Posts Tagged 'Faith'

September’s Psalm of the Month: 91B

The ninth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal


To the LORD I’ll say, “My Refuge!”
In my God my trust abides.

This setting of Psalm 91 is beloved by psalm-singing congregations across the globe. The well-known tune HYFRYDOL, composed by Welsh textile worker Rowland Hugh Prichard at the age of nineteen, lends beauty and confidence to the powerful words of this psalm.

In congregational singing, look for ways to emphasize particular words and phrases in the text of Psalm 91B. Consider pausing slightly before the cry, “My Refuge!” in stanza 1, and taking quick breaths anytime a comma appears in the text (“serpents, lions, tread” in stz. 4). Bring out the earnestness of Psalm 91 by varying the volume and intensity of your voice: perhaps draw back on the more contemplative words of the third stanza, then build up again to the climax at the close of stz. 4. Most importantly, reflect on how the Lord has been your own refuge and fortress as you sing, and let personal application breathe added life into this awe-inspiring psalm.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 91A in The Book of Psalms for Singing and The Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 91 in the Trinity Psalter

Tune only: Blue Psalter Hymnal 151, Revised Trinity Hymnal 196, 498

Listen to a recording:

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 91

  • The godly one’s words to the Lord (vv. 1,2)
  • Safety from enemies (vv. 3-6)
  • Safety from judgment (vv. 7,8)
  • Safety from plagues (vv. 9,10)
  • Safety from stumbling (vv. 11-13)
  • The Lord’s words to the godly one (vv. 14-16)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 91

Satan twisted the words of Psalm 91:12 when he tempted Jesus to show his authority by casting himself off the pinnacle of the temple (Matt. 4:5-6, Luke 4:9-11). Jesus’ response revealed his wholehearted obedience to his Father: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” But there is more: Christ went to the cross in order to trample the serpent underfoot (v. 13). He suffered the afflictions of Psalm 91 in order to deliver us from our bondage to sin. His life was cut short so that ours could be redeemed. Through his death and resurrection we have been shown God’s salvation (v. 16).

Applying Psalm 91

  • What kinds of snares and pestilences do Christians face today (v. 3)?
  • Why do you deserve to “only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked” (v. 8)?
  • How have you seen God’s protection and deliverance in your life (v. 14)?
  • What do you do when God’s deliverance seems far away despite your cries to him (v. 15; cf. Ps. 22:2)?

Think about these two considerations—first, our own weakness, and second, the roughness, the difficulties, the thorns which lie along our way, along with the stupidity of our hearts and the subtlety of the evil one who lays snares for our destruction—and you will see that the Psalmist is not exaggerating. We could not proceed one step if the angels did not bear us up in their hands in a way beyond the normal course of nature. Through our own fault, we often stumble when we depart from our Head and Leader. But even though God allows this in order to convince us how weak we are in ourselves, he never permits us to be crushed or completely overwhelmed, and then it is virtually as if he put his hand under us and bore us up.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 91:12


Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

August’s Psalm of the Month: 77

The eighth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

"I will walk in the strength of the LORD God"

Forever will the Lord reject
And never show His grace?
Has He withdrawn His steadfast love
And turned from me His face?

While lines like “O God, most holy are Your ways” may call to mind the blue Psalter Hymnal’s settings of Psalm 77 (#145-147), the version of this psalm that appears in the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal is much more recent, originating in the 2003 Scottish psalter Sing Psalms. The deep pain and earnest questioning of Psalm 77 are reinforced by the plaintive tune RESIGNATION, a traditional American folk melody harmonized here by Dale Grotenhuis. Although it does not appear in either the blue Psalter Hymnal or the revised Trinity Hymnal, the tune may be somewhat familiar in connection with Isaac Watts’s paraphrase of Psalm 23, “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need.”

As you sing Psalm 77, notice how the inflection of the text coincides with the rise and fall of the musical line. Special attention should be given to the climax of the psalm in the middle of the third stanza: “Forever has his promise failed? Is God no longer kind?” In contrast, note the quiet assurance that accompanies the affirmations of God’s loving acts in stanzas 6 and 7, and share in the psalmist’s journey from crisis to comfort.

