“Today, we are part of a generation that has largely forgotten how to pray and sing the psalms. For the first time in all of church history, the psalms are no longer the bedrock for our individual devotion or corporate worship.” So write Keith and Kristyn Getty in the preface to Psalms of the Bible: The Songs of Scripture in Both Contemporary and Classic Form (CSB & KJV).
The Gettys aren’t the only ones sounding the alarm. N. T. Wright says, “I find it impossible to imagine a growing and maturing church or individual Christian doing without the Psalms.” Alistair Begg reminds us why they are necessary: “Through petition, praise, lament and song, the Psalmist articulates both the difficulties of living in a fallen world but also the eternal truths about the character of God.”
There’s a reason why leaders like Billy Graham and Tim Keller adopted the habit of reading five psalms a day, in order to make their way through the psalter 12 times a year. “There are other prayers in the Bible,” Keller writes, “but no other place where you have an entire course of theology in prayer form, and no other place where you have every possible heart condition represented, along with the way to process that situation before God.”
Songs of Scripture
There has been an explosion of new Christian songs and hymns in recent decades, and I’m always thrilled when the Church sings to the Lord “a new song.” But we dare not neglect the formative aspect of the psalms in our individual and corporate worship. If we are in danger of becoming the first generation without a profound love for and knowledge of the psalms, I want to say: Not on my watch. The psalms made up the songbook of Jesus and the apostles. If habits matter in the life of a disciple, I want the psalms to form my heart and mind every day.
For this reason, my team has developed The Psalms of the Bible, a resource that brings together all the psalms in both contemporary (CSB) and classic (KJV) form, while including 42 other psalm-like songs found in the Bible. (Watch the video, featuring comments from Ellie Holcomb, Jackie Hill Perry, Andrew Peterson, and Michael Card here.)
I loved hearing these artists and writers speak to the beauty and power of the psalms. Below are some of the comments they made that weren’t included in the final video. My prayer is that you will be stirred up to grow in your knowledge and love for the psalms of the Bible.
Andrew Peterson: “The Invitation of God”
Consider how unique the psalms are in all of literature. Take, for example, Psalm 22, which Jesus is referencing when He’s on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The Holy Spirit was inspiring David to write these poems, which later Christ would use to express His desolation back to the Father. That’s a crazy thought, right? You’ve got God the Holy Spirit inspiring the psalms, and a human being is invited into the conversation, to use the words the Son used that David wrote in order to speak to the Father. You have the Trinity, and also the invitation into that song. Any time you’re praying the psalms, you’re not only expressing your own desolation or praise or whatever it might be; you’re also partnering with God himself in expressing his words back to him.
Ellie Holcomb: “Awake my soul!”
I heard a friend of mine who is a worship leader say, “A worship leader’s job is to go to deep places with the Lord, and to come back, and say, you gotta see what I just saw!” What the Psalms do is say, Come as you are to a really good God, and remind your soul of how good he is. That’s what David does over and over—he reminds himself of what is true. “Awake my soul. Awake my soul, and remember God.”
Michael Card: “A Bottomless Resource”
The psalms tell us who we are, and we need to know that. They provide spiritual bread or living water, or all those metaphors that we sing about. The psalms provide meat that the congregation is so hungry for. The psalms are a connection for us. When I’m lamenting, I may feel disconnected from God. The psalms express that experience. When I’m joyful, the psalms give me language to connect to that joy and remember that it comes from God. He never slumbers. He never sleeps. In the end, the psalms provide for every need, all those misconnections, all the things we’re hungry for, all the correctives we need to remind us that life isn’t about us, but is really all about him. The psalms are a bottomless resource for all the things we need.
Jackie Hill Perry: “Connected to Glory”
If the psalms were written over a span of hundreds of years, then that means God wanted these songs to be read, God wanted them to be preserved. To read the Psalms points us to him in a way that he wants, because God’s greatest aim is his glory. He loves us, and he wants us to love him, which is to glorify him, to know him, to exalt him. There must be something in the psalms that pushes us to Jesus, that secures us in Jesus, that helps us to know God. It isn’t just songs or poetry that we read to learn about ourselves. The psalms push us to worship Jesus. That’s why they matter. If it’s connected to glory, then it should matter to all of us.