By Matt Henslee
A few years ago, I went to a preaching conference. During one of the breakout sessions, the speaker warned against the difficulty of preaching through the Psalms verse-by-verse, commonly known as expositional preaching.
This was somewhat disheartening, especially for a conference espousing the importance of expositional preaching. However, I sometimes struggle with a strong desire to prove people wrong (must be the red-haired hardheadedness). I decided early on in this pastorate; I was going to dive into the Psalms.
And I’m glad I did.
We started working our way through the Psalms on January 7, 2018, and have made our way to Psalm 52. I typically preach one chapter a Sunday for our evening services, though some require an extra Sunday. (I haven’t even thought about how long Psalm 119 will take!)
Nevertheless, I’m far from an expert on preaching, let alone qualified to tell other preachers what to do. However, I’d like to offer three reasons I think you can and should preach through the Psalms, not around them.
1. The Psalms are the Words of God.
This goes without saying. If it’s in the Bible, it’s the Word of God. The Psalms are just as God-breathed as Matthew 28:18-20, John 3:16, and every other Scripture passage we know and love.
What a privilege we have to declare the inerrant and infallible Word of God to our people! Sure, some passages are more difficult than others, but I genuinely believe we ought to aim to preach the whole counsel of Scripture with our congregations.
2. The Psalms are good for variety.
I struggle a bit with ADHD. My attention span is about that of a goldfish. The Psalms have been awesome for this because each Sunday, we seem to bounce from high to low, joy to sorrow—you name it. The ones written by David are especially like a roller coaster. Every Monday morning, I get to open a gift: a new passage, a new outline, and a new opportunity to dive into the Word of God. It’s a fresh start.
One of my favorite things about preaching the Word, in general, is every Monday morning I get to open a gift: a new passage, a new outline, and a new opportunity to dive into the Word of God. It’s a fresh start.
The Psalms seem to make this even more fun with the variety of topics, themes, genres, and so forth. It’s not just a gift; it’s a surprise. I’m amazed at how we’re only 52 chapters into the book of Psalms, but we’ve already covered just about every station of life, every emotion one feels, and much more.
3. The Psalms are good for your people.
Granted, we should say this about every book of the Bible (see the first reason), but man, my folks are loving our journey through the Psalms. When I first came to Mayhill Baptist, the “Henslee party of six” would outnumber those who came to our Sunday evening worship service. I was even told the church was open to canning the evening service altogether.
While the first books we studied were Ruth and Esther, and we grew a bit therein, ever since we started the Psalms, we almost fill an entire section of our worship center on Sunday nights. In other words, we’ve gone from around five folks to about 40 or 50.
For a town of 60 people and a church made up mainly by those who have to travel 20 or more minutes to get there, this speaks to the “worth-it-ness” our church has found in studying the Psalms.
I’ve heard things like:
- “I’ve read the Psalms before, but they’re really coming alive now.”
- “I’m amazed at how each one of these Psalms has been timely for me each week.”
- “Is it bad that I don’t want you to stop? I love this series.”
While the fact it’s God’s Word is reason enough, I can’t stress enough how helpful, practical, and exciting this series has been for our church family. It’s been good for them, it’s been good for me, and our church has grown spiritually (and numerically) because of it.
Some practical considerations.
There are more reasons, for sure, to preach the Psalms, but I wanted to keep this brief and right to the point. If we all agree we should preach from Psalms because it’s the Word of God, it covers a variety of topics, and it’s good for our people, then how should you go about preaching it?
First, since we’re planning on completing the entire book, I’m doing everything I can to preach one chapter a Sunday. Sometimes that’s not possible, but more often than not, it is. Aim for one chapter a Sunday. You probably won’t do a deep dive, but I’ve been able to preach an expository sermon one chapter at a time.
Second, open up the New Testament. I suspect you always throw in some cross-references when you preach, but it’s downright fun when you preach the Psalms. Save some time in your sermons to show how passages or verses from the Psalms made their way into the New Testament and how that connects the grand narrative of redemption.
Third, be willing to hit the pause button. You’re the only one who knows your people; I don’t. I have no business telling you to preach from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150, but I do commend the value of preaching the Psalms to your people.
At first, we set out to preach Book One, but our folks begged to continue. If you notice your folks are bogging down a bit, or you’re bogging down a bit, hit the pause button and take a break with another short series.
I’ve had a blast preaching the Psalms. Our Sunday evening services have grown as I’ve preached from this section of the Bible, and our entire congregation—and most certainly me—have grown spiritually through our time in this beloved book.
In other words, I can’t think of any reason you should shy from making your way through the Psalms at some point, especially in a church revitalization setting.