Suggested stanzas:

  • 8/2: stanzas 1-3
  • 8/9: stanzas 3-5
  • 8/16: stanzas 5,6
  • 8/23: stanzas 6,7
  • 8/30: all

Source: Psalm 77 in Sing Psalms

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 77

  • Remembering and moaning (vv. 1-3)
  • Remembering and doubting (vv. 4-9)
  • Remembering and searching (vv. 10-12)
  • Remembering and resting (vv. 13-20)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 77

Especially in the 400 “silent years” between the last Old Testament prophecies and the birth of Jesus, the Jews could well wonder whether God’s promises to Israel were “at an end for all time” (v. 8). With rampant idolatry and harsh persecution pressing in, believers would have seen a stark contrast between his “wonders of old” for them (v. 11) and his current silence. Jesus’ birth was the first “good news” (Luke 2:10) to God’s people after this time of dispersion and affliction. And what good news it was: the same Christ who led his people like a flock in the hands of Moses and Aaron (v. 20) would himself come as the Good Shepherd, from whose hand no sheep can be snatched (John 10).

Applying Psalm 77

  • Why did the psalmist moan when he remembered God (v. 3)?
  • Have you ever doubted whether God’s promises still apply to you (v. 8)?
  • Where does the psalmist turn for comfort (vv. 10,11)? How can you obtain the same comfort?
  • How do the terrifying events of vv. 16-19 reveal God’s steadfast love?
  • Why does Psalm 77 end so suddenly (v. 20)? How does this closing statement summarize the psalmist’s comfort?

The psalmist continued to set God before his view, wisely supporting his faith by the reflection that God, who never changes his love or his nature, can do nothing but in due time show mercy to his servants. Let us also learn to open our eyes to behold the works of God. They may seem insignificant by reason of the dimness of our eyes and the inadequacy of our perception, but if we examine them attentively, they will ravish us with admiration.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 77:12


Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

April’s Psalm of the Month: 71

The fourth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

Spring at West Sayville Reformed Bible Church

Upon You I have leaned from birth,
You’ve guarded all my days;
You took me from my mother’s womb.
I’ll give you constant praise.

Although the twenty-four verses of Psalm 71 form a relatively long text to set to music, the themes of this prayer for deliverance are so interwoven that splitting it into multiple settings would be detrimental. This versification strikes a good balance, offering a compact yet thorough treatment of the psalm. The Psalter Hymnal Committees paired their own new versification of Psalm 71 with Frederick C. Maker’s 1881 tune ST. CHRISTOPHER, most often associated with the hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.”

To avoid losing focus amidst the eight stanzas of this setting, try to identify and bring out patterns, themes, and contrasts in the text as you sing. Offset the plaintive cries of stanzas 2-4 with the confident praise of stz. 5. Give special attention to the words of the enemies at the beginning of stanza 4. Place your breaths at special points in the text for emphasis: for example, at the close of the eighth stanza, consider “Who sought to do me hurt,” (breathe) “O Lord, I’ll magnify Your name.” Reflect on your own experience of God’s faithfulness in both your youth and your old age (stz. 6), and sing Psalm 71 not just as a prayer for help but also as a song of triumph.

Suggested stanzas:

  • 4/5: stanzas 1,2
  • 4/12: stanzas 3-5
  • 4/19: stanzas 6-8
  • 4/26: all

Source: New versification by the OPC and URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committees

Tune only: Blue Psalter Hymnal 353, Revised Trinity Hymnal 251

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 71

  • Present affliction (vv. 1-13) vs. anticipated praise (vv. 14-24)
  • Accusations of God’s distance (v. 11) vs. assurance of God’s nearness (vv. 1-3)
  • The cruel hand of enemies (v. 4) vs. the loving hand of God (vv. 3, 20, 21, 24)
  • The self-confident speech of the wicked (v. 10) vs. the trustful words of the godly one (vv. 15, 16, 18, 22-24)
  • Leaning on God in both youth (vv. 5, 6, 17) and old age (vv. 9, 18)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 71

As he hung on the cross, the words of Psalm 71:10,11 (“For my enemies speak concerning me . . .”) were true in all their desolate horror for Jesus. “There was none to deliver him,” because he had willingly delivered himself over to death in order to redeem us. In the words of one of our Lord’s Supper formularies, “He was once forsaken by God that we might forever be accepted by Him.” Because he has so mercifully saved us, we can rest assured that God will never “cast us off in the time of old age” (v. 9).

