First Verse: a journey through the Psalms

Four years ago I attended a prayer retreat and began a new chapter of my prayer journey. Vic Black, U.S. prayer director for The Navigators, introduced me to the concept of journaling the Psalms in the first person, as though God Himself were speaking to me.  I found the idea intriguing and immediately tried it out.  To my delight, my efforts quickly became an intimate conversation between my Heavenly Father and myself.  Over the course of several years, I rewrote selected Psalms as my prayer to my Father and then would use the same Psalm as His answer back to me. As I journaled, I related the words of the Psalm to whatever was going on in my life at that time and let my heart cry out from the depths of myself, as I imagine the original Psalmist did. When I journaled the Psalm as though God Himself were speaking to me, answering my prayer, I asked the Holy Spirit to guide me and I listened to see what truths He had for me in the Psalm.

A little over a year ago, I started a journal just for the Psalms, labeling it Praying the Psalms.   I began with Psalm 1 and journaled them one by one. Some of the longer Psalms I broke down into several prayers, especially Psalm 119, which I prayed by letter. With twenty-two letters, it took two months. I’ve now worked my way through Psalm 144 and with only six more to go and plenty of pages left in my journal, I will start over again at Psalm 1.

Recently, the Lord introduced me to two additional ideas, this time with regard to the first verse of each Psalms. My husband, using a Bible app on his iPhone, flipped through the Psalms and noticed the first verse of each one as it appeared on his screen. He commented how each first verse stood out when read successively that way. Not long after, a friend shared how the people in Jesus’ day (and some still today) would have immediately recalled the entire Psalm when just the first verse was quoted. (For those who memorize Scripture, its like hearing the first few words of a passage and instantly recalling the rest of the passage. Or for music lovers, hearing the first few words/notes of a song and recalling the entire the song). So when Jesus said on the cross in Matthew 27:46 (NLT), “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” quoting from Psalm 22, those listening would have recalled the entire Psalm, all the way through its description of struggles, enemies, trust, and praise, to the final verse, “His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born.
 They will hear about everything he has done.”

As I considered the power of the first verse, I decided to try a new activity and use it as a blog series:  a  journey through the first verses of the Psalms, writing a short devotional on each one. Just as the Lord started a new chapter in my prayer journey with journaling the Psalms in the first person, I look forward to this new chapter on the first verse and I invite you to join me on this journey.


About Jill English Johnston

God writes His story on every heart, if we only pause to read it. My heart has lived in a fantasy world since early childhood and am delighted that God has finally brought me to the place where I can bring the fantasies to life through story. I am currently working on a fantasy trilogy (of course) but I also post thoughts, reflections and (hopefully) inspiration to my website: I am a follower of the Rabbi Jesus, married to my best friend and inspiration, and the mother of three incredible children, one daughter and two sons, a son-in-love, a daughter-in-love and two adorable granddaughters. When not writing, I passionately pursue prayer, reading (never enough time to read them all!), and the outdoors. My husband and I both served in the US Navy and have lived/travelled through many states and all over Asia. We both still enjoy travelling, but we really love our home in New Braunfels, located at the Texas Hill Country.
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4 Responses to First Verse: a journey through the Psalms

  1. Laura says:

    Wonderful post and great timing! We are on the same page, just from different translations. : )
    I have been in the Psalms as well. I have been trying to pray the divine office or the Little Office daily. I rarely do all the prayers as they were mainly written for the religious. Lay people have begun praying them, but I seem to only get to 3 sections of the 8. I have also been enjoying the work of the mystics…Saint Terese of Avila and Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. Saint Terese is a bit to deep for my simple mind, but Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity is wonderful! I have just newly set out on this prayer journey that you have been on for 4 years. I’m always a bit late to get with the program. : )

    As a family we still try to pray the rosary at least 3 times a week and the history of the rosary is linked to the Psalms.

    “The Book of Psalms is certainly one of the most famous collection of religious poetry known. The 150 Psalms of the Bible have always been associated with King David, although it is unlikely the he wrote all-or even most-of them. It is believed that he encouraged the writing and singing of these songs during the First Temple period, for he is described as one who played the lyre and likely did author and sing many of the psalms.

    The Hebrew word for “psalm” is “Tehillim”, a word whose roots connote praise, and in large measure praise is the word that best describes these lyrical, often joyous and poetic expressions of faith and gratitude and compassion that go from the individual to the societal relationship with God.

    Psalms from the Psalter (books of psalms) were chanted by monks as a part of the Divine Office throughout Christian history, and the original usage of beads or knotted rope was as an aid to praying the Divine Office’s psalms. These prayer beads eventually became used for the recitation of the modern day rosary. ” from:

    I will pray for you as you begin this exciting new journey in the Psalms. I am glad that the Lord and Jon inspired you on this endeavor.



  2. Laura says:

    Just to clarify: The link above is just pasted and copied for the small bit about the rosary. Although his blog site seems interesting I know NOTHING about it and do not use his teachings in my prayer time. Upon research he seems to be linked to something called the “old catholic church” which intrigued me because we belong to the Traditional Latin Rite of the FSSP so I looked it up.
    NO RELATION!! : )



  3. Thank you for joining me on this journey and sharing yours as well.
    The year prior to retiring from the navy, I used prayer beads and tried to pray through them every day, three times a day, at 9, 12, and 3. It was a powerful exercise. One I may use again.
    Recently, Jon took a Prayer and Spirituality class and had a book with prayer exercises in it. He encouraged me to try it and I’ve done one or two. It’s on my stack of books to read.
    Have you checked out my books under my Expressions menu. It has last year’s journey with the different books on prayer that I read, along with a quick synopsis and quotes that stood out to me. I still have a couple more that I’m reading and need to add.
    My Moms in Prayer International verse for today is:
    Lord, May I devote myself to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.
    From Colossians 4:2 (NLT)
    May you, Laura, also continue to devote yourself to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.
    Grace and Peace


  4. Pingback: Be Still Series – Consider: Trusting the Abundance of God | tablets of human hearts

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