Singing that pleases God: Psalms

[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]

Ask around your congregation: “Do we sing Psalms in our church?”.  Most will say “No, we sing worship songs – not Psalms”. Yet, without realising it, you probably have sung Psalms in your regular Praise and Worship.  Browsing through Vol. I of the popular “Songs of Fellowship”song book, I readily recognised 22 songs that were sourced in the Psalms.  There are probably more.

Some of these Songs were lifted “word-for-word” from Scripture:

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#553 “This is the day that the Lord hath made” quotes Psalm 118:24.

#428 “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth” cites portions of  Psalm 8 verbatim.

#556 “Thou, O Lord, art a shield about me and the lifter of my head” 556 quotes Psalm 3:3 from the KJV.

Other Songs paraphrase the Psalms in a way that is faithful to the inspired text:

#47 and #48 both reflect Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, O my soul”, but #48 is more faithful in doing so.

#337 “Lift up your heads, O you gates” 337 is true to Psalm 24:7-10 but amplifies it with poetic licence.

#338 “Lift up your heads” adds v3,4 “Who shall ascend the hill?” to v7-10 very meaningfully.

Only a portion
Most Songs select only a portion of a Psalm. Those that sing the whole Psalm are richly comprehensive:

#415 “O God, our help in ages past” is faithful to most of the text of Psalm 90, and has been popular.

#466 “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven” covers the key teachings of Psalm 103. It is very popular.

#533 “The King of love my Shepherd is”is faithful to the text of the whole of the beloved Psalm 23.

Some Songs give the impression of being sourced in a Psalm, but after quoting a line or two, wander off into the usual Contemporary Worship song cliches. #27 has a hint of Psalm 42 in the first stanza: “As the deer pants for the water”. But the subsequent lyric-themes of “strength and shield”, “gold and silver”, “joy-giver”, “Friend, Brother, King” are not found in this Psalm. Rather, sing this Psalm to the words of #658, which are much truer to the Psalm itself. 

But even #658 avoids Psalm 42’s  core theme of “lonely depression”. This theme is repeated three times, as a Refrain. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God”.

Only Song #401 “My soul longs for You, O my God” captures the real meaning of Psalm 42, and looks forward to “beholding the glory of God in the Sanctuary, in communal worship”.

So, in choosing the Psalm-Song for Sunday worship, try to use songs that are true to the real meaning of the Psalm.  Publicly read the Psalm from Scripture, in close association with the relevant Song, so that everyone connects with God’s message in a conscious way.

Next month we will discover a puzzling surprise in the Psalm-songs we sing. 

Till then, have a blessed Christmas, and remember with a smile the child who read that “the wise men fell down and worshiped Jesus” (Matthew 2:11). She asked her father:  “Why didn’t the wise men stand like we do when they sang songs to Jesus?”

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