Singing the Psalms
In his Preface to the Psalter, John Calvin made the following remarks on why we sing the Psalms: “It is to have songs not only honest, but also holy, which will be like spurs to incite us to pray to and praise God, and to meditate upon his works in order to love, fear, honor and glorify him…And moreover, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts in our mouths these, as if he himself were singing in us to exalt his glory.”
It’s good to sing the Psalms because, historically, they are the hymnbook of God’s people. When we sing these words we are, in one respect, externalizing what we affirm internally and not just cognitively dwelling on a propositional truth. In another respect, we are internalizing what we communicate externally—like a popular song that becomes strikingly thematic of our lives, the words become second nature to us in a way where we start to really believe in our hearts the Word of Truth. It’s also good to sing Psalms together because it forces us to see that we share in a corporate relationship with God, and we are accountable to each other in living out his decrees.
Take Psalm 23 as an example. The words instill confidence of being loved, refreshed, restored, guided, protected, received, and honored by the LORD as an individual (since this is a psalm of David that reflects upon God’s bountiful provision for him). Yet, this is designed as a corporate song. We are united as one body of believers, and so we can corporately call upon the LORD as “my shepherd” in that sense. We might attempt to sing this psalm as individuals in worship, but we surely can’t help but finish our song with one voice, singing “He’s not just mine, but ours!” We are united as the flock of our great shepherd and the guest of our great host of heaven and earth. Thus, the term “my shepherd” points us to this corporate element. However, singing that he is “my shepherd” also helps us to have the right posture before the LORD. If he is really “my shepherd” then that means we are sheep and must follow his leading upon recognizing that he truly knows where we can find our ultimate rest and refreshment. Singing makes us come to grips with the reality that our lives are in his hands, and that is rightly where they belong. As part of the flock, I want “my shepherd” to lead me and guide me and keep me safe because I would feel helpless otherwise. Singing of God’s wonderful covenantal deeds for his people incites us to thanksgiving and praise as we corporately own the blessing of being his. But as we face the realities of the cruel world around us, we can also corporately rejoice in the life that he gives to us. The imagery is compelling. He makes us lie down together in places of rest and leads us to the waters of refreshment. He guides us through the dark valleys, defending us against attackers. And he welcomes us to his table in fellowship with him. This is not just corporate imagery, but it is imagery of intimacy. And so as we sing this together, we can be strengthened and gain confidence in bleak times because of his loving care.
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