The Psalms aren't presented in chronological order. It makes me wonder how the canonizers determined the order in which we find them. The entire Bible (sixty-six books) for that matter is not presented in historical, chronological order, either. I've heard that Psalm 118, being the center chapter in the Bible is sandwiched between the shortest (117) and the longest (119). Interesting. Haven't measured it out myself but I have read elsewhere that's not even true. Psalm 131, they say, is the central chapter. Anyways, I suppose it doesn't matter.
I am going to touch on some of the high points of David's Psalms. Whereas Bob Dylan has written over 600 songs, David only wrote about a hundred (that we have, recorded). You gotta know that, with the spiritual and symbolic nature of much of Dylan's music, he had to have been inspired by David.
And that's what the Psalms are. Hymns to God of praise and worship and thanksgiving and lamentation and distress. David covers the whole spectrum of human emotion through his music. The fact that we have it to draw upon for our own life is a miracle. A lifeline to the same God David knew. One good thing about the placement of the book itself is that it's right in the center of the Bible. It's easy to find, just open up to the middle.
Here are a few Psalms as touchstones for the stages of life.
Psalm 23: David had to have written this while he was young and tending sheep. He sees God as his own shepherd, caring for him as he did his own sheep (or his father's, whichever). This simple prayer—much like the Lord's Prayer from the NT—expresses a life thoroughly steeped in God's presence. From beginning to end. And beyond.
Psalm 19: I can see this one having come from the pasture (pasture-ized?) as well. David expresses the awe and wonder of God as Creator. I imagine a young boy, sitting back in the grass, the wind rustling his hair. Gazing up at the stars in the sky. Who knows how old he was when he wrote this. He's at least aware of life's inner workings enough to know of the importance of God's word and the benefit of keeping it and trusting in Him through it. He also understands the fine points of analogy and allusion. What a kid!
See also Psalm 104—Pure poetry.
Psalm 25: One of my all-time favorites (along with Psalm 40). Many of his psalms were written in the caves and wilderness areas of Israel while he was on the run from a demented—and deposed—King Saul. God may have anointed David King of Israel as a child, but he didn't end up taking the throne until later in life. Saul pursued David and his men through the desert and much of David's adult character was forged through that time of trial. The harsh backdrop of sand and heat providing a fitting metaphor for the spiritual dryseason David went through on the inside. I'm reminded of a verse from Hebrews (5:8): "Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." That's talking about Jesus but it could certainly refer to David as well. God called David and made him king though it wasn't realized until many years and sorrows later. The joy of such a blessing was tempered, and in many ways substantiated, by the troubles he experienced. This cycle of wilderness exploration—to put it politely—is holy. This cycle is sacrosanct before God. If it's good enough for Jesus and good enough for David—two men who know God far better than I do—then it's good enough for me.
Psalm 37: David is getting older. He expresses as much in verse 25. He's now old enough to know—with a certainty that only comes with age— God will never "leave him or forsake him", as he expressed in Psalm 27 (verse 9) and was answered in Hebrews (13:5-6).
God blessed David throughout his life, in spite of his mistakes, because he practiced what he preached and was willing to admit and atone for his mistakes. This is human perfection.
On another note, I suppose the reason we have both mistakes and successes recorded in the Bible is to learn from them. This is an obvious statement and fully in accord with the understanding that God "forgets" our sin. "Their sin and iniquity will I remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). "As far as the east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12) is how far God has removed our sin from us through Jesus. But in remembering sin, we'd do well to remember this fact too: unless the lessons are learned, history will repeat itself. The feeling of guilt and condemnation never comes from God—conviction, yes. But not shame or guilt devoid of hope.
Jesus made it possible for us to see our sins and shortcomings in light of His love and as such, complete amnesty is offered to anyone willing to come to Him. He'll teach us. He says He will.
"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." (Matthew 11:29).