The Psalms in Worship from A to Z
I decided to share many ideas for how worship leaders can use the Psalms in worship. My structure comes from the “acrostic” psalms, that is, psalms based on the (Hebrew) alphabet, using each letter in order (for example, Psalm 111). The point in the Bible was thoroughness, and that’s my point, too. So here is an acrostic approach to using the Psalms in worship. I’ll include exemplary references in case you want to use these ideas.
ADMISSION OF SIN:
Corporate reading of Psalm 38 or 51 facilitates shared confession before God.
Many psalms call for use of one’s body in worship (standing, kneeling, clap- ping, shouting) and can lead worshipers into more full-orbed expression (Psalm 47:1). CHANT: For centuries Christians have chant- ed the Psalms in worship (with a cantor, often with congregational response). This practice can still be quite effective today.
The Psalms call for dance (Psalm 150:4), and many psalms may be the basis for worshipful dance.
Worshipers can enact the themes of the Psalms. For example, they might wave palm branches on Palm Sun- day while Psalm 118 is read.
The Psalms commend joyful celebration as we worship (Psalm 89:15).
Reading, singing and meditating upon certain psalms inspire thanks to God by reminding us of His salvation (Psalm 107).
Sing hymns based upon the Psalms. “O God Our Help in Ages Past” is Isaac Watts’ rendition of Psalm 90.
Begin a worship service with a psalm that calls for praise (103) or that calls people to worship (Psalms 95 or 100).
The Psalms express the heart of Jesus and point us to Him. Use Psalm 2 to stretch worshipers’ sense of Jesus’ majesty.
A classical prayer can employ strong visual images. A prayerful reading of Psalm 50, complete with visual images, would inspire this sort of expansive prayer.
So common in the Psalms, so rare in our worship. A corporate reading of Psalm 42 can help worshipers pour out their hearts to God.
Metrical psalms are paraphrases that employ English meter to facilitate singing. The best known of these is “Joy to the World,” a metrical version of Psalm 98.
Reading or singing psalms that celebrate the beauty of creation, with or without visual arts, can remind us of God’s power and beauty (Psalm 8).
The Psalms encourage us to bring the offering of our hearts to God, lay- ing them before Him (Psalm 51:17). Worship is not for me primarily, but for God. PRAYING THE PSALMS: There is no more valuable discipline for a worship leader who seeks to honor God.
Corporate reflection upon a psalm, a verse or even a word can lead to God-focused silence (Psalm 62).
READING THE PSALMS:
Yes, reading is okay even if a band is leading worship. Psalms can be read by an individual, by a readers’ theatre group, by the congregation or by creative combinations.
The thematic movement of certain psalms can provide an inspired structure for a service (Psalms 13 or 95).
Regular use of the Psalms connects us with millennia of godly worship. It fulfills today’s desire for “ancient- future” worship.
Some psalms celebrate corporate unity (Psalm 133:1), and unison singing or reading of the Psalms makes this unity a reality.
Visual arts of various kinds, including but not limited to digital projection, illustrates the themes of the Psalms and stirs up godly passion. For example, in one service I showed pictures of the devastation brought on by the Asian tsunami while Psalm 46 was read.
The Psalms remind us that our worship is not an insider affair for the initiated. The whole world is called to worship the Lord (Psalm 96).
XEROX PSALMS FOR MEDIATION:
When worshipers arrive, they find a copy of a psalm on their chairs for meditation prior to worship. (Projection works too, but doesn’t begin with an “X.”)
God’s name in Hebrew, usually translated as “LORD.” The Psalms praise, not just any God, but Yahweh, who revealed Himself to Moses and Israel as a compassionate and merciful God. Hallelujah in Hebrew means, literally, “Praise Yahweh” (Psalm 150).
Regular use of the Psalms in worship stirs up our zeal and helps it to be for God’s glory rather than only for the sake of our emotional experience (Psalm 48).
Take one of these suggestions, something that you haven’t done before, and use it in an upcoming service or as a daily practice.
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The Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a pastor, author, leader, speaker, blogger, and consultant for Christian organizations. Currently, Mark is the Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. In this role, he provides visionary, strategic, and tactical leadership for the Center, which seeks to serve leaders so they might flourish in life and leadership. In addition to serving leaders directly, the De Pree Center helps churches so they might encourage, teach, mentor, form, and support marketplace leaders. Part of Mark’s work for the Center involves serving leaders and churches by writing Life for Leaders, a daily, digital devotional that is emailed to over 5300 subscribers each morning.