Psalms for a Healthy Worship

When I was a boy, I lived a life that some children may consider adventurous– I traveled with the carnival. Bright lights, games, fun music, and junk food galore—it was a life filled with sensuality and pleasure seeking.

However, my family wasn’t there just to be entertained. My father owned a few booths, or “joints.” As carnival goers passed by, hawkers would call out to the crowd, inviting them to their booth to test their dexterity by tossing hoops, throwing baseballs, or shooting bb guns.

For a time, my mother ran the cotton candy machine. Thus, in addition to free rides, I had access to a never ending supply of fluffy, colored sugar. As a child who had developed a taste for pseudo-food, I never seemed to tire of that sweet indulgence.

I don’t know how much of that junk I consumed; but, I am sure that my dentist has put at least one of his children through graduate school from the money I spent repairing my teeth. Looking back, I find it interesting that I found pleasure in eating so many foods that were completely void of nutrition, and, though I couldn’t tell at the time, flavor. And, not only was a lot of what I was eating lacking in any nutrition, some of it was actually damaging my body. However, as a child who had been fooled by a deep fried, sugar coated life, I had no idea how weak I was becoming from a diet of emptiness.

Ponder that story for a minute. Now relate this account to the fare you consume every week in worship. If the music you sing at church were compared to food, what would your meal look like? Are you snacking on cotton candy? Popping down a few corn dogs? Maybe you’re enjoying the emotional high of an exciting sugar-dusted funnel cake or two. Or, perhaps you enjoy nachos covered in what my wife calls melted Barbie dolls.

How is your worship health? Is your growth being stunted by candy coated emptiness; or, are you being nourished with the good stuff? Is your worship likened more to roasted organic meats; fresh grown, rich colored vegetables and herbs; and juicy sun-soaked fruits? Are you getting a well-rounded, nourishing diet of music at your church?

We read in chapter three of the book of Colossians that we are to “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in [our] hearts to the Lord.” This represents a well rounded menu for worship music: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

I know there are some who take the position that this verse mandates what is known as “exclusive psalmody;” that is, only metrical psalms are to be sung in public worship. I do not hold this position; rather, I support “inclusive psalmody.” I believe the psalms should be a regular part of corporate worship. There are indeed many other songs in the Bible than just those in the Book of Psalms (i.e., Ex. 15:1-18, 1 Sam.2:1-10, Isa 38:10-20, Luke 1:46-55, Luke 1:67-79, Jude 24-25, Rev. 5:9-10). In addition, we are commanded in both the Old Testament and the New Testament to sing to the Lord a new song. Thus, there is value in singing other songs of praise to the Lord, as well as the great hymns of the faith. And, like a balanced diet, there is a place for all three categories of singing.

Nonetheless, what kind of music is being sung in most churches these days? And why? Much like my appetite for cotton candy, a growing number of ministers and worship leaders make selections based on how the music makes people feel. They focus on whether or not the style or the arrangement appeals to the senses.

Our flesh desires music that touches our emotions—music that makes us move or makes us cry. For this reason, many churches emphasize either hymns or praise choruses, what some may call “spiritual songs.” If hymns are still used, they are often jazzed up and verses are left out.

So, what of the Psalms? In many circles, they have been ignored, overlooked, even forgotten. Some may claim that they do sing the psalms, as there are a number of praise choruses that include at least a verse. Take, for example, the familiar chorus, “As the Deer.”

As the deer panteth for the water | So my soul longeth after thee | You alone are my heart’s desire | And I long to worship thee

It starts with the first verse of Psalm 42. However, as a praise chorus, it truly misses the point of the Psalm. In the second verse, the song talks of Jesus being our friend and brother. The third verse confesses that we want Him more than gold and silver. Both of these are certainly nice reminders, but this praise chorus is not Psalm 42.

In Psalm 42, the psalmist is communicating a heartfelt plea to God while he is surrounded by a host of enemies, even those who seem to question the power of God. Like many of us, this psalm seeks to find God in the midst of the challenges of life, and how, when all seems against us, we can trust in the Lord. Verse 11, from a metrical Psalter, says this, “O why, my soul, do you despair? Why so discouraged be? Hope now in God, I’ll praise Him still. My help, my God is He.”  This is a nutritious bite, is it not?

We miss out on so much richness and variety in our worship diet when we ignore the Psalms. The Bible encourages us to let the Word of God dwell in us richly. One wonderful and powerful way to do this is to sing the Psalms. When we sing the Psalms, we are literally singing the Bible. And not just a verse or two! We are singing the Word of God in context! Thus, we are singing, proclaiming, and teaching sound doctrine. We are introducing ourselves to the richness of theology; from the total depravity of man, to the redemption we have in Jesus, to the victory of Jesus over the nations of the earth. We are being protected from heresy and prepared to enter into the realm of spiritual warfare with confidence!

And, yet, in singing the Psalms, we do so with true emotion. Rather than manipulate the senses, the Psalms—the Word of God—touches the spirit. Far from cotton candy hymns or spiritual songs covered in cheese, the Psalms fill and nourish.

So, ponder the health of the worship music you are feeding yourself or your congregation. What are you consuming? Is it right? Is it Biblical? Consider the Psalms!

And to make it legal, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the other elders or members of Providence Church.

Originally published in May/June 2011 issue Every Thought Captive – are you a subscriber?


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