To be fully alive, our hearts must beat in time with God’s heart. By letting the Psalms course through us, we make the divine pulse our own, as he floods our lives with his grace, truth, freedom, and joy—which is why he made us. The way God does that is inseparable from the kind of book the Psalter is. So grasping why we should read it involves exploring its nature and how best to approach it.
Though the Psalter is admittedly one of the Bible’s most challenging books, it is also one of its most life-giving books. No pious Jew in Jesus’ day and no one in the Early Church could have imagined a believer flourishing without submitting themselves to the tutelage of the Psalms. Yet most Christians today seem to think otherwise.
The Psalms remain a favorite book for some. But its popularity in the West has dramatically waned over the past century. According to Walter Brueggemann, most Christians now know only about 5 psalms. Psalms 23, 46, 91, 100, 121, for example. We have a love-hate relationship with the Psalter, considering it as troubling a mix of the graceful and grotesque as Bosch’s painting. We don’t know what to do with poetry, and we want only those psalms that give us an emotional lift, which cuts out a lot of the book—anything, raw, angry, or too honest. Even liturgical churches now edit out much of the book.
All this is in keeping with at least four pronounced aspects of our time: our culture’s general sidelining of poetry, the modern Evangelical’s dislike of the discipline of prescribed prayers, the contemporary Church’s distaste for the Old Testament’s messy theology, and the left-hemisphere dominant thinking that so afflicts our culture. But understandable or not, it’s highly lamentable.
The world has always eroded biblical faith and does so even more in an age that’s devoted to self-worship, disdainful of external authority, and distracted by the many voices seeking our attention. Reading any part of scripture can help prevent faith’s erosion. But the Psalter’s singular nature makes it uniquely able to strengthen faith. It can even bring unbelievers to faith, as British poet Malcolm Guite’s conversion story attests.
Much of the Psalms’ power to restore faith lies in the way it infuses its poetry with life-giving story, and both its poetry and story with prophetic truth-telling—these being the Psalter’s three dimensions. This fusion effectively brings us, our world, our beliefs, and our values into the circle of God’s transforming light. And as with fine art, the more we understand what the Psalms do and how they do it, the more we’ll enjoy them and experience their transformative power.
 Walter Brueggemann, From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014) 8.
 This last point is based on the Iain McGilchrist’s work on the brain, as presented in The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012).