This is a helpful look at the role the Psalms ought to play in both our individual and corporate worship.
The analogy between manners at the breakfast table and the life of faith is fairly straightforward. Left on our own, there are all sorts of things we would never choose to say to God. “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” are near the top of the list. Thus, the reason worship leaders should challenge us to say and sing words we are still “growing into” and may not “feel” presently is that this is a potent means of spiritual growth.
In the American church Christians have traditionally categorized worship services as either “traditional” or “contemporary.” But the longer I work in the field of worship, the more I am convinced that a much more telling and instructive dichotomy is between worship that is merely expressive and that which is both expressive and formative.
One of the main functions of Scripture is to instill in the people of God a proper grasp of the world’s true story.
The psalms employ rhetoric to achieve their end of shaping the worshippers’ inner life. Rhetoric is the way someone presents his ideas, in a way that moves people to feel the way he wants them to. In the hands of the unscrupulous, rhetoric can be a tool for manipulating; but in the service of virtue, it can move its audience to do what they know to be right.
Seek Christ in the psalms and then measure everything else by what you find there. When selecting and writings songs, we should ask, Is it psalm-like? An honest answer will enable you to rise above the inappropriate and tread on the high places of the earth.
The psalms are lyric poems that obey the ordinary rules of lyric poetry about which we learn in high school and college English courses, and whatever other use we make of such poems, we should at least read and ponder them in our private, devotional worship.
God’s psalms have a robust, rough-hewn character that can give backbone to a person’s faith, as well as muscle tone and stamina.
The biblical psalms are not “nice.”
Singing imprecatory lament psalms is dangerous activity because it is not innocent “special music” or a concertized solo testimonial. Psalm-singing is quoting God back in God’s face, invoking God’s presence to do justice on our troubled earth. No self-righteous, naïve persons should apply. But when a communion of repentant sinful saints covered by the blood of Jesus Christ chooses to do it because they are deeply disturbed by Incorporated Evil and the principalities in the world laying God’s creatures to waste, then we can come to know a little of the depth and riches the Lord has provided for us in God’s Word.
In the psalms it’s as if we pass on the glory of God from one generation to the other. As one of the psalms itself declares: One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. . . . My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever. (Ps 145:4–7,21)