1. The Psalms were Israel’s songs and book of worship.
Sometime after the Israelite exile, the Psalms were collected and grouped into the rough outline we currently have in the Christian canon. Hence they were used in the Second Temple period and throughout the many synagogues across the Jewish diaspora. But even earlier, they were used in temple liturgy (1 Chronicles 6:33-37; 15:19; Psalm 15; 42-49; 47; 73-83; 93; 96-99; ) and for personal or family reflection (Psalm 30; 120-134). They were, effectively, the hymnal for Israel which gave voice to praises, prayers, laments, and worship.
2. As a faithful Jew living under the law, Jesus sang the psalms.
It might be obvious that Jesus was a Jew, but what this entails are the many practices from which the church is far removed (Matthew 5:17-20). Circumcision, kosher food laws, temple taxes, and Sabbath observance are just a few of the most obvious ones that Jesus would have practiced. Jesus would have also sung the Psalms and used them in worship, as was common in his day. We know, for instance, that Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn at the last supper (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). He also would have participated in the regular singing of songs at synagogues, the Temple in Jerusalem, and likely in home settings.
3. The Apostles and New Testament church sang the Psalms during worship.
Though there is not an exact, prescriptive pattern of worship discernible in the New Testament, there are regulative practices that help align us with godly worship. Therefore, when Paul writes, “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19), we may understand that singing the Psalms was normative for the early church, as they were for Old Testament people of God. The practices of the early church serve as healthy models for the church across the ages.
4. The Psalms unite us with believers throughout the ages.
There is something to be said about writing new songs that freshly articulate who God is and what he’s doing in the world. The gospel needs contextualization through language, musical approaches, and thought patterns. However, the allure of solely writing and singing new songs can obscure the experience of God’s people throughout the centuries. Ignoring historic expressions of worship—the Psalms being among the most ancient—can give us tunnel vision that feeds our sense of generational pride or, alternatively, despair. By singing the Psalms, we become united with God’s people who have found solace in these words of Scripture over the span of centuries and millennia (and geography).
5. The Psalms point God’s people to Jesus Christ.
One of the most important reasons for singing the Psalms is that they keep us grounded in the Trinity, and especially in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is because the Psalms ultimately point people to Jesus, as is evidenced by the New Testament writers’ appropriation of texts such as Psalm 45:6, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.” (see Hebrews 1:8). There are about 100 quotes and even more allusions to the Psalms throughout the New Testament, and the sermons delivered by apostles at key moments appeal to the Psalms. For example, see the first few chapters of Matthew; Acts 2; Philippians 2:6-11; the Letter to the Hebrews; Revelation 4-5, just to name a few.
6. The Psalms give voice to a range of affections, from joy to profound pain.
The Psalms are an inspired collection of writings that mirror the human experience. Rather than sanitizing the affections of God’s people, there is a transparency reflected in the heights and the depths of joy and pain. These sentiments are sometimes even expressed in unexpected places; often the same psalm will express this range of affections (see Psalm 22), and other times two adjacent psalms will display this turn of sentiment (see Psalm 17 & 18). Throughout the Psalter, God’s people will encounter deep lament (Psalm 88), thanksgiving (Psalm 107), and exuberant praise (Psalm 150). We should see ourselves in the Psalms and learn to give voice to the entirety of our experiences as the people of God.
7. The Psalms orient our hearts to God’s sanctifying presence.
While it is true that the Psalter serves as a mirror in which we may see ourselves, it is also true that giving voice to our affections in worship surrenders them to God in his holy presence. This is the regulative principle of singing the Psalms—they function to make the message of Christ dwell in us (Colossians 3:16). Our anger, hopes, fears, triumphs, pain, joys, and many other feelings need orienting to God. This is why the writer of Psalm 73 follows his expression of near despair with, “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply, until I entered the sanctuary of God.” By singing the Psalms, we can bring all of who we are before God, having faith that he will sanctify who we are and conform us to the image of Christ.
The Psalms have been sung, prayed, read, cherished, and memorized by the people of God for thousands of years. It is no mistake that God put, right at the heart of the Bible, an inspired prayer and worship book. The Psalms were given to us as a means of grace. In other words, each psalm represents a bridge or conduit through which the grace of God is conveyed into our lives. We can help you sing the Psalms with a new resource that sets them all to meter and popular tunes. Get your copy from our store here.