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Taking the Psalter in Portions

I regularly preach lectio continua. When we start a new series at my church, we open to verse one of that book and work through it week by week, passage by passage, verse by verse until we complete the book. I enjoy this practice for several reasons. It forces me to preach difficult passages I would not otherwise choose. It gives me a greater sense of a particular book and its place in redemptive-history. It also saves time once I have a feel for the book and a sense for its grammatical-historical context.

This works well for most books. But what about the Psalms? Seeing that there are 150 of them, if I preached an entire psalm per week, it would take me roughly three years to finish. And if I broke down some of psalms into smaller pericopes (think Psalm 119), it would take even longer. There’s nothing wrong with long sermon series, but given the nature of the psalter and the similarities between many consecutive psalms, this approach might not be the wisest option for the life of your congregation.

One minister friend of mine has practiced preaching the psalter lectio continua but only through the summer. Whatever series he was working through, he takes a break in the summer and picks up where he left off last time in the psalter. This has worked well for him in a couple of congregations. I have taken his example and modified it slightly.

Instead of triggering the change by the calendar, I switch to the psalter for four or five sermons whenever I finish a series. For example, when I finish my evening sermon series in Micah in October, I will pick up where I last left off in the psalter at Psalm 15. I will preach Psalms 15–18 on consecutive Lord’s Day evening services and then begin a sermon series in a new book. When I complete my morning sermon series in Mark sometime in January, I will pick up with Psalm 19 and continue the pattern.

This method seems to work well for me and my congregation. It allows us a little time to become situated in the psalter again without carrying the sense of embarking on another long journey. These brief excursions give us a respite from longer series. Each time we open the psalter, it is refreshing—as many of the psalms so beautifully are.

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