I’M DROWNING IN LIFE
    NO ROLE MODELS OF LOVE
    BUT ANGER AND STRIFE
    WHY SO MANY YEARS OF SORROW
    DID MY SHOULDERS HAVE TO BEAR?
    I WAS ONLY A CHILD
    DOG PADDLING IN LIFE
    TAUGHT WRONG FROM RIGHT
    NO RECIPE OF LIFE TO DEAL WITH MY STRIFE
    THANK YOU LORD FOR THE ANGELS
    YOU PUT IN MY LIFE
    TO SHARE ME YOUR LOVE
    TO LIGHTEN MY WRATH
    MY WEIGHT I CARRY IS LIGHTER
    THE TUNNEL IS BRIGHTER
    IF THE LOAD I CARRIED
    WAS TO MAKE ME BE BETTER
    THE HARDSHIPS I CARRIED
    WILL LEAD ME TO HEAVEN
    MY LOAD IS MUCH LIGHTER
    THANK YOU LORD FOR LIFTING
    MY SOUL.

    1. Diane, wow! Just, wow. What a beautiful expression of your journey, your pain, and your hope from God. I’m honored you’d share that here. Definitely seems like a Psalm to me.

    2. Thank you, I’ve been told by several who I share my story with that I should write a book, it would make a based on true story movie/series . I have all the facts but not sure how to add the fluff. God has been so kind to me.

    1. This is very beautiful in its rawness. Thank you so much for sharing it. What a rich way to process the complicated emotions of such a big loss. Blessings to you.

    2. I enjoyed your psalm. It encourages me that maybe I should write one about the loss of my son and daughter. The one I wrote was about mu terrible mother and my horrible childhood.

  9. Hi Marc – a quick question please – can I pick different verses from all Psalms that resonate with my particulay issue and make that my Psalm?
    Thanks – Peter

  10. Thank you for your suggestions, Marc. Here is my Psalm:

    Better to know the language of God
    Than all the languages of the world combined;
    I would choose one whispered, “I’ve got this,” or one simple command, “Go,”
    Over hours of conversations with famous speakers.
    Because the LORD God is a living book, a fountain of truth;
    The LORD speaks to the spirit, sings to the soul;
    Deep secrets and fantastic ideas are bestowed
    To those who call Him “Teacher!” “Rabbi!”

    –Megan Milas Castle

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