“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3:16
Psalms are the vocabulary of worship. For years I have practiced “singing the Psalms and praying the songs.” This concept is modeled after the Old Testament Levites who are described in 1 Chronicles 16 as “ministering unto the Lord” through praising God, giving thanks, and offering prayers of petition.
Ministering to the Lord in private is the foundation and prerequisite for leading in the public meeting. As we get the words of the Psalms off of the page and into our hearts we discover all sorts of benefits. The primary benefit being that we are drawn closer to the Lord in our personal walk. We begin to relate to him: personally, biblically, truthfully.
And this connection spills over into our public role of encouraging worship in the community where we lead. We start to experience times when entire Scripture verses come rolling off our tongue in the midst of connecting one song to another. It’s an exciting experience when the Holy Spirit brings up Scripture that you have stored in your heart and are then able to release at an appropriate moment.
PRIVATE & PUBLIC
During those private times of singing the Psalms to various melodies and chord progressions, alone in the sanctuary, I’m often inspired to capture them with my iPhone’s digital recorder, and they become the beginnings of new songs to come, potentially. Either way, it’s a practice that has helped keep my heart fresh toward the Lord—to keep God from becoming just “my job.”
My private times with God keep it real for me, so I don’t feel like a phony when publicly leading a group in worship.
Another fruit of singing the Word is that I get lots of song ideas. Years ago Ed Kerr and I were invited to write songs for a Scripture Memory series. The entire project was 26 CDs requiring us to come up with a few hundred songs over the span of a year. We would meet at our church office and begin mining the Scriptures, and the Psalms in particular, for hidden gems. We would read them slowly, speak them, and sing them over various chord progressions. Time and time again we would read a passage from the Psalms and you would never think there could be a song there. But when we would begin singing the Psalms, we suddenly became aware of all these internal rhymes, clusters of alliteration, and other elements that make your mouth want to sing. One example was from Psalm 103:
Praise the Lord O my soul And forget not all his benefits Who redeems your life from the pit And crowns you with love and compassion Who satisfies your desires with good things So that your youth is renewed like the eagles.
Another example is “Oh Our Lord,” co-written with Leslie and David from All Sons and Daughters; the song is derived from Psalm 8. Even if you don’t know the melody, sing:
Oh-Oh-Oh Our Lord, Oh-Oh-Oh our Lord
How majestic is your name in all the earth
As you do, notice how easily the mouth sings “Oh–our–Lord.” They all feel related somehow. Now sing and notice the internal rhymes “How majestIC IS your name IN all the EARTH.” Call me crazy, but as I sing the verse with the emphasis on certain syllables, it just falls out of your mouth. (Check out this link to get a feel for what I’m saying and hear the entire song: worshipleader.com/oh-our-lord.)
For the past few years I have approached music ministry with the mindset of a pastor first, and a musician second. We need to be more pastoral in our music ministries, caring more about our congregations getting a biblical foundation for their lives than simply singing poetic thoughts. The Word of God is timeless and true, so it’s imperative that every generation of believers become grounded in the truth of God’s written Word.
Our theology or image of God is undeniably formed by the songs that we sing each Sunday. Let’s strive to serve our communities with scriptural songs filled with grace and truth.