Singing the Psalms

Singing the Psalms

If you are a member or regular attender of Christ Church Presbyterian you will have noticed that we sing the Psalms in our worship services. Allow me to explain three reasons why I believe it is not only good but altogether necessary that we, as a congregation, sing the Psalms.

1. The Psalms were designed to be sung: The Psalms were divinely inspired not only to be read, but also to be sung. In fact, the Book of Psalms is the Church’s only divinely inspired song book. C.S. Lewis writes that “the Psalms are poems, and poems intended to be sung.” The Old Covenant people of God were commanded to sing the Psalms (Ps. 47:6-7) and it is no different for those of the New Covenant. For instance, the apostle Paul exhorted the believers at Ephesus to speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). From the time of King David to the present, the Church has been singing the Psalms. Sadly, in recent times, God’s inspired song book has been replaced by “praise songs” often characterized by catchy tunes and man-centered lyrics. Calvin asserts in his preface to the Genevan Psalter, (1543) “when we have looked thoroughly, and searched here and there, we shall not find better songs nor more fitting for the purpose [of worship], than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit spoke and made through Him.” Concerning the appropriateness of the tunes put to the Psalms, Calvin states that “care must always be taken that the song be neither light nor frivolous; but that it have weight and majesty, and also, there is a great difference between music which one makes to entertain men at the table in their houses, and the Psalms which are sung in the Church in the presence of God and His angels.” God not only cares what we sing, but also how we sing, that is, with sincerity, joy, and reverence. “Worship the Lord with reverence, and rejoice with trembling” (Ps. 2:11).

2. The Psalms Speak to the Whole Range of Human Experience: One Sunday, several years ago, after a worship service, I looked into the teary-eyed face of a church member who had just lost a loved one. We talked about the blessings of singing God’s Word in the Psalms. It’s wonderful to sing Psalms and hymns that speak so powerfully to our human experience – even our suffering.” Too often modern music focuses entirely on celebration whereas we may sense the need to express other emotions as well. The Psalms deal with all aspects of our personality. For instance: Does God seem far away? Look at Psalm 10. Are you walking through the shadow of death? See Psalm 23. Are you glad and filled with joy? See Psalm 4. How about the need for God’s protection? Sing Psalm 121. Looking for a refuge? Read Psalm 46. What does one sing when atrocities take place (e.g. September 11th) and there is only shock and anger? Try Psalm 94. You see, the Psalms, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were penned to help the Christian express his or her innermost emotions in song. Terry Johnson states rightly that “there is a wholeness to the psalms as designed by their divine author that addresses the whole of human life. There is a realism as well, teaching the positive and negative sides of spiritual experience: the light and the dark, the delightful and the degrading, the victorious and the defeating, the hopeful and the discouraging.” Why would we want to ignore the Psalms, God’s gift to the Church?

3. The Psalms Teach Us How to Speak with God: There is no greater language for prayer than that which is found in God’s Word. The Book of Psalms is the best place to start. Praying and singing through the Psalms provides the Christian with a more complete picture of God and His ways. Therefore, by praying and singing the Psalms we declare the truth about God’s nature and ways. Too often, modern song lyrics emphasize only the more “acceptable” attributes of God (e.g. love, patience, etc.). Singing the Psalms helps us to express ourselves in a biblical manner. For example: Praise (Ps. 8:1;19:1); Confession (Ps. 32;51); Sorrow and Complaint (Ps. 22; 130); Thanksgiving (Ps. 103); and Trust (Ps. 23; 46). Singing Psalms guides our thoughts and expressions Godward, and teaches us how to properly and reverently approach the King of Kings.

The Book of Psalms – the inspired song book of God – is practically ignored in worship services today. Up until the early 1700s the Psalter was the primary ‘hymn book’ in Western Europe and the Americas. There were relatively few hymns until the mid-eighteenth century and no praise songs until the 1970s. I am not suggesting that we should do away with hymns or Christ-centered modern hymns / songs. Many things that are written today are wonderful and instructive. However, what has been branded on my soul is the need for the Church … our Church … to sing the Psalms. May God be glorified as we sing unto His glory the very words that He provided us to sing.

- Pastor Jon