I start Psalms and Wisdom class tomorrow. Before the class starts we have to read Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Songs. I read Psalms this weekend. Until recently, the Psalms were the songbook of the church. And if you wanted to learn how to pray you read the Psalms. It is said that the Puritans’ jailors knew the Psalms by heart because the Puritan prisoners sang the Psalms so often. There were several things that struck me reading them this weekend.
First of all there are a lot of them – 150. If you sang 5 different Psalms each week at church, giving equal place to all of them, you would sing each Psalm less than twice a year on average.
The next thing that struck me is that the Psalms are very real and practical. The Israelites sang about their relationship with their neighbors, personal issues, how their country was doing, and the like. There is doctrine in there, of course, but it is related to what’s going on in the every day.
This earthy approach leads me to the next point. A while ago I heard Terry Virgo say that the main thing missing in worship was lament. I knew this was true, but what surprised me in preparing for my class is that lament is actually the most frequent category of Psalm; there are more lament Psalms than any other type. Life is hard. If worship is to be real there has to be a lot of lamenting going on in church.
The last thing that struck me was how personal the Psalms are. I’d say 75% of the Psalms are addressed directly to God, meaning the Psalmist sings or prays to God sometime during the Psalm. And many of the Psalms which aren’t directed towards God are urging the people of God to praise God, i.e. to sing the other Psalms and mean them.
It would be really beneficial for church and worship leaders to go back to the Psalms and try to provide the balanced, earthy, personal worship experience for the church that the Psalmists did.