Psalms in the pastoral care toolbox

“The delightful study of the Psalms has yielded me boundless profit and ever-growing pleasure….”

– CH Spurgeon

The book of Psalms are a blessing to every believer.  They offer words of wisdom and ways to remember the history of the Israelites and they provide prophetic words that point to Jesus and are fulfilled in him. And as those united by faith to Jesus, we can join with him in praying these profound works of poetry. They provide us with words to sing, words to pray, a voice to every emotion from joy and gladness to lament and despair. 

If I asked you to name your favourite Psalm and give reasons, I am sure it will be connected to a time and place when your soul needed comfort, consolation or encouragement. 

The book of Psalms sits in my Pastoral Care toolbox.  There are 150 golden nuggets that help me offer words when I have no words.  As a staff member working in a church setting, I was often called on to respond to some crisis – the death of a loved one, a terrible accident, a hospital visit, a relationship breakdown, domestic abuse, work issues, mental health issues, infertility, loneliness.  The crisis may vary but it will always involve powerful emotions and can be overwhelming to them and to me.  

The crisis may vary but it will always involve powerful emotions and can be overwhelming to them and to me. The Psalms give expression to such powerful emotions. 

— Sarah Condie

The Psalms give expression to such powerful emotions.  There are laments, there is despair, anger, disappointment, abandonment, doubt and fear.  I have lost count of the number of tears I have seen shed and there is something quite remarkable about the reality that our God knows our tears and that he cares enough to store them in a bottle.  Imagine that: our great God takes the time to wipe away our tears and to keep a record of them. (Psalm 56:8). 

There are also songs of joy and thanksgiving.  Amongst the Psalms sit beautiful examples of the writer thanking God and his joy alongside a lament and outpouring of sadness and anguish.  These provide examples of how it is possible to sit with both positive and negative emotions, particularly for those who are downcast and broken. 

Yes, the Psalms are sitting in my toolbox, but it takes wisdom and experience and a personal love for the Psalms for them to be used effectively.  Because they can be used unhelpfully and badly when responding to a broken heart.  They are not the item that I remove first from my toolbox, but they are there ready for when it is time.  

When that time comes, I pray fervently, that the Lord will give me the right words and the most helpful verses before I open the Psalms and begin to read. 

If you want to make the best use of Psalm in your Pastoral Care toolbox, let me suggest the following: 

  1. Read the Psalms daily.  The great evangelist Billy Graham used to read five Psalms every day – he said they “taught him how to get along with God”.  And they do.  You can read the same Psalm every day for a period of time, or you can work through them systematically from beginning to end and then start over. 
  2. Read books about the Psalms and/or listen to sermons on the Psalms. There are countless to choose from here, but there are rich resources widely available that will help you grow in your knowledge and love for them. 
  3. Mary Andrews College teaches a unit on the book of Psalms.  Why not apply to study there in 2022 and spend a whole semester studying, reading and writing with the aim of growing in your knowledge and understanding of this amazing part of the Bible?

However, the most significant contribution to you making the best use of the book of Psalms is to grow in your love for them and to let them feed your soul.  When your own soul has been fed with the finest of wheat and with honey from the rock and been satisfied, you will know how to feed others so that they too are satisfied. (Psalm 81:16)  

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