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BY GREG SCHEER
USING THE CHURCH’S OLDEST LITURGY, TODAY
W hen was the last time your church
sang a psalm? Not a phrase or
image from a psalm, but a whole psalm?
If your church is like most Evangelical
churches today, it’s unlikely you’re singing
more than a handful of Psalm-based songs
each year. Isn’t it sad that we “People of
the Book” sing so little of it in our wor-
ship? Let’s consider three reasons to sing
the Psalms more regularly.
We only have tantalizing hints as to
how the Israelites originally sang the
Psalms, but we do know that faithful
Christians have sung the Psalms anew
through the ages, leaving us numerous
ideas for singing the Psalms in our own
day. Many of these musical forms are still
in use today, and all of them can be adapt-
ed and updated for our own churches.
Here are five of them.
1. The Psalms give us a vocabulary
Babies don’t come from the womb with
the ability to say, “I love you,” or “I’d
prefer the mashed orange stuff over the
mashed green stuff.” Parents have to teach
them. In the same way, God has given us
the Psalms to teach us how to express our-
selves in worship.
2. The Psalms correct our myopia.
Let’s face it: we all think we’re normal.
Unfortunately, our personal and cultural
norms are often out of sync with God’s.
Singing the Psalms helps us ingrain God’s
patterns, so we won’t “be conformed to
this world, but will be transformed by the
renewing of our minds” (Rom 12:2). For
example, I love what Psalm 19 says about
seeing God in nature: “The heavens de-
clare the glory of God” (v1) but have a
hard time seeing God’s law as “sweeter
than honey” (v10). Singing the whole of
Psalm 19 helps me love God more fully,
rather than just the attributes I like.
3. The Psalms connect us to the
historic and global Church.
They have nourished Christians of every
nation in times of peace and in times of
persecution. We would do well to join the
“cloud of witnesses” in singing God’s song.
28 W O R S HIP L EAD ER
Though the Psalms are songs, we shouldn’t
ignore a wide range of spoken and chant-
ed psalm possibilities. Spoken options can
include responsive readings, choral read-
ings, and dramatic presentations. Chanted
they range from traditional hymns like
“All People That on Earth Do Dwell”
(Ps 100) to modern songs like “My Soul
Finds Rest in God Alone” (Ps 62) by Aaron
Keyes and Stuart Townend.
Similar to metrical psalms, paraphrases
render the general themes of the psalm
rather than providing a phrase-by-phrase
“translation.” Among the many well-
known psalm paraphrases are Luther’s “A
Mighty Fortress” (Ps 46), Watts’ “Chris-
tianized” Psalm 72 “Jesus Shall Reign,”
and modern contributions by Bob Kauflin,
Tommy Walker, and Matt Searles.
Some psalm-songs simply extract an im-
age or phrase from a psalm, rather than
render the whole psalm into song. Among
them are Marty Nystrom’s “As the Deer”
(Ps 42:1), Matt Redman’s “Better Is One
Day” (Ps 84:1, 2, 10) and the Taizé commu-
nity’s “Bless the Lord, My Soul” (Ps 104:1).
The variety of ways worshipers have
approached the Psalms in the past should
“Isn’t it sad that we ‘People of the Book’
sing so little of it in our worship?”
psalms have a long history, but there’s no
reason we can’t expand the basic idea to
include rap and poetry slam styles.
Responsorial psalmody simply means that
a leader sings the verses and the congre-
gation responds by singing a repeated re-
frain. This is standard practice in Catholic
churches, but could be put to good use
by all of us. It distributes the music well,
with the more complex verses given to
prepared music leaders and simple cho-
ruses given to the congregation.
With roots in Calvin’s Geneva Psalter, these
“Psalm hymns” are psalm texts reworked
into poetic meter for singing. Musically,
inspire today’s worship leaders and song-
writers to be creative, modernizing his-
toric styles or mixing them to come up
with new forms. The only limit is our un-
derstanding of the past and our imagina-
tion for the future. W
(gregscheer.com) is Minister
of Worship at Church of
the Servant in Grand Rapids
and Music Associate at the
Calvin Institute of Christian
Worship. His life’s work
includes a two-decade marriage (Amy), two children
(Simon and Theo), a book (The Art of Worship,
Baker Books, 2006), and hundreds of compositions,
songs, and arrangements in a freakishly wide variety
of styles. He is currently writing a new book, to be
published by Baker Books in 2016.