Why Sing the Psalms?
Since coming to America over six years ago my family has continued our Scottish tradition of singing our way through the Scottish Metrical Psalms at family worship. We sing four verses at a time and when we get to the end of the Psalms we simply start all over again. It's one of the ways we fight to stay connected to our precious spiritual heritage. But it's not always straightforward. For example on Friday evening we ended up singing Psalm 31 verses 9-12 which starts:
9. O Lord, upon me mercy have,
For trouble is on me:
Mine eye, my belly, and my soul,
With grief consumed be.
10. Because my life with grief is spent,
My years with sighs and groans:
My strength doth fail; and for my sin
Consumed are my bones.
Which raises a big problem; because it's simply not true of me or my family at this present time of our lives. Quite the opposite, in fact. So how or why do we sing such songs? We talked about this afterwards as a family and came up with four reasons why we should still sing this psalm, and many others like them, even though not an accurate description of our present experience or circumstances.
1. It reminds us of suffering Christians all over the world. This psalm reminds us that there are many Christian who are passing through such dark valleys and deep waters. When we sing such songs, we are effectively praying for suffering Christians all over the world. We are interceding for the persecuted in North Korea and Iran. But we are also reminded of the afflicted in our own circles too and challenged to reach out to them in practical sympathy.
2. It reminds us of what we deserve. Because of our sin, we've forfeited the rights to every comfort in this world. Therefore, every day of happiness, every day of painlessness, every day of sanity, is a day of grace and mercy. With this psalm we are therefore praising God for his undeserved favor for every day that these verses are not our experience. And if we are suffering believers, we can thank God that we will not suffer like this for all eternity, that in God's kindness the day is coming when sighing and crying will be no more.
3. It reminds us to prepare for trouble and trial. Although we may have days, years, and even decades of a relatively trouble-free life, we all eventually and inevitably will face tough times of aches and pains, of sighs and groans. This psalm will become our song. In the meantime, though, we can still sing it in a preparatory way, asking God to ready and equip us for such times when they do come.
4. It reminds us to bring all our troubles to the Lord. Even though the Lord is the believer’s only hope, in times of pain and distress we are sometimes tempted to run away from Him. Through this inspired psalm, God calls us back and says, “Bring all your pain to me, honestly pour out your heart to me, tell me exactly how you feel.” In doing so, we are not dishonoring the Lord but actually worshipping Him by expressing our great need, our utter dependence upon Him, and our confidence in His hearing and intervening.
5. It reminds us of Jesus Christ. Whatever sufferings the psalmist experienced, they are nothing compared to what Jesus Christ endured on our behalf. What agonies of body, mind, and soul. What excruciating misery he passed through for sinners like you and me. He could and did sing this psalm as no other. We can therefore sing it in praise of Christ who suffered all this and worse in our place and on our behalf.
Terry Johnson "The History of Psalm Singing in the Christian Church"
Richard P. Belcher, Jr. The Messiah and the Psalms
Nancy Guthrie The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Literature
James E. Adams The War Psalms of the Prince of Peace
Joe Thorn Sing!
Nick Batzig "The Songs of the Son (Seeing Christ in the Psalms)"
Nick Batzig "Teaching One Another In..."