Singing The Psalms Sustains Pakistani Christians

Eric Sarwar grew up singing 70 of those same psalm portions at home and church. When strangers attacked him in 2009, and his parents and wife in 2010, he took comfort in Psalm 18, “the most popular psalm in Pakistan. It represents God’s providence, safety, power, deliverance, and kindness. In our context of living below poverty line and facing discrimination and hard challenges every day, it gives hope and encouragement. Its musical tune and rhythm is simple, catchy, and on high notes with shouts of joy,” he says.

“Other psalms that help in every critical situation are Psalms 4; 16 (Part 1); 20 (Part 1); 23; 31 (Part 4); 34 (Part 2); 40 (Part1); 46 (Part 1); 62 (Part 2); 119 (Parts 11, 20); 121; 139; and 145. People also love liturgical psalms, like Psalm 100 for call to worship.

“Majority of people in village congregations speak only Punjabi. They love to sing psalms of praise, laments, penitence, petitions, and prayers. They memorize them by heart. Only two or three persons in my congregation can read, so Punjabi Zaboors is their Bible. It helps them in their daily life, especially when they face questions from Muslims in their work places,” he explains.

—Joan Huyser-Honig, “Why Persecuted Christians Sing Psalms in Pakistan” (HT: Benjamin P. Glaser)

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. I like it, but it seems slightly against the grain of the previous posts. Mr. Sarwar seems to be emphasizing the ‘musicality’ of the psalms (the rhythm and joyous high notes) as a source of comfort, not merely the words of scripture themselves. Seeing this post here now confuses me. You seem to be advocating the instrumentless singing of psalms in worship, and if so, are you also an advocate of tunelessness? Or are you okay with melody, harmony and rhythm, sans accompaniments? To ask the same thing twice, are you just against the use of piano/organ etc, in worship, or are you also against the ‘tunes’ themselves?
    Thank you.

    • Well sure, it is interesting. But my questions were sincere; the irony of this post in relation to what you have been sharing lately struck me. I really am wondering, if instruments are of the old order of type and shadow, and therefore out of place in new covenant worship, what does that say about songs created through their use? Does it follow that those tunes also share in the typological function of the instruments, or does that go too far?

      • It goes too far. We do believe in general providence (common grace). Pagans write tunes that we use. The tunes (and the circumstances of their creation) are part of the common order. They are a circumstance of worship. We must have a time, a place, and tunes. When, where, how, are indifferent.

        I’ve yet to read a 16th-century Reformed author arguing that tunes may not be written using instruments.

  2. Not that it is a direct answering of utterlyreformed’s question, but one has to ask does an instrument take away, be neutral or improve the active worship aspect of a Psalm. If it detracts or distracts from the people during active worship then it should be removed. If it is neutral,one should ask could not that energy/ time. effort be put to some other active aspect of worship?

    I am no longer an active musician, I did frequently spent a great deal of time memorizing songs for various brass instruments for worship services. I also came to realize that I was distracting people from active worship and pushing them into at best passive worship or worse making myself and my fellow musicians centres of the service. Of course, one of the problems is that people no longer come to church to actively worship, instead they come for bread and circuses that is a little teaching and to be entertained.

    • I find/found instruments distracting and often usurping the words (Let’s manipulate the people with an emotive and melodic guitar solo to get them to make a decision, ya that’s the ticket) I saw others distracted by them too.

      And like you, I felt I was kind of the center of attention as the audience watched us perform. I only did it a couple years, eventually being strongly convicted and saying no more by seeking the Reformed practices.

      More importantly, instruments are verboten. I don’t need to say why; read Recovering the Reformed Confession and the many Heidelblog posts which address it for that.

  3. I hope I’m not misremembering this- I had read some about the Punjabi/Pakistani Psalms and singing of them a while back, and got the impression that some Pentecostalism/Charismatic teaching and practice may have been introduced at some point and was likely the reason for the style and activity of their singing and their use of instruments. I’ll try to find the article if anyone is interested. But I’m glad they’re singing the Psalms.

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