In prayer, Christ is leading you up the holy mountain and into an encounter that will lead you speechless (Mark 9.2-8). But you’ll never reach the peaks of prayer without sauntering the well-worn paths through the valleys and along the ridges of the psalms. When you pray the psalms, you’re praying the prayers Jesus prayed. He knew them by heart and carried them with him wherever he went. Praying the psalms involved him in a tradition that was already a thousand years old. When you pray them now, you’re following a path that’s led people up the holy mountain for over three thousand years. Some people look at these old, crusty prayers and think they can bypass them. They want the rarified air, the glorious views, the transforming vision found at the heights of meditation and contemplation. They don’t like paths—they want shortcuts; they don’t want to walk where others have walked before.
In the fourth through sixth century, the deserts of the Middle East were populated by daring and sometimes foolish God-seekers. The Roman Empire was collapsing and many were seeking firm ground to stand on. The deserts became home to some of the wisest, sanest saints alive. But they also held the bleached bones of fools who tried to soar too quickly, pioneering types who thought they didn’t need paths, and figured they could get along without guides. The wise knew better and said so: “If you see a brother trying to climb into heaven,” they taught, “grab him by the heel and pull him back to earth.”
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