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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Heavy Hand

The Psalms include some of the deepest, most desperate confessions of sin found in Scripture. The poetic form, and presumably the original key of the music, must have communicated both the heaviness of conviction and the relief of forgiveness. No man is permitted into God’s presence unless his sin is pardoned, so it is not surprising to find these confession songs as part of the congregations’s worship.

King David, a man known for his musical skill and for his disastrous sin, wrote in Psalm 32:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
(Psalms 32:1–2)

David uses three different words for disobedience. “Transgression” concerns revolt or rebellion against God’s law. “Sin” emphasizes missing the mark, failing to live up to God’s law. And “iniquity” stresses a twisting away or deviation from God’s law. All three make a man guilty, and “deceit” is an attempt to make others, or perhaps God Himself, believe we’re more righteous than we are.

Forgiveness as a great blessing because holding on to sin is a grueling condition.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
(Psalms 32:3–4)

God sees, God knows, and God humbles those who attempt to cover their sin with silence rather than have it covered by His sacrifice. Sturdy bones “waste away,” they are worn out through “groaning.” The groaning results from God’s “heavy hand,” His personal pressing on the hearts of His people. Why does He do that? Because they can’t be happy/blessed unless their sin is acknowledged, atoned for, and absolved. God will reprove us unto repentance so that we can worship in His presence where there is fullness of joy.

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A Shot of Encouragement

Sing It for Yourself

You might need this today. In the spirit of colossians3:16ing, here’s Psalm 94:19 (NASB):

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul.

“Anxious thoughts” translates the Hebrew word sarappim which could be defined as “the processing of information which causes distress and anxiety in one’s mind and heart” (Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semitic Domains: Hebrew – Old Testament). Synonyms abound here: disquieting thoughts, anxious doubts, fear, angst, worries, stress, unease, internal reactions to an upcoming event or an uncertain outcome. Do you ever have any of those? Are challenges to your calm approaching from more than one front? The language is emphatic, these “cares” (ESV) are “many.”

The second line of the verse uses another plural. The “anxious thoughts” are not swallowed up by a more absorbing anxiety but by more powerful ”consolations.” The Hebrew word is tanchum describing comforts, the easing or alleviating of distress. These are supports and reassurances that “delight” or “cheer” (ESV) our soul.

Ours are the internal cares, His are the soul comforts. His comforts are greater than our cares.

In the context of the song these anxieties are caused by political and cultural concerns more than just psychological or emotional concerns. It’s a big world, and there are a lot of problems. Certainly, though, there is application for whatever factor is multiplying our worries.

And what are the “consolations” that the psalmist had in mind? Just in Psalm 94 itself Yahweh is the judge who will repay the wicked, He hears and sees all, He rebukes entire nations, He teaches men knowledge, He disciplines those He loves for their blessing, He gives rest to those in trouble, He does not forsake His people, He holds up the falling. Of course these do not include any of the New Testament consolations in Christ by the Spirit, which happen to be a lot.

My meditation on this verse has come by singing a version of the Psalm that our church sings. I’d sing it for you here, but this is a blog. The words are:

When my anxious thoughts are many,
how Thy comforts cheer my soul.

Sing it for yourself. Sing it for another.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Locating Trust

In Psalm 20 David has us sing,

Some trust in chariots and some in horses
but we trust in the name of the LORD our GOD.
(Psalm 20:7)

The verse before (6) and the verse after (8) connect this song to battle. Verse 1 talks about “the day of trouble” and verse 9 includes a shout out for the king. Men are always tempted under fire to trust their strengths, their strategies and supplies, to trust what they can see. This is true especially for those out front.

What wins, though, is the Lord. “He will answer from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand.” “The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble” (Psalm 37:39).

We also trust in the name of the Lord our God. We are saved as we believe in Him.

Even though kings used chariots and horses he shouldn’t swear by them. Likewise the believing leader doesn’t believe in the means. For us, we utilize weapons in the spiritual war, but we do not trust those weapons. We “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

One of the most effective tactics of our shepherding, one that helps us to present every man complete in Christ and build up the body in part and as a whole, is to eat and drink. We do it because we believe that the Lord works, that He nourishes our faith and knits us together around His Table. Bread and wine are never so powerful as when received together in thanks, in the name of the Lord.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Rounds Are Live

Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher wrote in 1704:

Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws.

(quoted in Wenham, The Psalter Reclaimed, Location 99)

Well then, no wonder we are so weak. We war over worship songs instead of having war songs for worship. Our music reveals our relative thinking and irreverent affections rather than faithful roots in truth.

The goal at our church is not to sing only Psalms. It is our goal to not not sing any Psalms. That is, we want to at least add some to our arsenal for sake of applying Colossians 3:16. I’ve now preached through the first 13 Psalms (and plan to preach more in the future) in order to encourage and persuade and better prepare us for edification when we sing them down the road.

What sort of inheritance do we want to leave for our grandchildren? What sort of preparations should we make for standing around the hospital bed of someone who is dying? Yes, take Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, the Gettys, and maybe even Lecrae with you, okay. But take more. Take Psalms.

