Singing the Psalms

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, Mark 14:26 tells us “when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” After the Last Supper, the “hymn” that Jesus and the disciples sang was most likely the Hallel, which is Psalms 113-118. Almost certainly, Jesus and the disciples had committed all of it to memory, and you can imagine the words of those Psalms ringing in Jesus’ ears all through that fateful night: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints;” “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

From Moses (Psalm 90) all the way through the 18th Century, the Psalms were the primary prayer book and the hymnal of the people of God. If you wanted to know how to grow in your intimacy with God, if you wanted a glimpse into God’s heart, if you wanted to learn how to pray, throughout the ages, most pastors would have had the same answer: “Work your way through the Psalms, and let the Psalms do their work upon you.”

“Wherever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Recently at our church, we hosted our very first “Psalm Sing,” an evening where we gathered together to read Psalms aloud, to have the Psalms prayed over us, to discuss how the Psalms ought to shape our prayers and, of course, to sing the Psalms. Our deepest prayer for the night was simply that our church would long to grow intimately connected with the Psalms, because the Psalms remind us that all our lives are lived before God, the Psalms give us language we need to learn how to pray, and the Psalms express the whole range of human emotions and experience.

We sent out a Spotify playlist and a few demo tracks beforehand to prepare our people, but honestly, we just weren’t sure how our congregation would respond, but they responded with great joy and gratitude:

“What a beautiful way to be reminded to praise the Lord, meditate on his word, and do so alongside our church family”

“I really enjoyed this night of worship. It really got me fired up about the Psalms again, and thank you for the encouragement on using the Psalms as a basis for prayer.”

“If we want to be like Jesus, we must learn to pray like Jesus, and to pray like Jesus we must immerse ourselves in the Psalms... In conclusion, please do this again”

“I think there is nothing more wonderful than spending time in the Word and praising God. I love the intentionality of our church staying focused on God and His Word…We praised God with his word. It was beautiful and I can’t wait to attend the next one.”

Bonhoeffer is right; when we abandon the Psalter, we abandon an incomparable treasure. Let us strive with all our might to instruct our churches to learn the language of praise, lament, confession, sorrow, and trust from the Psalms.