Category Archives: Psalms

Declare your faith for those who are faithless

Grief

Earlier today I was listening to a sermon on Psalm 150 this afternoon. About halfway through, Daniel Montgomery made a good point regarding what we’re to do in our gathered worship:

And here’s the deal – what you notice in the “what” of praise [referring to who Psalm 150 is directed to], is that it’s not just about you. When we gather we respond to the Lord in singing, but we also according to Colossians 3:16, are called to “sing to one another.” See, there’s a corporate element that so many of us are missing.

So when we’re called to declare our faith, we’re called to declare our faith for those who are faithless when we gather. So when we have that opportunity to step into the reading of Scriptures and declare our faith — some of you are like, “Well I believe that” — well why don’t you state it for people that don’t?

When we gather and we lament, and some of you are like, “I’m not feeling down, I’m pretty good right now, I don’t need to pray that prayer”. But some are really hurting. Some are in hard relationships, or physically in despair. And they need you to lament with them. That’s simply obeying the command to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

Firstly it reminded me to consider whether the choices of songs, prayers and readings at our church cover the spectrum of emotion that God’s people expressed in the Scriptures (especially the Psalter): rejoicing, celebration, but also lament, grief, repentance, even anger at God’s enemies.

And then the other thing was that I’ve recently had conversations with people who found it hard to sing songs of lament or about trials, when they were feeling fine. The speaker made a good point – we could instead adopt the biblical mindset of singing laments for those that need it, read statements of faith and creeds for those that don’t believe it. To declare our faith for those who are faithless.

Three kinds of songs to sing together in 2014

Bob Kauflin shares three categories to help you work out what to sing in your local churches this year.

1. Choose songs people can sing.

In the church (and even at a conference), we shouldn’t assume people have the same songs on their iTunes. Or that everyone even uses iTunes. That’s due both to our individualized musical culture and the multi-generational nature of the church. In the church, we haven’t gathered to use the key that makes the leader sound best, because the entire congregation is singing!

So here are some suggestions for how to know whether a songs are “singable.”

– They can usually be picked up after the first or second hearing, usually due to melodic or rhythmic repetition.
– They typically fall within a range of a low A to a high D. You can get by with higher or lower if the song doesn’t stay there long.
– They don’t have melodies with a lot of unexpected twists or ones that are so bland no one can remember them.
– The leader sings the melody consistently and doesn’t add stylistic variations every other bar.

The third point can be a bit subjective between generations – for example, our church sings Blessed Be Your Name well even though it has a reasonably complex rhythm (though I think its simple 4-chord pattern helps balance things out).

2. Choose songs people want to sing.

…the primary reason [a song is] pleasant is because we’re meditating on and proclaiming the works, word, and worthiness of our great God and Savior. But it can be musically pleasant as well. A great lyric can go unheard for decades, if not centuries, because it’s wedded to a poor melody.

Here are a few thoughts on determining whether people want to sing a song:

– People comment on how much they enjoyed singing it.
– The majority of the congregation are actually singing the song with enthusiasm.
– The melody grows on you rather than sounding old or tired by the end of the song, or after the second week.
– The melody emotionally affects you and the people you lead.
– The rise and fall of the melody correspond with the emotional rise and fall of the lyric. In other words, when you want to belt out some truth about God you’re in the higher range of your voice.

Last year we learned re-tuned hymns like Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken, Psalm 130 (From the Depths of Woe) and Rock of Ages where these great hymn texts have been married with fresh, inspiring tunes that our church enjoy singing.

3. Choose songs people should sing.

Here are some thoughts on how to know which songs we should sing:

People know better who Jesus is, what he did, and why he did it through singing our songs.
– They help people deepen their theology and connect with history.
– There’s a good chance we’ll be singing these songs a year from now, maybe even five, maybe even 100.
– People walk away with truth that affects them, and not just tunes.
– There is enough content in our songs to stand on its own without any music.
– A particular song brings a variety of feel, depth, and/or length to the songs we’re singing. i.e., psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Bob also points out that the psalms (the songbook for God’s people) cover a wide range of emotions and themes, and there’s lots to learn from the psalms regarding what songs we should sing.

