Worship through the Psalms

Whether we think of the book of Psalms as the “prayer book of the Bible” or the “songbook of the Bible” (I’ve heard both), it is certainly the worship book of the Bible, which includes both activities, often at the same time; praying our song, or singing our prayer.  Many of you know of my interest in Walter Bruggemann’s categorizing of the psalms into psalms of “orientation,” psalms of “disorientation,” and psalms of “reorientation.”  In less formal verbiage, the psalms cover the gamut of life’s emotions and circumstances.  A reason for their beauty as worship language is that they touch every human emotion.  Although we cannot pray or sing all the psalms at once, of course, we can be assured in corporate worship that praying and singing the psalms capture the expression of our people and add them to the voice of the worshiping community of all time.

My thoughts and meditations are on the Psalms this week because of my own walk of life in recent weeks.  On Friday, Nov 5, our third grandchild was born, Evan Franklin Clark (for photos go to facebook…grin).  I sat for three and a half hours at the hospital holding this new little Clark.  I visited with parents, Heather and Adam (my son), and gave thanks in my spirit for the love in their home, their dedication to the Lord and His Church, and the prospect of Evan being raised in such environment.  I left that room with Psalm 139 running through my mind,

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

(Ps 139:13-14)

On Saturday, Nov 6, I was in Knoxville preparing for the Tennessee Baptist Convention Annual Meeting and the Tennessee Chorale and Ladies Chorus concerts.  While preparing in my hotel room I received a call about 9:30pm from a dear friend from Atlanta telling me that our adopted family member, Nancy Jane Blair had passed away.  I was torn between celebration of her life and the sadness that comes with loss.  I had recently memorized a portion of Ps 63 to remind me of worship attitudes and posture, and it came to me as a flood,

            I have seen you in the sanctuary

            And beheld your power and glory.

            Because your love is better than life,

            My lips will glorify you.

            I will praise you as long as I live,

            and in your Name I will lift up my hands

            I will be fully satisfied as with the richest foods,

            With singing lips my mouth will praise you.

            (Ps 63:2-5)

So often Nancy and I had worked to plan worship services and had seen the Lord in the sanctuary and beheld His power and glory.  Incredible joy and affirmation of calling.  “Because your love is better than life.”  That phrase was simply loaded with overwhelming emotion from the thought of His love to the thought of losing life here on earth where we know it best to this point.  I reflected on my own recent brush with the potential of crossing over.  The Psalms seem to capture something of that confliction that goes on in us where we desire what we know, though our faith holds to Who we know as well.

On Sunday morning, Nov 7, the Lord comforted me and prepared me for the ministry opportunities ahead in the Sunday evening concert at Wallace Memorial and the convention gathering Tuesday and Wednesday.  I attended Wallace’s morning worship and found sweet comfort in singing the old hymn, Near to the Heart of God.  I was there, Nancy was there, those traveling and gathering for our ministry together were there; “near to the heart of God.”  Rich expression, “O Jesus, Blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God, hold us who wait before Thee near to the heart of God.”

Sunday night’s gathering of Tennessee Ladies Chorus and Tennessee Mens Chorale was the usual fresh breath of the Holy Spirit to my own heart.  Fellowship of brothers and sisters who are characterized by Christian love.  Incredible strengthening of soul and spirit just through the gathering, much less the profound ministry of music.  Once again the psalms aided our worship, “sing and be not silent!” (Ps 30)  The Lord answered our requests to have a “good crowd” and that our new Exec would be able to attend, but He went so far beyond that with a time of sweet worship that, as our new exec said, “was like a drink of water to a thirsty man.”  Thus our convention gathering on Tuesday and Wednesday continued to show signs that the Holy Spirit may be at work doing a new thing among Tennessee Baptists, which I believe will include those of us who serve in worship music ministry.  Lead me, Lord.

Returning home, I prepared for a trip to Atlanta with Ebbie to grieve and celebrate Nancy’s homegoing.  Her memorial service on Saturday, Nov 12, was loaded with psalms – her design.  The rich fellowship with church members from our former place of service was fitting to the occasion complete with a full meal with a menu of Nancy’s choosing, her favorite foods.  Sunday morning we had promised to attend church with children (and grandchildren, of course) at FBC Nashville.  I was disappointed when I saw the bulletin and noted that Frank Lewis would not be preaching (away at a conference).  How silly of me.  Chris O’Rear shared his experience of having his home wiped out by the May flood and shared the resultant flow (pardon the pun) of emotions having lost everything, but having rediscovered the essence of life.  There were psalms and reflections of psalms in the music of the day and even within his central passage I Tim 6:17-19. Once again, God’s people found ministry in the highs and lows of shared experience, Spirit sufficiency, and common expression of worship community.

Brothers and sisters, when you plan and prepare worship leadership, remember that you aid connection of the greatest conversation known to humanity, the communion between God and man made possible through Jesus Christ.  Allow His Word through the Psalms bring your people into the communion of the saints in worship.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “To become thankful to God for the sake of Christ and to praise him in the congregation with heart, mouth, and hands, is what the Psalms wish to teach us.” (Bonhoeffer, Psalms, the Prayer Book of the Bible)

Praying and Singing the Psalms,

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Leading Worship, Private Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts

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