It was raining hard that evening and I could barely see the middle line on the two- lane Tennessee highway. I was on my way to the hospital in Columbia, Tennessee. I had just received word that a 26 year old woman from our church was near death. She was dying of cancer and our little church had been grieving with her.
I was a young minister, preaching for a little store-front church about thirty minutes from Columbia. I had never been called to the hospital like this before. In fact, I had never seen anyone die. I had never preached a funeral.
This woman died about an hour after I arrived at the hospital. Many family members and friends were present in the waiting room, supporting those closest to her. A few minutes after her death, the friends began to quietly leave, giving the family some privacy.
I wondered what I was supposed to do. A very wise and gentle nurse approached me and said, “You probably want to take the family into the chapel for a few minutes.” (I am sure she could tell that I didn’t know what to do or say.) A few minutes later, she quietly asked the family to follow her to the nearby chapel. I stood at the door of the little chapel as they filled in, one by one. The room was so quiet.
I saw a large Bible at the front of the chapel. I opened it to Psalm 23 and read the ancient words of that Psalm. I then prayed for this family.
That rainy night, in the midst of this family’s grief and my own fear, I found that the Psalms gave me words where I had none. In fact, I saw Psalm 23 provide a word from God to a family who desperately needed to hear his voice.
A light came on for me that night. I learned that the Psalms are the words of God that can speak to the tender places of the heart. This lesson spoke powerfully not only to the value of the Psalms in my ministry, but in my life as well.
Years later, I would learn just how valuable the Psalms could be for nurturing my heart on quiet mornings.
Early one morning, with a cup of coffee in one hand and a yellow highlighter in the other, I began reading the Psalms. I began with Psalm one and underlined every word in the Psalm which either named God, or was an action or description of his character. I did this each morning, working through five Psalms each day. After reading these Psalms and marking these words, I skimmed through the texts that I had read. I allowed these words and phrases to shape my prayer for the morning.
Finally, after reading the entire Psalter, I began flipping through the pages of the book. The book was saturated in yellow where I had highlighted word after word. I was overwhelmed by how the Psalms were saturated with God! I have since done this exercise on a number of occasions using different translations.
The Psalms have encouraged me to pay attention to God. He certainly is paying attention to me. His words in these Psalms continue to provide me with strength, direction, and encouragement.
What is your favorite Psalm? Why?