Singing the Psalms, Part I: Why Sing Psalms?

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The Psalms are often referred to as the “hymnbook of the Church.” Throughout all ages of worship, people have found ways to incorporate the singing of psalms in their worship service. Recently, however, the practice of regular psalm-singing seems to have fallen out of favor with the church, in lieu of either “classic hymns” (which are all “new songs” compared to the liturgical history of psalmody) or contemporary worship music. While it seems to me that there is a slight resurgence of psalm-singing, I would like to offer a few compelling reasons why every church should be singing psalms in their regular corporate worship gathering.

1) The Psalms are songs.

Perhaps this is too obvious, but the psalms were originally written to be sung. The original text comes with notes on the tune to be used and directions for the singer. Think of it this way: what gets lost in translation when you just READ these lyrics from the classic U2 song: “And you give yourself away, and you give yourself away, and you give, and you give, and you give yourself away.” It’s pretty lame, right? I think the same is true of psalms – we are missing something when we just read them, either in our own devotions or together in worship.

2) Music integrates the emotional response.

When we add the element of song, the words of the Psalms leap out in new ways. Songs of lament can be coupled with mournful tunes, and psalms of praise can be complemented with appropriate music. Reading texts alone can lead to simply analyzing the propositional content of the words, while singing speaks more profoundly to the way we actually interact with our world – namely, as human beings with emotions, feelings, and desires, all of which need to be formed and discipled into the image of Christ.

Music aids memory.

If you grew up singing scripture memory songs, or any songs for that matter, there is a high probability that those songs have stuck with you. Involving the mind in the words by singing will greatly increase your chance of recalling what you sing. And if we are to be faithful about hiding God’s word in our hearts, then singing it will help us in that goal. It’s not just for kids! I constantly find myself stumbling onto a portion of the Bible that immediately triggers a tune in my brain, and instead of reading the words, I’m singing them in my head. When we sing, we place the content deep into our souls and psyches, beneath the level of active recall and into our long-term memory storage.

There are many other reasons why psalm singing is important. It’s a communal act of engaging God’s Word, and an active one, instead of the passive form of listening to a reading. It allows the creative members of the community to “adorn the words with beauty,” by using their gifts to bring aesthetic delight and a reverent environment to the rehearsal of the Psalms. And it unites us with the Church throughout time and space, as Psalm-singing is a centuries old tradition, and is practiced in so many unique forms around the world today.

Hopefully, this little introduction has gotten you excited about singing the Psalms. For Part II, we’ll look at some practical methods and resources for making it a regular habit in your worship setting.

Want to practice singing the Psalms this Lent? Join us on the Soundtrack journey – its not too late to get started.

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