May these songs become an always playing soundtrack behind our theology, worldview, corporate worship, private devotion, prayer, singing, and art. The rounds are live, the blood is red. Let’s turn the volume up.

Is any (among you) merry? Let him sing psalms (ψαλλέτω). (James 5:13, KJV)

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Every Thumb's Width

Recommended Instruments for Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

More than a few factors have excited me to study about and learn to sing some Psalms, some of which I’ve posted here over the last couple weeks. It’s taken a couple years, though, of reading and listening before realizing the depth of my musical shallowness. Here is a list of resources that I eagerly recommend, verbal instruments that have tuned my thinking not only about Psalms, but also about music and singing and corporate worship.

A Primer on Worship and Reformation by Doug Wilson Amazon. See especially chapter 8 “The Psalms as a Battering Ram.”

Our Worship by Abraham Kuyper [Amazon]. This is about liturgy, but don’t be scared.

Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art by Abraham Kuyper Amazon. See especially the chapters on art.

The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms by Gordon Wenham Amazon

Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves Amazon. See especially pages 58-61 on music.

Future Men by Doug Wilson Amazon. See especially chapter 11 “Church and Worship.”

“The Church Singing” by various. A 9Marks Journal with a variety of articles.

I haven’t read these yet, but I’m planning to:

  • Music, Language, and the Brain by Aniruddh Patel Amazon
  • This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin Amazon

“Musical Style in Worship,” a blog post by Doug Wilson. link

“The Transformative Power of Classical Music” by Benjamin Zander. A video TED Talk: YouTube

“Ears to Hear: The Possibilities of Musical Meaning” by Ken Myers. A four-part video lecture series: Vimeo

“The Classical School and Music” by Doug Wilson. A video lecture: YouTube

“Songs that Shape the Heart and Mind” by John Piper. Video and sermon notes: link

The right kind of fiction will also impress the benefits of joyful song.

  • Beowulf by Unknown (NOT any of the movies. It’s got to be the book. The movies miss the point by a long shot.)
  • The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

If I were you and I knew what I know now, I’d start with the videos by Wilson and Myers. I’d recommend Wisdom and Wonder and The Psalter Reclaimed next. Our Worship would be third, but your musical mileage may vary, as they say.

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

Down with Dualism

I have read the Psalms a couple dozen times, and parts of some Psalms probably hundreds of times, just as many of you have. Yet as I read them again recently and read a few introductions to prepare for a preaching series, I have been gladly surprised by a number of things. Here’s one of the most surprising surprises.

I’m surprised at how touchable the Psalms are.

I’m still not sure that touchable is the best word to name this observation, but think along with me. The Book of Psalms is a book of songs. The Greek name, psalmoi means “songs sung with musical accompaniment.” The Hebrew title is tehillim, meaning “songs of praise.” We think of it as Israel’s worship book, and we’re right.

But when we (21st century, Protestant, epistle-loving church-goers) think about worship, we think about spiritual realities, about heavenly glory, about God’s transcendence. Yet the omnis aren’t the only stars in the Psalms. There are praises about God’s great glory, followed by thanks for great crops.

We observe numerous types of psalms: thanksgiving, lament, and praise. We see royal psalms, Sabbath day psalms, psalms about creation, about the exodus from Egypt, psalms seeking deliverance from gossips and liars. There are Psalms confessing sin, others seeking forgiveness. Psalms utilize standard poetic conventions such as parallelism, acrostics, laying down patterns like embroidery, stitch by stitch. We find knees and hands and laying down prostrate.

We see David on the run from Saul. David on the run from Absolom. David’s guilt after adultery and murder. National captivity. Want for justice. Dangers, defeats, doubts, depressions, and delays.

In other words, the Book of Psalms deals with the terrestrial, with earthy needs and troubles and gifts maybe even more than it does with celestial, incorporeal truths. There is more about nature and nations than the temple. Or, better, God’s people sang about nature and nations in the temple.

God made it all. He holds it all together. He causes time and the sun to run their courses. God is no dualist. His people know and rehearse and rejoice in His supernatural attributes, yes. They praise attributes such as His holiness, His mercy, His judgment, and His steadfast love. But these qualities are always connected to something tangible that He has done, that His people can see or that they have hope to see. God is active, and the psalmists who complain about His inactivity do so because that’s not normal for Him (Geoffrey Grogan, Prayer, Praise and Prophecy, 73).

We’ve begun to learn to sing Psalm 128 as a church.

Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Your *wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house*;
your *children will be like olive shoots
around your table*.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!
(Psalm 128:1-6, ESV)

Too many of our (post)modern songs fail to promote worship in the flesh. We have a lot of songs that are fleshly (in lyrics or in style), in that they cater to the flesh, but they are not fleshy, that is, addressing life here and now. The Psalms care about the soul and body, about forever and today, about heavenly handwork and rich soil. This is one reason to sing entire Psalms. Songs that borrow lines from certain Psalms are fine, but the appropriated lines are usually only the sacred lyrics.

Worship should always be a preparation for living the Christian life in the real world and not simply a means of temporary escape from it. (Grogan, ibid., 8)

God glorifies Himself, God makes and fulfills promises, God loves His people in time and space. The Psalms have handleability, and it’s good to get our lips and hands working together.