ALSO: If you’re interested, this e-book compiles his most helpful blog posts on anything from worship, the gospel, running rehearsals, music, arrangements, and so on. Practical and helpful.

Album review: From the River to the Ends of the Earth by Matt Searles

In the morning our family has been reading the Psalms in reverse order (starting from Psalm 150 and going backwards). What an encouragement and refreshment to start the day being reminded to praise the LORD, who “takes pleasure in his people” (Ps 149:4), who is our “refuge/portion in the land of the living” (Ps 142:5), who formed my inward parts (Ps 139:13), in whom “there is steadfast love and plentiful redemption” (Ps 130:7), who “deals well with his servant according to his Word” (Ps 119:65)….

So I’m doubly thankful for UK songwriter Matt Searles’s latest album, “From the River to the Ends of the Earth” – a collection of 10 psalm arrangements (including some of the psalms we’ve read together as a family!)

Here are some of my thoughts (no particular order):

  • I love that each track is a whole psalm put to music and versified in today’s language. When was the last time you sang a psalm in its entirety in church?
  • All the tracks on this album use either the standard acoustic-guitar led band style that churches using contemporary music will be able to handle easily, or even simpler piano and vocals. I like this as I’m able picture more easily how it might work in our church context and available instruments.
  • Probably the psalm that’s easiest to introduce congregationally is “O King” (Psalm 45), which uses Holst’s Thaxted melody (the one they play at the Rugby World Cup).

    The words do a great job of painting the picture of the King on his eternal throne with the court in attendance, and draws the redemptive-historical connection to Jesus being King and the church being his bride. For example:

“This king will reign forever, his sons upon the earth
And ev’ry generation will tell of his great worth
All nations will soon praise him and fall down at his feet
His kingdom established, where truth and mercy meet
O Jesus we adore you, our lover and our king
Your church, your bride is waiting and so to you we sing”

Great!

  • I love how “Be At Rest” (Psalm 116) brings out the psalmist’s love for the Lord, and transforms Psalm 116:8 into a vibrant chorus to be sung in every season of life:

“You delivered my soul from death
My eyes from tears
My feet from stumbling, LORD
That I may walk before you, LORD my God
As long as I shall live”

    • I’m glad to hear writers putting Psalm 42 to music and words that better reflect the psalmist’s desperation (e.g. Sing Team, Sons of Korah) – certainly more accurately than the unfortunate “As The Deer”. I like Matt’s attempt (Like Deer in Thirsty Lands; using piano and vocals alongside a stanza/refrain-structured paraphrase of Psalms 42 and 43) which has a wistful, longing sound to it.
    • King and Priest Forever (Psalm 110) is an upbeat Christ-centred psalm with a catchy hook (“Jesus, yours alone is the Kingdom, all the power belongs to you!”).

  • Matt (formerly assistant minister at Dundonald Church, Wimbledon, currently studying at Oak Hill Theological College) draws material and ideas from the Free Church of Scotland Psalmody Committee, who strive to encouraged psalm singing among the next generation. They seem to have lots of helpful resources to help those who aren’t used to psalm-singing.
  • “Let Your Kingdom Come” (Psalm 72) is a much more realistic depiction of our anticipation for Jesus’s Kingdom to fully arrive. The almost mournful way you first hear the chorus I think paints that “now-but-not-yet” tension really well. I like verse 2 in particular (paraphrasing 72:8-11):

From the river to earth’s farthest bounds
Your kingdom will reach every shore
Glory and majesty, power and honour are yours
Soon all rulers will fall at your feet
And nations and lands bring you tribute
Every oppressor will tremble before your great wrath
Jesus Messiah, you are the hope of the needy
All the world, one day will gather around your throne

Let your kingdom come
Let your kingdom come
Let your kingdom come

All in all, Matt’s album is a great resource if you’re in a church looking to incorporate more psalm singing in your gathered worship. These psalms are easy to sing to (I think more so than the Sons of Korah albums, which tend to be more a listening experience) and Matt does a great job of pointing the psalms to Jesus, the Lord who is King. May there be more songwriters that write congregational music for entire psalms!

You can listen to and get the album here: http://mattsearles.bandcamp.com/

Disclosure: I was given a review copy of the album, but all opinions are my own.