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How to Have a Deeper Relationship with God (Reading and Responding to the Psalms)

  • Whitney Hopler
How to Have a Deeper Relationship with God (Reading and Responding to the Psalms)

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Matthew Jacoby's book, Deeper Places: Experiencing God in the Psalms, (Baker Books, 2013).

When you want to deepen your relationship with God, you need to move beyond simply knowing about Him and seek personal encounters with Him. The Bible’s Psalms can help you do that. The Psalms are full of honest expressions of what it means to relate to God. They describe faith in action while dealing with the tension between this fallen world’s realities and the hope God offers you.

Here’s how you can deepen your relationship with God by reading and responding to the Psalms:

1. Reorient your focus toward God.

In the Psalms, people are stripped of worldly things that give them a false sense of security and fleeting fulfillment, and then discover that they can gain ultimate security and fulfillment through relationships with God. When worldly things fail to satisfy you, look beyond them toward God. Orient your life around your relationship with God, investing most of your time and energy into growing closer to Him, and then everything else in your life will fall into place in a healthy way.

What are the things in life that most often take your focus off of God? Interestingly enough, the things that pain us usually drive us toward God, while our sources of entertainment, the people and things we compare our lives to, and the mundane routine of life often distract and distance us from God. Think about what distracts you from God. Cultivate entertainment that draws you toward God. Work toward disciplining (or distancing) yourself from people or things that tempt you to be discontent.

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2. Express all the complexities inherent in a relationship with God.

The Psalms show that sharing life with God involves communicating with Him in all types of circumstances, such as lamenting hardship, expressing joy and gratitude, raging against injustice, asking for needs to be met, complaining, celebrating, and more. Regularly and honestly express your thoughts and feelings to God, confident that He is listening and He cares.

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3. Grieve over what makes God sad.

The Psalms describe people whose hearts become broken over what breaks God’s heart, such as these factors that affect our lives today: our propensity to stray from God, our defensiveness against God’s claim on us, our disregard of God’s kindness, and the lack of trust in God’s love that we show in the ways we disobey Him. Let the Psalms help you sense how sin can alienate you from God and make your Creator sad, and let the grief you feel about that fuel penitence in your life.

Take a moment and reflect -- what has happened in your heart and in your life that you might need to repent from? The point here is not to dwell on mistakes or beat yourself up for failure. But recognizing and repenting of sin is critical to a deeper relationship with Him. A wonderful psalm to pray for repentance is Psalm 32. Use this as a confessional prayer each week. As you read and pray through this Psalm, really grapple with your sin and remind yourself of God’s grace and forgiveness.

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4. Let yourself be broken so you can begin to discover the joy of freedom.

Invite God to break through the shell that shields you from the harsh realities of this fallen world so you can then discover through that brokenness how much you need God – the same process that the Psalms describe. Expect that freedom and joy will flow into your soul through the cracks left by brokenness as you place your trust in God.

Psalm 27 is a wonderful Psalm that acknowledges the brokenness of this world while clinging to the hope that we have as believers. If you're struggling in your current circumstance, let the words of this Psalm be a balm for your heart and a hope for your soul.

"I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see thegoodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord." - Psalm 27:13-14

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5. Be hopeful in the hard moments.

While the Psalms honestly acknowledge the problems of our fallen world, they also express an optimistic faith that God can solve the problems through redemption and salvation. Never lose hope when challenges and suffering enter your life; know that God is always willing to help you.

Laments make up the largest group of Psalms in our Bible, and though they don't shy away from the problems of the fallen world, they always point to the hope we have in God to restore all things, inact justice, and redeem the broken. Psalm 77, Psalm 53, Psalm 90 and Psalm 141 are just a few psalms you might consider praying and reading over when you are in need of hope. 

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7. Discover the key to happiness.

The Psalms show that happiness is ultimately found not in external circumstances, but in God, and the key to finding happiness is reorienting your life so that pursuing a closer relationship with God becomes your top priority. So whenever you feel stagnant, dissatisfied, or empty, renew your relationship with God, and you’ll experience the happiness of true fulfillment.

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8. Grow your faith through prayer.

In the Psalms, people develop stronger faith by seeking God through prayer, asking God to meet their needs as they claim His promises and entrust their lives to Him. So pray about each of your needs and persevere in prayer until God answers you.

Read and pray through Psalm 11, Psalm 16, Psalm 23, Psalm 62, Psalm 91, and Psalm 121 and be reminded that God is always near and always hears our prayers.

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9. Wait well.

The Psalms describe how agonizing it can feel to be facing an urgent need yet not see God acting to meet it right away. But, as the Psalms reveal, the process of waiting is valuable in itself, because it encourages you to stretch your faith by seeking God. When you exercise your faith while you wait, you emerge from the waiting period with stronger faith.

Psalm 27, Psalm 30, Psalm 40 and Psalm 130 are worth checking out if you're currently in a season of waiting. Sometimes, it can be hard to know how to direct our thoughts, but these psalms give us words for the waiting and hope in the truth of their message.

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10. Liberate your desires.

As the Psalms show, when people make worldly things (such as wealth, power, or sex) the focus of their desires, they set themselves up for eventual disappointment, fueling a cycle of discontent in their lives. But when people make a relationship with God their ultimate desire, they can find real and lasting satisfaction. So liberate yourself from a vicious cycle of longing by focusing on God before anyone or anything else. The more you seek God, the greater your desire for Him will become, which will then motivate you to seek Him more – in a wonderful cycle of fulfillment.

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11. Find rest through worshipping God.

People in the Psalms worship God by seeking His purposes and doing their best to fulfill them. Rather than pursuing their own agendas for their lives, they offered themselves to God to do His will. Entrust yourself and your life to God as your own act of worship. When you let God overpower you, His authority will overshadow you, placing you in the protection of God’s will – which is the safest place for you to be.

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12. Praise and Enjoy God.

When people in the Psalms express praise to God for who He is and what He does, they do so together, using both words and physical actions (such as dancing, kneeling, bowing, clapping, and lifting hands). Follow their lead by regularly praising God yourself in ways that best convey your love for Him. The Psalms show that human relationships with God are meant to be much more than just distant and abstract. Incredibly, our Creator wants us to enjoy relating to Him. The more you enjoy God, the more you can become a vessel of His glory in this world. 

Adapted from Deeper Places: Experiencing God in the Psalms, copyright 2013 by Matthew Jacoby. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/bakerbooks.

SEE ALSO: What are the Psalms?

Matthew Jacoby is the teaching pastor at Barrabool Hills Baptist Church in Geelong, Victoria, Australia, and the leading member of the Psalms project band Sons of Korah. He has a doctorate in philosophical theology from the University of Melbourne.

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.  

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