When someone writes a book that is so profoundly rooted in the life-giving words of the Word Himself, I linger long. Dan Wilt’s book, “Sheltering Mercy | Prayers Inspired by the Psalms” — has become a companion for me during my morning coffee. A doctoral candidate at Asbury Theological Seminary, Dan draws from the breadth of the Church to explore finding our identity in the love of God, following the way of Jesus, worship, the Spirit-filled life, and creativity. It’s a humble joy to invite the tender wisdom of my friend Dan to our farm table…
There are secret places I go to pray—places close by, and dear to my heart.
In the first, I sit by a silver, flowing river. It is springtime. The music of nature rustles in the air, and a tree—flourishing on the bank, its branches thick and heavy with fruit—grows wide and lush. I am in the company of saints, the Scriptures opened carefully on my lap, and I am aware of—keenly present to—One watching over my way on the journey.
In the second, a warm, kind wind dances across a plain of swaying grass on a starry night. My eyes are lifted upward, the Milky Way splitting big sky like a mist made of trillions of tiny flecks of light. Beneath it, the earth is at play; as morning breaks, thousands of creatures teem in the ocean depths while others leap and spin over open waters and spirited rapids. Horses nicker, cows low—and I am the object of Supreme Love.
“When we pray the Psalms, we realize they were never meant to be read—they were meant to be inhabited.”
In the third, I kneel outside a magnificent, artful cathedral. I am bowed hard in lament at the doorway, weeping and grieving heavy losses, full of envy, knowing the loose lipped prosper in the streets. I am close to failing, falling, faithlessly walking away—when the door opens. I am lifted to my feet by a hand unseen and walk into the radiant sanctuary. I begin to sing, and the song opens my eyes—I smile with hope, and God strengthens my heart once again.
I hope you recognize Psalm 1, Psalm 8, and Psalm 73. When we pray the Psalms, we realize they were never meant to be read—they were meant to be inhabited.
Inhabiting the Psalms in Prayer
A few years ago, a dear friend and partner in prayer asked me if I wanted to join him in praying the Psalms.
With almost 40 years of loving the Psalms behind me, I have come to realize that these astounding gifts from the Creator are thickly layered truth, truth soaked in thousands of years of covenant story, truth that gives voice to our brightest joys, deepest laments, faithful confidences, and blossoming songs.
“To inhabit a Psalm is to linger in its words, to allow its covenant promises to infuse our own words, bodies, and emotions with Hope.”
To inhabit a Psalm is to linger in its words, to allow its covenant promises to infuse our own words, bodies, and emotions with Hope. Over a three-year period, what began as a devotional exercise between friends became a true and holy habitation for prayer, a long lingering in the presence of Jesus and the prayer book of his people.
As a painter stumbling on a beautiful vista gathers her paints and responds to the landscape in impressionistic art, so we proceeded to respond to each of the first 75 psalms in written prayers. As we prayed, hundreds of other Scriptures came forward to provide melodic and harmonic elements in the symphony of prayers we found ourselves writing.
The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Sheltering Mercy: Prayers Inspired by the Psalms, a collection of prayers inspired by Psalms 1-75.
“Yes, the praise we find in the Psalms is often joyful. Exuberant. A tune fit for dancing. But there is praise of another sort—the praise of the forgotten. The destitute. The fearful. The guilty. For these, praise often looks like utter desperation. Immobilizing panic. Fury. Trembling lips and a stuttering heart. The Psalms pull no punches. …The God we serve—the One who is relentlessly present with us, even when He seems as distant as the peace we long for—is with us both in triumphant victory and in crushing defeat. In consolation and in desolation. In darkness and in light. In weeping and in rejoicing. In death and in life.”
The following prayer is the first in Sheltering Mercy and is a response to the beauty of Psalm 1.
Your presence is life to me:
joy of my heart;
strength of my soul.
Grant me the grace to walk in Your ways;
to cherish Your friendship
over the fellowship of the fallen,
soul-shaped as I am by the company I keep—
pressed and formed,
for good or for ill.
I refuse to march with those who mock Your mercy;
who revel in the unraveling of sacred things.
They stumble down trackless wastes,
training others in the ways of their wandering.
But You will be my delight, Lord;
Your Word my mirth and meal—
and I like an oak,
drawing strength from fertile soil,
growing in grace,
safe in the circumference of Your mercy.
So I will flourish,
a river tree drinking from the deep—
fruit heavy on my branches;
leaves thrumming with life.
Though seasons shift around me,
I will stand.
The godless are lifeless:
bent by the wind;
such are those who shun Your mercy.
They forfeit seats at Your table,
refusing Your wedding garments;
choosing nakedness over grace.
I won’t be counted among them—
not while Your River rushes for my good.
Lead me, Lord,
strength upon strength,
that at the end of my days I may look back
and wonder at the manifold mercy of God.
(Excerpted from Sheltering Mercy: Prayers Inspired by the Psalms
by Ryan Whitaker Smith and Dan Wilt)
Inhabit a Psalm This Week
If praying the Psalms is new to you, try choosing one psalm this week (perhaps a favorite), and linger in it, taking the time to enter its words and to allow its words to enter your heart.
In the spirit of the ancient prayer practice of lectio divina (“divine reading”) repeat one phrase from that psalm that moves you, slowly, two or three times, welcoming the Spirit to speak to you through its words.
Then begin to pray, in written or verbal form, the revelation stirring in your heart.
Praying the Psalms can help us become like Jesus on the path to life (Ps. 16:11); our Lord’s own words were woven through with their themes and elements—even as he knew he was the Light toward which they were pointing.
May the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit meet with you as you pray with the Psalms.
Dan Wilt is a speaker, educator, writer, and musician who teaches on worship and spiritual formation through DanWilt.com. He has served as a pastor and encourager of creative leaders and has written several books, including Sheltering Mercy: Prayers Inspired by the Psalms and A Well-Worn Path. Dan lives with his wife Anita outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and they have three remarkable adult children.
Sheltering Mercy: Prayers Inspired by the Psalms, co-authored by Ryan Whitaker Smith and Dan Wilt, is a new prayer book from Brazos Press that helps us rediscover the rich treasures of the Psalms—through free-verse prayer renderings of their poems and hymns—as a guide to personal devotion and meditation. This book contains 75 prayers drawn from Psalms 1-75, providing lyrical sketches of what the authors have seen, heard, and felt while sojourning in the Psalms.
This artful, poetic, and classic devotional book features compelling custom illustrations and offers a fresh way to reflect on and pray the Psalms.