As I begin this new year, I am trying to reshape my posture toward our tumultuous, chaotic, divided world. How can I possibly be more positive, more forgiving, more joyful, more content? With renewed energy, I have turned for help to my years-long practice of reading from the Psalms every morning. A good cup of coffee and the Psalms—this is part of my morning ritual. Does this ancient spiritual discipline, practiced by Jesus and Paul and our ancestors of faith, have something to offer our crazy world today? Well, I am convinced, as I step into this same space, my life is reframed, refocused, renewed. We need the Psalms for our time.

Why are the Psalms so satisfying? First of all, I suppose, because they are so honest. We know we are engaging real life. The subject is wide-ranging, the experience raw at times, the writing brilliantly concrete. The insights surprise us. The beauty of the language often takes our breath away. Nothing ethereal or abstract here. These poems speak to real, messy, often confused lives, just like ours.

We hear often from the Psalms about all those enemies out there preparing to get us. Who are these enemies? Most certainly they are historical, for David, for Israel. Life is not simple, never was, we are reminded. But listen to the way the Psalmist handles these things:

Teach me your way, Lord;

do not give me up to the greed of my enemies;

lead me by a level path

to escape the foes who beset me:

liars breathing malice come forward to give evidence against me.

Well I know that I shall see the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and brave,

and put your hope in the Lord. (Psalm 27)

This passage contains the quintessential tension of the Psalms, a true-to-life tension, I submit. Anyone who has been deeply hurt by betrayal, for example, knows these “liars breathing malice.” Unfairness always hurts. But notice this piece brilliantly balances real hurt with the promise that “I know that I shall see the goodness of the Lord.” Just wait, the writer says. It will come. Goodness will win, rightness restored. Have courage, “be strong and brave.”

And then there are those extraordinary moments of sheer awe, utter amazement that God is present in the concrete world. This is stunning news for a world that assumes the material, the physical, is all there is. To say that our world is only material is to sell things way too short. Our lives can be sacramental again, filled with radiance:

The heavens tell out the glory of God,

heaven’s vault makes known his handiwork.

One day speaks to another,

night to night imparts knowledge,

and this without speech or language or sound of any voice.

Their sign shines forth on all the earth,

their message to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19)

Our age proposes material reality as all there is. No, says the Psalmist, we live in a world bristling with meaning. There is a language being spoken, even though we may not hear it. So listen up. Ultimately it is the language of “the glory of God.” That message “shines forth on all the earth.” This wonder is the startling news we discover each morning in the Psalms.

And then, in our day-by-day reading, we become more deeply convinced that God loves his children. He loves his world. We come to see that God was shaping a special people for a special purpose. Suddenly it dawns on us: He is still at that work, even now as we are reading the Psalms. The message gets muddy and distorted at times. The goal gets obscured. But we come away with the deep sense that we are people loved by God. And here’s the deal: Our purpose is to introduce the world to his goodness. God is nurturing, forgiving, uplifting, guiding, promising—all out of his immeasurable goodness.

And so, as we enter into the Psalms each morning our world will be changed. We come out looking at things differently. We come out wanting to be different, better, more alive to the vibrant world in which we live. We come out wanting to make the world better, in whatever small way we can. The practice of reading the Psalms can change things.