Applying Psalm 71

  • Psalm 71 has been called “The Prayer of the Aged Believer” (cf. vv. 9, 18). How does it apply to believers in other stages of life as well?
  • How can suffering in your own life be a “portent” (an evil sign) to others (v. 7)? How can filling your mouth with God’s praise (v. 8) change their perspective?
  • Why does the psalmist ask to be supported in his old age (v. 18)? Do you possess the same motivation?
  • Why does God allow you to “see many troubles and calamities” (v. 20)?

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

Lord’s Day 46: Childlike Awe

Catechism and Psalter

Lord’s Day 45 of the Heidelberg Catechism introduced us to the topic of prayer, which comprises the last section of this confession.  Prayer is, as question and answer 106 says, “the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us,” and thus plays an essential part in the believer’s ongoing sanctification.  Today’s excerpt in our URC Psalmody series, Lord’s Day 46, examines the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

120 Q.  Why did Christ command us to call God, “Our Father”?

A.  At the very beginning of our prayer
Christ wants to kindle in us
what is basic to our prayer—
the childlike awe and trust
that God through Christ has become
our Father.

Our fathers do not refuse us
the things of this life;
God our Father will even less refuse to give us
what we ask in faith.

121 Q.  Why the words, “Who art in heaven”?

A.  These words teach us
not to think of God’s heavenly majesty
as something earthly,
and to expect everything
for body and soul
from his almighty power.

Suggested Songs

204, “O Come, My Soul, Bless Thou the Lord Thy Maker” (Psalm 103)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and at a Reformed Youth Services convention)

“Christ wants to kindle in us…the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father.”  To the rest of mankind God is a “consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29) and an avenger of wickedness, but we Christians name him as “Our Father.”  The magnitude of this privilege, the fact that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14), far surpasses our comprehension.  We can only respond in the beloved words of the psalmist, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).  Below is the text of a familiar blue Psalter Hymnal setting:

O come, my soul, bless thou the Lord thy Maker,
And all within me, bless His holy Name;
Bless thou the Lord, forget not all His mercies,
His pardoning grace and saving love proclaim.

Good is the Lord and full of kind compassion,
Most slow to anger, plenteous in love;
Rich is His grace to all that humbly seek Him,
Boundless and endless as the heavens above.

His love is like a father’s to his children,
Tender and kind to all who fear His Name;
For well He knows our weakness and our frailty,
He knows that we are dust, He knows our frame.

We fade and die like flowers that grow in beauty,
Like tender grass that soon will disappear;
But evermore the love of God is changeless,
Still shown to those who look to Him in fear.

High in the heavens His throne is fixed forever,
His kingdom rules o’er all from pole to pole;
Bless ye the Lord through all His wide dominion,
Bless His most holy Name, O thou my soul.

Bless Him, ye angels, wondrous in might!
Bless Him, His servants, that in His will delight!

261, “I Lift Up Mine Eyes to the Mountains” (Psalm 121)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON, and by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Our fathers do not refuse us the things of this life; God our Father will even less refuse to give us
what we ask in faith.”  Another awe-inspiring image in Scripture, particularly in Psalm 121, is that of God as “the Keeper of Israel.”  He is the one who keeps our very lives (v. 7), and we cannot doubt that he will provide whatever else we need for body and soul—especially when we request it in faith.

The Keeper of Israel guards thee
And keeps thee in pathways of right;
He circles His canopy round thee
For shelter by day and by night.

Jehovah will keep thee from evil,
Thy coming and going He knows;
Thy soul He preserves unimperiled;
Look thou to the hills for repose.

