Monday, February 24, 2014

Enabling Contemporary and Charismatic Churches to reconnect with Psalm Singing

One of the things that drew me into the charismatic scene was the vibrant praise and worship. However, I've also always had a love for hymns, especially redemption and Wesleyan hymns. In the last few years prior to transitioning into a more traditional context, I was increasingly aware of the impoverishment that the churches were experiencing due to the lack of hymns that were being sung in churches.
However, this led me to fresh discovery, it is not only hymns that have been neglected, the bible's one and only divinely inspired hymn book has also been buried by many churches.
As I flicked through my book of Psalms, the realisation dawned upon me that I was holding in my hands the ancient hymn book of the church. 150 scriptural songs, which had sustained the saints and been sung by saints from the time of David onwards. And here I was without the foggiest clue how to sing any of them!
With a bit of research, I found out that most of the psalms in the Scottish Psalter are in common meter-- and fortunately there were a handful of hymns I knew which were also common meter  -- fantastic -- and so for the next few weeks -- much to my wife's dismay-- it was the psalms to the  tune of Amazing Grace, There is a Fountain and Auld Lang Sine!

Regarding the lack of Psalm singing in contemporary churches -- N.T Wright says:
"The enormously popular "worship songs," some of which use phrases from the Psalms here and there but most of which do not, have largely displaced, for thousands of regular and enthusiastic worshipers, the steady rhythm and deep soul-searching of the Psalms themselves. This, I believe, is a great impoverishment.

By all means, write new songs. Each generation must do that. But to neglect the church's original hymnbook is, to put it bluntly, crazy. There are many ways of singing and praying the Psalms; there are styles to suit all tastes. That, indeed, is part of their enduring charm. I hope that one of the effects of this little book will be to stimulate and encourage those who lead worship in many different settings to think and pray about how to reintegrate the church's ancient prayer book into the regular and ordinary life of their fellowships."

Amen to that -- we need the old and new!

Upon discovering the richness of the psalms, I realised that it was not enough to  only reintegrate them into my own devotional life, but I also needed to explore ways in which to help the church reconnect with the psalms. The following is one example of how I incorporated psalm singing, with reflection, into a house group/bible study. While this is not the only way it can be done, it is one way. I particularly found the reflective questions to be helpful, this was largely due to the fact that psalm singing is such a foreign concept in many modern churches that people need to be given the opportunity think through the struggles and difficulties involved with psalm singing.
 Extract from Bible Study Notes

Psalm 94 From Scottish Metrical Psalms 1650 Meter: 8,6,8,6

11   Man's thoughts to be but vanity
       the Lord doth well discern.
12   Bless'd is the man thou chast'nest, Lord,
       and mak'st thy law to learn:
13   That thou may'st give him rest from days
       of sad adversity,
     Until the pit be digg'd for those
       that work iniquity.
14   For sure the Lord will not cast off
       those that his people be,
     Neither his own inheritance
       quit and forsake will he:
15   But judgment unto righteousness
       shall yet return again;
     And all shall follow after it
       that are right-hearted men.

16   Who will rise up for me against
       those that do wickedly?
     Who will stand up for me `gainst those
       that work iniquity?
17   Unless the Lord had been my help
       when I was sore opprest,
     Almost my soul had in the house
       of silence been at rest.
18   When I had uttered this word,
       (my foot doth slip away,)
     Thy mercy held me up, O Lord,
       thy goodness did me stay.
19   Amidst the multitude of thoughts
       which in my heart do fight,
     My soul, lest it be overcharg'd,
       thy comforts do delight.

Read this portion of Psalm 94 in a modern bible translation, and then sing the verses together.
Group Reflections
  1.  How would you describe this experience of psalm singing?
  1. As you were singing the verses, what words struck you the most?
  2. How would you compare the experience of singing a psalm with the experience of singing our usual choruses/contemporary songs?
  • What are the main differences?
  • Is it more difficult?
  • Are there truths that we are faced with in the psalms that we are not faced with in modern songs?
  • What place do feelings have in both modern songs and the psalms?

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