Before reading (or praying) one of the psalms, it can often be helpful to get yourself in the right frame of mind. One way of doing that would be to read it twice. But another way would be to read something a bit shorter. That’s what I’ve tried to do here, with a brief heading for each of the psalms.

I’m aiming for something between the headings you might get in some Bible translations (e.g., NRSV, ESV), and the ‘Where to find help when…’ section at the start of my old Gideons New Testament and Psalms. A couple of examples…

An easy one to start. Psalm 3 begins with ‘O Lord, how many are my foes!’ (NRSV, ESV). Here are the headings:

  • NRSV: ‘Trust in God under Adversity’
  • ESV: ‘Save Me, O My God’
  • Gideons: referenced under ‘Where to find help when … Intimidated’
  • Below: ‘Surrounded by foes’

In this case, there isn’t really any need of a heading, as the situation is clear from the first line.

However, that isn’t always the case.

One example where a heading is helpful would be Psalm 89. For the first 37 verses, everything seems to be fantastic. God is reigning, and David is on the throne. However, all of a sudden, ‘But now you have spurned and rejected him’ (NRSV). That’s the kind of thing that can really take you by surprise when reading the psalm. But presumably it wasn’t a surprise to the psalmist, and nor does it come as a surprise once you are familiar with the psalm. It seems to be intended more to take God by surprise! ‘God, you did this, and you said this, and you promised this … but look at us now!

This one doesn’t feature in my Gideons ‘Where to find help when…’ section (‘taunted’?), but here are the other headings:

  • NRSV: ‘God’s Covenant with David’
  • ESV: ‘I Will Sing of the Steadfast Love of the Lord
  • Below: ‘God’s anointed apparently abandoned’

Hopefully my heading prepares you for the psalm as a whole.

I put these together a few years ago, along with reading (very helpful) comments on the psalms by C. John Collins in the ESV Study Bible. I’m not claiming they are perfect by any means, but I’ve been finding them helpful, as something to read before reading the psalm itself.

Here they are in a printable format (Word/PDF): print double-sided and cut it in half and then you have two copies!

  1. Why pursue righteousness?
  2. For an unruly world
  3. Surrounded by foes
  4. In distress
  5. When enemies threaten
  6. Suffering God’s displeasure
  7. Maliciously accused
  8. God’s glory in creation
  9. After deliverance from oppressors
  10. When the wicked are getting away with it
  11. When the wicked bend their bows
  12. When everyone is lying
  13. How long?
  14. When evildoers devour God’s people
  15. What does God want from a worshipper?
  16. Seeking refuge in God
  17. Maliciously accused
  18. God has delivered his anointed king
  19. How is God’s voice heard?
  20. For success for God’s anointed
  21. Thankful for the king’s success
  22. Trusting God in suffering
  23. Trusting in God’s care
  24. Going up to God’s holy place
  25. In need of God’s grace and guidance
  26. Seeking vindication
  27. In the day of trouble
  28. In danger because of evildoers
  29. In a thunderstorm
  30. Thankful for God’s help
  31. Surrounded by enemies
  32. Thankful for forgiveness
  33. Reasons to praise God
  34. Thankful for God’s deliverance
  35. Pursued
  36. Considering the wicked
  37. When evildoers prosper
  38. Suffering because of sin
  39. When life seems fleeting
  40. Again in need of deliverance
  41. In sickness
  42. Longing to appear before God
  43. Longing to appear before God
  44. After a calamity for God’s people
  45. The king and his bride
  46. God’s city is secure
  47. God reigns over the nations
  48. God will establish his city
  49. When the foolish become rich
  50. Half-hearted in worship
  51. Conscious of sin
  52. Against the boastful evildoer
  53. When evildoers devour God’s people
  54. Under threat of persecution
  55. Oppressed by a treacherous friend
  56. Afraid because of enemies
  57. Pursued
  58. Ruled by wicked rulers
  59. Pursued yet innocent
  60. Seeking success in battle
  61. In need of refuge
  62. Waiting for God’s help
  63. Fleeing persecution
  64. Facing the plots of the wicked
  65. Thankful for the harvest
  66. Thankful for answered prayer
  67. Why should God bless us?
  68. God’s presence with his people
  69. Hated by many without cause
  70. In danger from enemies
  71. Weak and in danger
  72. Expecting the king to bring justice
  73. When the wicked prosper
  74. God’s dwelling place profaned
  75. Awaiting God’s judgment
  76. God has delivered Zion
  77. When God seems absent
  78. Remembering past rebellion
  79. God’s people brought very low
  80. God’s people under his anger
  81. Turning to other gods
  82. Under unjust rule
  83. God’s people threatened
  84. Welcomed into God’s presence
  85. God’s anger seen in the land
  86. Pursued by the insolent
  87. Celebrating the global city of God
  88. Overwhelmed by troubles
  89. God’s anointed apparently abandoned
  90. Pondering how fleeting life is
  91. In danger
  92. Why praise the Lord?
  93. When the seas lift up their voice
  94. When the wicked afflict God’s people
  95. In danger of unbelief
  96. Celebrating God’s plans for the nations
  97. Celebrating God’s reign
  98. Celebrating God’s salvation
  99. Celebrating God’s holiness
  100. Thankful
  101. Under God’s righteous king
  102. Afflicted and faint
  103. Celebrating God’s kindness
  104. Celebrating the created order
  105. Celebrating God’s faithfulness
  106. Remembering past rebellion
  107. Thankful for restoration from exile
  108. Seeking success in battle
  109. When evil is repaid for good
  110. Celebrating the king’s reign
  111. Celebrating God’s works
  112. Why fear the Lord?
  113. Celebrating God’s care for the lowly
  114. Celebrating God’s power over creation
  115. Taunted by idolaters
  116. Thankful for deliverance from death
  117. Longing for the nations to worship
  118. Thankful for God’s deliverance
  119. Delighting in God’s word
  120. When a liar causes trouble
  121. On a dangerous journey
  122. Gathering for worship
  123. Facing contempt and scorn
  124. Thankful for deliverance
  125. Is it worth trusting God?
  126. Seeking a change in fortunes
  127. Building a house
  128. What does it look like to be blessed?
  129. Afflicted but not defeated
  130. Seeking forgiveness
  131. Quietly trusting in God
  132. Seeking a king to restore the temple
  133. Valuing the unity of God’s people
  134. Seeking God’s blessing
  135. Praising God for his goodness
  136. Thankful for God’s steadfast love
  137. Remembering past wrongs
  138. Thankful for God’s help
  139. Considering God’s knowledge and care
  140. In danger from the wicked
  141. Facing a trap of the wicked
  142. Pursued
  143. In need of God’s grace and deliverance
  144. Seeking victory for the king
  145. Celebrating God’s goodness
  146. Praising God who delivers
  147. Celebrating God’s care for his people
  148. Calling all creation to praise God
  149. Celebrating God’s grace and rule
  150. Celebrating God!