When I first started studying the Bible, I wasn't a big fan of the Psalms. Since I wasn't a soldier, a governmental ruler, or running for my life, I found them hard to relate to. But as I gained more experience reading through the Psalms, that process taught me three ways to make the Psalms relevant to your life:
1 - "Enemies" and "adversaries" are mentioned quite a lot in the Psalms, directly referring to people seeking to kill David or trying to usurp his reign. But by thinking of these enemies as demons tempting us, our own fleshly nature tempting us, or enemies to the faith (whether in governments, popular culture, leaders of other religions, etc. depending on context), the Psalms' connection to our lives is suddenly a lot clearer.
2 - Rather than focusing on the exact circumstances in the Psalms, focus on the underlying emotions - something we have all experienced!
3 - I don't often tell people to color-code their Bible because different people have different Bible-marking methods (and some prefer not to at all), but in the specific case of the Psalms, I believe it's extremely helpful. For example, you could use one color for descriptions of God, another for promises of what God will do/does for you, another for emotions you relate to, another for spiritual states the Psalms' authors are bemoaning that you see in your own society, etc. - whatever stands out to you.
Let's disect my favorite Psalm (42) as an exercise in applying the Psalms to modern-day life.
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?
To me, this just expresses a desperate longing for God's presence. Most of us have experienced this at times when we've run from God - when we break off communion with Him, we start to crave Him.
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"
This seems like the author is mourning because he can't sense God's presence in his life anymore, and even others are pointing that out, saying God must not favor him anymore because he's run.
These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
Here, the author remembers how he used to be so passionate for God, being a great example and leading others. Now, he's fallen from that high, and is coming to the point of repentance, crying out to God.
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence. O my God, my soul is in despair within me; Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Here, I see the author longing to return to the spiritual state he was in in better times, and realizes that all he needs to do is to cry out to God - which is exactly what he is doing. He trusts that God will be with him again.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of your waterfalls; All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
This is one of my absolute favorite verses, because I adore comparisons of God's power to bodies of water. This is the expression of a soul absolutely overcome by the presence of God, having one of those amazing experiences when you're actually conscious of that deep connection of your soul with the Maker of the universe.
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, A prayer to the God of my life.
Here, the author becomes convinced that God's presence will be with him always, and expresses worship.
I will say to God my rock, "Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?" As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"
The author's not ignoring the reality of the struggles he's going through - we're not supposed to pretend everything's hunky-dory; we can be honest about our emotions.
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.
Finally, the author ends by circling back to his certainty that he and God are connected again, and will remain that way, and ends with a beautiful expression of worship.
What is your favorite Psalm, and why does it appeal to you? What tips do you have to share about relating the Psalms to modern life?