Wisdom On Introducing Psalm Singing

1) Many people do not know you can sing the psalms (at least, other than Psalm 23, 62, and 100). “The psalter” is a foreign term, and even after people are introduced to singing psalms, they find it incredibly awkward to actually sing when they can hear themselves singing. It’s similar to how uncomfortable I feel when I sing with a worship band playing so loudly I can’t hear myself sing. We are used to the way we worshipped growing up, and we must be sensitive to how others might feel.

2) It is only by grace that I am blessed to have grown up singing psalms, not because of my convictions or intellect. Just as the doctrines of grace are true for salvation, they are true for every other blessing God gives me, including a theology of worship. I Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Thus, it is not my gift to keep but one to share with others.

3) The psalms can be very difficult to understand. The Book of Psalms is often treated as a treasure chest of unidentified objects with a few pieces of gold in it. There are treasured psalms that have gem-like verses, but if the harder ones are never sung, there’s not as much incentive to understand them. Without growing up doing it, singing the imprecatory psalms could be as strange as speaking the curses of Deuteronomy 27 or of some other Old Testament passage.

4) We must recognize how difficult it is for people to start singing psalms. Four-part harmony and a cappella singing is almost unheard of in worship today. And while melodies can be learned and practiced with a piano, understanding some of the texts and appreciating the depth is another obstacle.

5) We must introduce psalms to others, especially by singing with them! I have lost count of how many psalters I have shown and given to people at Wheaton because I have just asked people to sing with me. They become so excited to sing them (if they have gotten over the awkwardness of hearing themselves sing).

The gift of psalm singing should be shared, regardless of someone’s convictions of what should happen in worship. The bottom line is that we are commanded to sing them, and the more we encourage that to happen, rather than just debating fine points of Scripture, the more psalms will be sung.

—Anna Carini, “Gently Introducing Psalm Singing at College

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  1. Dr. Clark,

    Only today I read through the chapter on worship in your book! And here you are, posting an article of my church member!

    (I became member of RPCNA recently)

  2. While I consider the “analogy of prayer” to be a good argument and have an abiding love for the older German hymnody, I believe that the church cheats itself when it does not sing the Psalms. Even if I didn’t believe in God’s providential care and keeping of the Holy Scriptures, I’d still think it’s no accident that the Psalter lies in the center of the Bible.

    Yes, reading the Psalms is great, and I’ve been reading them in English, Chinese, French, Hebrew, and Greek for a number of years now. But clunky and odd as the old metrical Psalms may strike a lot of people, they’re a great heritage and have caused me to pay closer attention to the text of Scripture itself.

    BTW, my all-time favorite “hymn” is Psalm 118 to the tune Rendez a Dieu (I’ve even found it in Maitre Pierre’s 1560 version!). It’s a pity I so seldom hear it.

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