I am not a great pray-er. I'm sure I often put the angels to sleep with my prayers. But lately I've been using the Psalms to pray, and it's really helped. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, recently said in a sermon that one reason God gave us the Psalter was to teach us the language of prayer, much in the same way that parents teach their infants to talk. He said that some monks pray through the entire Psalter every week. I'm not ready for that, but I have tried to take one Psalm a day and pray through it.
I've found that a single verse or two of a Psalm can be used to praise God, to confess sin, and to pray for myself and others. Like take Psalm 34:8 for example: "Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him." That verse can easily be turned into praise:
"Father, you are so good in and of yourself. You are the Good. You are good to all your creatures. You give us life and health and food and work and friends and family and gifts too many to count. Above all you gave us Jesus. You have given us your Holy Spirit. You are our refuge, the One we can run to and find safety. Thank you, Father, for rescuing us from our sin and shame. Thank you for letting us taste and see how truly good you are!"
The same verse can be used for confession:
"I admit to you, Father, that I so often turn to other things to find goodness and life, rather than trusting in you. I try to taste success, and the praise of others, and things money can buy, seeking refuge. I hide behind my reputation, and my gifts, and my family, and my work, seeking security. Forgive me for thinking that those things offer lasting pleasure. Help me to hate the sin of substituting anything or anyone for you."
And the same verse can be turned into petition:
"Father, help your people find refuge in you today. Enable missionaries throughout the world to taste and see that you are good, and to be encouraged to persevere. Help our church to taste and see that you are good when next we meet for worship. Give me grace today to spread the fragrance of the gospel to those around me, that they too may see how good you are."
God has made it easy for me to pray, by giving me a book of prayers to use -- the Psalms!
One thing that has tripped me up in the past is that in many of the Psalms, the writer is praying for God to judge and punish his enemies. An example is Psalm 25:2 - "Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me." I used to think that I couldn't pray that prayer, because I don't really have any enemies (at least none that I know of!). But lately I've been reminding myself that I do have an enemy -- Satan. And along with him are his fiendish hordes of demons, allied together for my destruction. So when I come to Psalms like this I will change the words slightly and pray like so:
"To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemy triumph over me. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but Satan and his demons will be put to shame because they are treacherous without excuse." (Psalm 25:1-3)
Even Jesus used the Psalms to pray. Some of his last words on the cross were a prayer from Psalm 22 - "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" If Jesus prayed the Psalms, how much more should we!
By the way, I took this picture a couple years ago while on a hike in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of Tennessee. It speaks to me of entering the presence of God in prayer.