The book of Psalms—it has been loved, cherished, memorized, prayed, and used as a solace and comfort throughout the history of the Christian church and the Hebrew people. Portions of the psalms have been the source for countless anthems, hymns, and choruses. Somehow, we inherently recognize that the psalms were meant to be a means of grace in our lives, and they were meant to be sung.
From the apostles themselves and the earliest days of the church, Christians have sung the psalms in their entirety, and used this prayer book of the Bible as the foundation for Christian worship. Sometimes the psalms were chanted, sometimes put to poetic verse to be sung to metered tunes, and sometimes they were recited with sung antiphons interspersed throughout the text. But regardless of the form, the psalms have always been the fundamental unifying thread of worship for God’s people throughout time and across the globe. They constitute the shared worship space of all believers, the church’s public square.
The apostle Paul instructed the church in Ephesians 5:19 to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” and in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” In both letters, Paul acknowledges that hymns and spiritual songs do not replace the Psalms. Rather, the ongoing flowering of Christian worship is built upon the foundation of the Bible’s prayer book—the book of Psalms.
Sadly, the proliferation of hymns and choruses has supplanted this foundation for Christian worship in most churches. We still read the Psalms (though often sporadically and selectively), and we still set portions of the psalms to music as anthems or choruses. But the regular, systematic, and congregational singing of the psalms has fallen out of vogue in many Protestant churches. It is our deeply held conviction that by this neglect the church is forfeiting a means of grace that it desperately needs to regain in order to meet the challenges of these days.
Why do we need the psalms today? The book of Psalms does not just contain “songs of praise,” as is often assumed. The Psalms can be very turbulent, filled with anguish, raw with emotion but also full of deep theology. Ultimately, the Psalms cultivate a posture of humility and trust in God, even when in the midst of great lament or circumstances that seem incongruent with God’s love. This is the posture of the Christian life.
The Psalms give us the interface of faith with the real world—with all of its antagonism and bewilderment, agony and beauty. By singing these words that have been sung by God’s people for thousands of years, we are formed into that posture of trusting God’s covenant love as the encompassing and most basic assumption of our lives. Singing carries that formation deep within us, until we actually own that life posture as our truest identity. These are the songs that God gave us to sing; these are the songs that Jesus sang; these are the songs that the apostles sang, as well as the whole Christian church, which sprang from their testimony. These are songs that we must regain and learn to sing again.
Start singing the Psalms with Julie and Timothy Tennent’s A Metrical Psalter: The Book of Psalms Set to Meter for Singing. This, along with A Meditative Journey Through the Psalms is now being sold as a discounted combo pack in our store. View it here.
In A Metrical Psalter: The Book of Psalms Set to Meter for Singing, Julie and Timothy Tennent have faithfully set the biblical text into poetical form in a beautiful hardback book—not writing new poetry about the text, but following the exact text of the psalm as closely as possible.