From Pastor Matt
Psalms in Worship
Over the last few weeks we have worked toward developing a definition of worship of God in the general sense. This week we will take a slight departure from that and talk about something more specific that will relate to something new that will happen in our corporate worship service on Sunday. As we continue to think about what it means to worship God and, more specifically, what it means to worship corporately as His church I wanted to take the time to talk about the importance of the use of Psalms in Worship.
As you might have noticed, I tend to read from a Psalm every week towards the beginning of our worship services. I do this intentionally because the Psalms are filled with some of the richest expressions of human emotion in all of Scripture. The Psalms have always played a particularly important role throughout the history of Christianity. During medieval times the Psalter or Book of Psalms would have been the only part of the Bible that most lay Christians would have owned. Not only have the Psalms been important in the life of the Christian church, but they were also (in case this is not already obvious) of crucial importance in the worship of God by the people of Israel. Why this emphasis and importance?
The Hymnbook of the Bible
What some people may not realize is that the book of Psalms is actually a book of poems for the people of Israel that were meant to be sung. Throughout the 150 Psalms there are musical instructions or directions that would have aided in the musical use of the Psalms in ancient Israel’s worship. Words like “to the choirmaster” or a “Maskil” or “Miktim” of David or “Selah” – All three of these words are believed by scholars to be musical or liturgical terms. Original manuscripts of the Psalms would have included a sort of musical notation above the words and syllables of the Psalms – markings that would have given melodic direction to the singers.
The facts that there are 150 Psalms, that they are placed in the canon of Old Testament Scripture, that they were meant to be sung, and that the Psalms themselves include many commands to sing all point us to the fact that singing in worship is important. We will explore this idea in more detail in a later blog.
The Psalms were considered by theologians like Martin Luther to be a “Bible within the Bible” because they contain so much theological instruction as well as give the history of the salvation of God’s people in the Old Testament. But more than a theology textbook we must remember that the Psalms are poetry – an art form that expresses truth and emotion in a way that mere prose cannot. However, the Psalms do more than just express human emotion. They actually teach us how to feel, understand, and relate to God. They teach us what God is like and how we can approach Him and communicate with Him.
Jesus would have been very familiar with singing the Psalms. In fact, one author calls the Psalms the “Songs of Jesus.” The Psalms were quoted by Jesus repeatedly throughout the gospels. After the Passover meal in Matthew 26 and Mark 14 Jesus and his disciples would have probably sung the Great Hallel (Psalms 113-118). Early Christians also understood the importance of singing the Psalms. Paul commands Christians in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 to sing Psalms as well as Hymns and Spiritual Songs. Early church fathers such as Augustine, Athanasius, and Basil the Great (among others) also commended the singing of Psalms. This tradition of Psalms singing was revived during the protestant reformation and made more accessible for all people.
Why is Singing Psalms so Important?
You may be asking yourself the above question. I would like to offer a few more suggestions besides those that have already been mentioned. First, they teach us how to pray and live in light of our position as sojourners and exiles on earth and citizens of heaven. Second, Psalms are prayers that express faith rather than complacency. Third, they call us to faith and devotion to Christ. Fourth, they help us to understand the experiences of Israel as God’s chosen people and how Christ was the true and better Israel – especially as we read them in light of the New Testament teachings. Fifth, they teach us to fear God in a way that draws us closer to Him.
You could argue that all of the above benefits could be obtained through the simple reading and recitation of Psalms apart from music. However, we have to remember that music, as a gift from God, does something deep within our souls to align us to God. The connection alone of music to memory is worth mentioning. Why is it that we can remember every word to songs that we learned in our childhood? God has given us the gift of a Holy Spirit inspired hymnbook right in the middle of his Word and we would be wise to use it as such!
A Word about the Modern Use of Singing Psalms in English
Because Hebrew poetry is different than western poetry (and because we don’t sing the Psalms in their original language), it takes a little adjustment to grow accustomed to the singing of Psalms in English. Many fine theologians and musicians have done great work to translate the Psalms into a metrical formula that we are more used to singing. Singing psalms directly from Scripture does not always work out as neatly as we might like. We won’t always have the rhyme schemes that we are accustomed to, but, nevertheless, it is well worth our efforts to adjust to this and sing God’s very Word back to Him.
As you may have gathered, we will be introducing the singing of a Psalm this Sunday. We will be singing Psalm 8 which has been adapted and set to the hymn tune that we are used to singing with the hymn I Sing the Mighty Power of God.I believe that this is a wonderful Psalm to begin our singing with and it is not a new tune that we will have to learn. The great thing about this arrangement of Psalm 8 is that the last 2 verses, especially, have been directly applied to Christ based on New Testament Scriptures. If you would like to see the words to this Psalm you can click HERE.
As before, we would like you to remember the things we have been talking about in the weeks prior in preparing for our corporate worship services. If you need a refresher you may go back and read those on our Pastor’s blog on the church website HERE. If you’d like to see the order of worship you can go HERE.
See you Sunday!
*Many of the ideas for this article come from The Book of Psalms for Worship published by Crown & Covenant and The Songs of Jesus by Timothy Keller as well as other sources.