Imagine that God had given us a hymn book? – one with his words. One that revealed his character. One that expresses our emotions and hearts in words that the Holy Spirit inspires. One that speaks of and to Christ. One that is traditional, modern, post-modern and contemporary. One that is praise, lament, confession, rejoicing, individual and collective. The hymn book that Jesus used. What would we give for such a book? What value would we place on it? Well he has – the book of Psalms – and yet it appears that many evangelical churches seem to place very little value on it. I genuinely don’t understand churches that don’t sing psalms – apart from Ps 23 and those like 10,000 Reasons (based on Ps 103) that draw inspiration from them.
I think for me I would find it almost impossible to go to a church that did not use the hymn book that God has given us. (note this is not an argument for exclusive psalmody but rather one for inclusive psalmody – nor is it an argument for a particular style – I love our tradition of accapela singing, and also Anglican plain chant, Gregorian Orthodox, Gaelic and instrumental – Sons of Korah etc).
This was brought home to me last night at our prayer meeting. It was encouraging to have such a large attendance – we had to keep widening the circle until it filled the room! And it was encouraging just to be in the presence of God and be able to pray. We have had a lot of troubles recently – sickness, death, trials, spiritual warfare etc. It was so beautiful to be able to come into the Lords presence with his words that were so directly appropriate for many people and us collectively as a body as we mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. Where in any hymnody or praise book would you get a song entitled – A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the LORD? Yet this was the Psalm (102) that we sang last night – in two parts…we did not do the third but it is worth reading on….!
LORD, listen to my prayer,
And hear my cry for aid.
2 Hide not your face from me,
For I am so afraid.
Incline your ear to me in need;
And, when I call, be swift to heed.
3 Like smoke my days are gone;
My bones are burned away.
4 My appetite is lost;
My heart is parched like hay.
5 Because of my incessant groans
I am no more than skin and bones.
6 I’m like a desert owl,
An owl midst tumbled stone,
7 Or bird upon a roof—
I lie awake, alone.
8 My foes revile me all day long;
My haters mock my name in song.
9 For ashes are my food;
I weep incessantly
10 Because in your great wrath
You have abandoned me.
11 My days like evening shadows pass;
I wither like the sun-dried grass.
12 But you, O LORD, are set
For ever on your throne;
Through each succeeding age
Endures your great renown.
13 You will arise in mighty power;
On Zion mercy you will shower.
The set time now has come
To bless Jerusalem.
14 Her stones your saints hold dear;
Her dust is mourned by them.
15 Nations will fear your name, O LORD;
All kings on earth your praise record.
16 For God will yet appear
In glorious might to reign;
The LORD in grace will build
17 The prayers of the poor he’ll heed;
He will not spurn their cry of need.
18 Let this be written down
To teach a future race,
So people yet unborn
May magnify his grace:
19 That from his holy place above
The LORD looked down in tender love.
(Ps 102 – from the Free Church’s Sing Psalms)
This is the antithesis of the prosperity gospel, triumphalist Christianity or the ‘trust Jesus and everything will be great’ memes. It is real, hard, painful, questioning, trusting, sorrowful, hopeful Christianity. Its life. As we know it. As we experience it. As Christ experienced it for us. Think about the words, meditate on them and rejoice that the Lord has given us such words because he knows our pain and feels our sorrows. And he looks down in tender love!
Here is another version of the Psalm from the wonderful Australian musician Jason Coghill.