181, “Jehovah Sits Enthroned” (Psalm 93)

(Recorded on organ)

“These words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty as something earthly.”  Even though God is our Father through Christ, he still “dwells in unapproachable light” (II Tim. 6:16).  Psalm 93 reminds us how holy our God is, and how holy his servants must be.  Of course, Jesus Christ was the ultimate Suffering Servant, the one who satisfied this demand of perfection and opened up the way for us to have access to the Father.

Jehovah sits enthroned
In majesty most bright,
Appareled in omnipotence,
And girded round with might.

The world established stands
On its foundations broad;
His throne is fixed, He reigns supreme,
The everlasting God.

Thy testimonies, Lord,
In faithfulness excel,
And holy must Thy servants be
Who in Thy temple dwell.

231, “Praise Jehovah, All Ye Nations” (Psalm 117)

(Sung at Synod 2012)

These words also teach us “to expect everything for body and soul from his almighty power.”  The shortest song in the Psalter also packs the most powerful punch, exhorting all the nations to praise God for his unchanging faithfulness.  The teaching of the Lord’s Prayer leaves us with no excuse not to do the same!

Praise Jehovah, all ye nations,
All ye people, praise proclaim;
For His grace and lovingkindness
O sing praises to His Name.
For the greatness of His mercy
Constant praise to Him accord;
Evermore His truth endureth;
Hallelujah, praise the Lord!


A Shape-Note Sampling

Greetings, readers.  It’s been more than a month since my last post, and much has been transpiring in my second semester here at Geneva College.  I’m continuing on as a communications major and preparing to add a music minor; I’ve picked up an apparently permanent job as “staff accompanist” for several of Geneva’s voice majors; and just two weeks ago I was touring Ohio with the college choir, The Genevans, singing a concert of a cappella psalms in various churches.  For a psalm-singing nerd, that’s pretty close to heaven (and I hope to share more about it at some point).

Today, however, I just participated in a very unique experience from a rather different part of the church music spectrum: Sacred Harp singing.  This old American tradition is often called “shape-note singing” because its hymnals assign their noteheads four different shapes to aid non-musical singers in picking up the complex four-part harmonies.  The first verse of every song is sung in a simplified form of solfeggio with the syllables “fa,” “so,” “la,” and “mi.”  After that the words are sung—always with a strong rhythm and as much gusto as possible.

Sacred Harp setting of

Sacred Harp setting of “Amazing Grace”

Featured Recording

The biggest contributor to the texts in the songbook we were using today was Isaac Watts, whose hymns and psalm paraphrases have had a tremendous impact on American hymnody.  While I’m not a huge fan of Watts’s attempts to “Christianize the psalms” by turning them into loose paraphrases, it was nice to find so many connections in our singing today to texts I already know and love from the Psalter.  Below is our group singing a Watts setting of a portion of Psalm 65:


What made this hymn-sing such an unusual experience, however, was its undenominational character.  Perhaps even “undenominational” is an understatement, since this event attracted many participants who love shape-note singing simply because of its cultural and communal ties, not because they have any religious attachment to the words they sing.  One man I had lunch with, who views himself as undeclared with regard to religion, views many of the song lyrics as “hair-raising.”

On one hand, the thought of self-declared nonbelievers singing these psalms and hymns is a little jarring.  It’s unsettling because it forces me to ask: Do I really believe everything I’m singing?  Am I still being nourished by the content of worship, or have I become hopelessly preoccupied with its form?  Has church music in total become nothing more than a quaint set of styles and traditions?

So, in that respect, this shape-note singing experience served to me as a sober reminder that God delights not in hollow worship but rather in broken hearts (Psalm 51:17).  On the other hand, however, it also struck me that these words—even if sung by unbelieving hearts—continue to attest to the glory of God.  And as we sang, “‘Tis by Thy strength the mountains stand, God of eternal power,” I found myself rejoicing, for the day is approaching when all flesh shall come to the One who alone hears prayer (Psalm 65:2).


More selections from this hymn-sing:

URC Psalmody on YouTube

Sheet Music Available!

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