All through the history of the church people have used the psalms to sing in worship. They were written as songs to be sung. A very rough translation of the term ‘psalms’ could be ‘songs sung to a harp’. The chosen people of God, the Israelites sang the psalms. The people of the new covenant carried on this discipline and the early church sang the psalms. Throughout the history of the church the psalms have been sung!
But in my experience of modern Christianity, most lately Evangelical Christianity we have lost this discipline. We sometimes cherry pick lines from a psalm, and use that one line to write a worship song. Sometimes we use a psalm as a basis and write a song around that theme, but very rarely do we try to sing the words directly from the page as they were intended, or sing a psalm in its entirety.
I have been fascinated about this and wanted to find out why….
It seems there was a point in the western protestant church where we decide to concentrate on writing hymns to God rather than directly singing the psalms. Trying to find out why this was I have come to the conclusion that we started to get offended by the psalms. A lot of the psalms are songs of complaint to God. Some psalms even appear to encourage us to acts of violence towards our enemies. Maybe the thought of singing about our enemies being eaten by jackels (Psalm 63) just seemed a bit too much for us to stomach.
Something very interesting started to happen. Christian interpreters of the psalms started to rewrite tthem in such a way as to avoid the obvious offences they can cause us. Using the psalms as a basis, but avoiding sections that seemed unfit for Christian worship, writers would present the psalms to us in a more presentable form. This process has I think continued with us using sections of psalms and crafting them into worship songs, avoiding the bits that could trouble us or challenge our understanding of God.
While I love singing a lot of hymns and think they are great, I have also started to love singing the psalms, most especially I lately have felt challenged to try singing the psalms in their entirety and using the words as they have been translated for us.
I really think it is desperately important for us to rediscover the art of singing the psalms. They give us an ability to articulate all the emotions (warts and all) that we encounter as we follow Jesus. I believe God gave them to us for that very purpose. That’s why I want to encourage you to start singing the psalms!