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Blog / A Woman’s Guide to the Psalms: An Interview with Lydia Brownback

A Woman’s Guide to the Psalms: An Interview with Lydia Brownback

Lydia BrownbackFear, joy, heartache, anger, frustration, doubt; the book of Psalms displays an incredible range of human emotions as they’re expressed toward God in prayer and song.

Bible Gateway interviewed Lydia Brownback about her book, Sing a New Song: A Woman’s Guide to the Psalms (Crossway, 2017).

How is your book different from other devotionals about the book of Psalms?

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Lydia Brownback: Sing a New Song isn’t actually a devotional per se. It’s more of a hybrid; a cross between a devotional and a tool for Bible study. For each of the 150 psalms in the Psalter, readers are given a one-sentence overview of the psalm along with a brief summary of how it fits into the big picture of Psalms. After this is a verse-by-verse breakdown of the psalm. I then try to shed light on how the psalm reveals particular aspects of God’s character. Each entry concludes with a suggestion for follow-up Scripture reading and personal application.

Describe the book of Psalms for someone who’s not familiar with it.

Lydia Brownback: The Psalter is the ultimate hymnal of God’s people, not only for those who first sang the psalms but for all believers in every age. We think of the psalms as prayers, because they’re cries of the heart lifted up to the Lord. But what’s so amazing is that these prayers were meant to be expressed in song.

Singing serves as an outlet for our deepest emotions: joy, sorrow, anger, fear, perplexity, discouragement, and longing. The full range of human feelings is there in the psalms and lifted up to God in prayerful song. This raw outpouring of honest emotion is perhaps why Psalms is the most loved book of the Bible.

But what makes these songs different from all others is that God is the focal point. Unique facets of his nature are revealed in every psalm, and as the psalmists focus on the Lord, their emotions and thoughts are reshaped. Since the psalms are primarily about God, we’re transformed as we immerse ourselves in this hymnal of Scripture.

How do you want people to use your book?

Lydia Brownback: I see Sing a New Song as a springboard—a launching-off place—for going deep into this vital portion of Scripture. At the end of the book, readers will find detailed instructions for how to prepare a small-group Bible study on Psalms. Alternatively, readers who wish to explore on a more personal level will find detailed guidance for journaling through the psalms.

What do the Psalms have to say to people who struggle with fear in its different manifestations?

Lydia Brownback: Much indeed! The psalms show us that God invites us to be honest with him about our fears, no matter their source. The psalmists express fear about all sorts of difficulties, including troubles they’ve brought upon themselves. We see in their songs that God never turns them away but meets them in the midst of those fearful places and delivers them.

King David, who wrote many of the psalms, battled fear on numerous occasions, but each and every time, God was faithful to deliver him. On one occasion, David’s very own son was trying to kill him, so David hid in a cave. Surely this was an occasion not only for great fear but also for great grief. So he pours out his heart to God: “O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me” (Ps. 3:1). But as he lifts the eyes of his heart upward, he’s reminded that God is his protector, defender, and deliverer, so he’s able to sing, “I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me” (v. 6).

In another psalm David sings, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1).

On yet another occasion David rejoices in deliverance: “I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4).

God meeting his people in the fears they face is a thread that runs all through the Psalter. In fact, those who struggle with fear and anxiety might want to focus on this theme when journaling through Psalms.

How do the Psalms help a person become more relational with God?

Lydia Brownback: Each and every psalm reveals our complete neediness, along with God’s corresponding provision for those needs. After all, isn’t that the nature of what it means to walk with God? We can do nothing without him, so when we see and acknowledge that reality, our hearts are humbled and tenderized for transformation into his will and ways.

So in the psalms God is praised for relieving troubles, providing basic necessities, healing broken hearts, and exercising his kingship on his people’s behalf. He’s sought after by lonely human beings who want to walk in his blessed paths.

More glorious, however, is that the psalms show that the Almighty God is incredibly patient with his people’s sin and blindness, and that he loves us so much that he’s ever present to comfort, forgive, and restore us to his joyous fellowship. He cares even more about our relationship with him than we do, which becomes clear as we study the psalms.

What Psalm is your favorite and why?

Lydia Brownback: It’s so hard to choose just one, because I love so many for different reasons. But one of my most favorites is Psalm 73. It was written by Asaph, a man who struggled with his faith when he became discontented with his lot in life.

The root of Asaph’s problem was envy: “My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:2–3). He envied the wealthy and prosperous, and he envied those who had no faith in God. To his way of thinking, they lived enjoyable lives with few restrictions, while those who remain faithful to the Lord seem to suffer a good deal more.

Asaph’s bitter heart grew more and more discouraged, but then he got a spiritual dose of reality: “When I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (vv. 16–17). It’s so clear right there. Asaph lifted his eyes off himself and up to God. And when he did, he saw that those who appear to have it all actually have nothing if they don’t have the Lord as their God.

Getting into the presence of God is what changed him, and as we follow his story, we learn so much about our own struggles with contentment and how to remedy that. Asaph is so transformed that he’s able to say (and truly mean): “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you” (v. 25). That declaration is the essence of contentment, and as we learn to sing Asaph’s song, we too can find what he found.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway?

Lydia Brownback: I’ve relied on Bible Gateway for many years as the go-to website for up-to-date Bible translations—so many versions! Few people can afford to build an actual library of all these different Bible translations, but for those of us who write and teach, we need ready-access to them, and we have it through Bible Gateway. Thank you for this valuable resource!

Bio: Lydia Brownback (MAR, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as a senior editor at Crossway in Wheaton, Illinois, and a speaker at women’s conferences around the world, and an author of many books, including A Woman’s Wisdom: How the Book of Proverbs Speaks to Everything, Finding God in My Loneliness and Contentment: A Godly Woman’s Adornment. Lydia previously served as writer in residence for Alistair Begg and as producer of the Bible Study Hour radio program with James Montgomery Boice.

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Filed under Books, Interviews, Old Testament