This the second post on songs in worship. The first can be found here.
The major tool God has given us to cultivate music that honors him is the songs in the Bible, including the Psalms. The Lord saw fit to give us one hundred and fifty psalms along with numerous other songs in the Scriptures, such as Exodus 15, I Samuel 2, Isaiah 12, 26, Luke 1:46-55 and the songs in Revelation. The Lord did not intend for us to sing only these songs, but He did intend for us to learn these songs and use them as the foundation for newer hymns. Without making the songs of Scripture a priority, our worship is guaranteed to be impotent. It is odd that the evangelical church says they love the Bible, but most refuse to sing it. One of great tragedies of the modern church is that she has left the Bible as the first source of her songs.
As we learn the songs of Scripture we will reap several benefits. First, we will sing things we have never sung before. There are not many contemporary songs that say things like, “You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.” (Psalm 3:7) Or, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea.” (Psalm 72:8) Or, “They have shed the blood of saints and prophets and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due.” (Revelation 16:6). Often our language is influenced by movies, pop culture, or our friends. If we want our language to be shaped by Scripture then a good place to begin is the songs of Scripture.
Second, as we sing these songs we will be reminded that we have enemies and are engaged in a battle which only ends with Christ’s second coming. 137 out of 150 Psalms either explicitly or implicitly refer to enemies. Most of the songs in the New Testament have a similar theme. Look at Mary and Zacharias’ songs in Luke and the songs throughout Revelation. These are fight songs, songs of an army going out into the world to wage warfare and conquer for (and with) Christ. Could it be that the Church is losing the battle because she does not even know she is in one? Singing Scripture will help rid us of this amnesia.
Third, as we sing the songs of Zion we will find a great amount of variety. It is odd how many hymns and choruses sound the same both in tone and words. Scripture has similar themes, but these themes are expressed in an assortment of ways. There are short songs. (Psalm 117 and portions of Revelation) There are long songs. (Psalm 18 and 119) There are songs of grief and pain. (Psalm 3 and 137) There are songs of great joy and gladness (Isaiah 26 and Mary’s Song in Luke 1) There are songs about God’s great majesty. (Exodus 15 and Psalm 111) There are songs about how men are supposed to live. (Psalm 1, 112, 128) There are songs with a repeating chorus. (Psalm 136) There are songs by Moses, Solomon, David, Hannah, Mary, Asaph, Isaiah, Zacharias and the angels. We could go on and on. This means the songs in worship should have a variety of lengths, tones, and themes. Scriptures songs rightly done should never be boring.This does not mean they will all be fast or loud or that they will contemporary. It just means that there will be variety.
Fourth, the songs of the Bible give us words for all situations. And not just any words. We will have God’s word in our hearts and in our mouths. If we are sad let us sing Psalm 137. If we are joyful let us sing Psalm 150. If we are about to do our quiet times, let us sing a section of Psalm 119. If we are walking in nature let us sing Psalm 8 or 19. If we are considering Christ’s work on the cross let us sing Psalm 16 or 22. If we are rejoicing at the downfall of our enemies let us sing Exodus 15 or Psalm 7 or Revelation 11:17-18. If we have sinned let us sing Psalm 6 or 51. When we do this we are not just singing, but we are singing God’s Word. And His Word is sharper than any two edged sword, mighty to save, comforting for our souls, and strong to tear down the fortresses of Satan.
Finally, as we sing the songs of Scripture we will find a truly majestic and holy God who is also our Father. One of the perpetual problems in the Christian faith, a problem expressed in our songs, is that Christians tend to see God as either very far off or very near. The first group views God as unknowable. He becomes so holy that we can barely know him. The second group makes God in our image. He becomes too knowable, like a buddy on our back porch. As we sing Scripture we find an excellent balance of both of these themes. First, God is certainly holy. Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4:8 have the angels singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” God is not our buddy who comes along to have chats with us as we meet with Him in prayer. He is a man of war. (Exodus 15) But God is also our Shepherd (Psalm 23), who remembers our frame, (Psalm 103:14) and is near to the broken hearted. (Psalm 34:18) As we learn the Psalms and other Scripture songs we get a balanced picture of God’s character, which will keep us from sinking into either error.