Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Matthew Jacoby's upcoming 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Be optimistic. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Discover the power of being in God’s debt. In the Psalms, people acknowledge how dependent they really are on God, and how indebted they are to Him for everything He has done for them. Reflect on what God has done, and continues to do, for you. Then express your gratitude to God, and tell other people some stories of how God has blessed you.
Enjoy God. 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.
Praise 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.
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.
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.
Publication date: April 8, 2013