Posts Tagged 'Family'

Goodbye to the Pocket Psalter?

In the afterglow of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal’s publication, one of the questions that rolls around every now and then is whether the publishers will ever prepare a pocket-sized version of the new book.

Pocket Psalter HymnalRemember the mini Psalter Hymnals of the CRC? We celebrated them here on URC Psalmody because they testified to a thriving culture of psalm- and hymn-singing—not just in church but also before bed, around the dinner table, or on the road. Even today, you can still get a pocket edition of the 1912 United Presbyterian Psalter from Reformation Heritage Books, and multiple mini editions of the Book of Psalms for Worship are available from Crown & Covenant Publications.

So it’s only natural to hope that the advent of a new psalter-hymnal in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Churches in North America will bring the added blessing of a pocket edition. Sadly, that’s not likely—for at least three logistical reasons.

First of all, the Trinity Psalter Hymnal offers a very large collection of psalms and hymns—about 50% larger than the 1959/1976 “blue” Psalter Hymnal. That means the pages of the regular edition have to be very thin in order to allow it to fit in a pew rack. It’s difficult to imagine making the paper any thinner in a pocket edition without compromising the integrity and readability of the pages.

Here’s a second factor related to readability: The pages of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal are quite full. The songbook’s commitment to thorough versifications of the Psalms and complete hymn texts leads to a lot of small type and a complex, even busy, page layout. Unlike the larger and simpler type of the 1912 Psalter or the 1959/1976 Psalter Hymnal, a pocket edition of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal would require cramming a lot into a small space.

The third reason a pocket Trinity Psalter Hymnal is unlikely is the expense involved in producing a separately-sized edition of the book. Despite the interest that some church members have expressed, the demand for pocket editions probably wouldn’t be high enough to justify the production costs.

For those of us who fondly remember the tradition of pocket Psalter Hymnals, this may sound like a loss. But it’s important to recognize that the idea of a miniature songbook reflects particular attitudes and beliefs toward worship. And it’s possible to honor and maintain those attitudes without needing a pocket-size hymnal in your hands. So how can we use the Trinity Psalter Hymnal the same way that generations of old used their pocket psalters?

  • Pocket psalters emphasized that singing is a personal devotional practice as well as a corporate activity. Consider buying your own copy of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal and keeping it nearby for family worship or for your own devotions.
  • Pocket psalters were often given to kids so they could learn the songs of the church using their very own book. (I own more than one pocket Psalter Hymnal with scratches and scribbles in the end pages!) If you have a personal Trinity Psalter Hymnal, encourage your kids to explore it for themselves. Sure, you may end up with crayon doodles and ripped pages in a once-pristine book, but you’ll be making a far more worthwhile investment in your children’s spiritual nourishment and development.
  • Pocket psalters were a picture of church membership: As we grow up in the family of God, the songs of his people become our songs too. Pastors and elders, consider giving Trinity Psalter Hymnals as profession-of-faith gifts to young adults in your congregation. There are leather-covered, gold-edged gift editions available for such occasions.

How have you incorporated the Trinity Psalter Hymnal into your personal and familial devotional life? What other opportunities are there to honor the devotional commitment that the tradition of pocket psalters represents?


Psalm 128: The Prosperity of Jerusalem

Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the LORD.

– Psalm 128:4 (ESV)

As Michael commented last week, Psalms 127 and 128 form a duo of “household songs” within the Psalms of Ascent.  Psalm 128 is a short song celebrating the blessedness of “everyone who fears the LORD” (verse 1), focusing especially on how that blessedness shows itself in covenant family life.

Psalm 128 progresses simply from a brief statement of truth (verse 1) through colorful illustrations (verses 2-4) until it crescendos into an explosive coda (verses 5-6)… taking us from beatitude to blessing.

The first part, verses 1-4 could be classified as wisdom literature, much like the book of Proverbs.  It simply states facts: everyone who fears the LORD is blessed… and here’s how.

The second part, verses 5-6, is a prayer that these matter-of-fact blessings of verses 1-4 would be specifically applied to “you.”  I like to imagine the Hebrew pilgrims heading to Jerusalem for the feast gleefully singing the words of verses 5-6 to each other in the midst of their families.

Psalm 128 encapsulates what it looks like to live a blessed life.  It follows the typical chronological progression of a life lived within God’s covenant: vocational blessing (verse 2), marital blessing (verse 3a), filial blessing (verse 3b), all the way unto generational blessing (verse 5).

A few exegetical comments to add flavor:

  • Describing a wife as “a fruitful vine” (verse 3a) not only brings to mind fertility and sexual blessings, but also the joy of marriage and companionship, which gladdens the heart like wine.
  • Describing children as “olive shoots” (verse 3b) brings to mind the need for cultivation (they’re just shoots) but also the potential and excitement in watching them grow before you into strong and fruitful trees.

This is a picture of life with the right priorities.  The blessings don’t center on wealth, power, or fame.  There’s no promise of easy money or an early retirement (if any retirement at all); rather, there’s a promise of laboring with your hands (verse 2).  Yet this is the blessed life, for it is a life lived with God at the center.  The fear of the LORD (the reverent attitude that focuses on His glory) guides the blessed man’s life.

Someone who lives thus, with the fear of the LORD as his guide, has two great prayers that prompt the closing benediction: the prosperity of Jerusalem (verse 5) and to see his children’s children (verse 6).  Everyone who fears the LORD wants to see God’s Church thriving – and his own progeny thriving with and in it.

This is a positive psalm to read and sing at weddings, anniversaries, baptisms, at any family event.  But it also contains a challenge: what are your greatest desires?  How do you define a blessed life?  The answer isn’t money, ease, or high living.  Psalm 128 radically confronts our culture’s view of “the blessed life” and redefines it with an eye to worship and work, the Church and the family.  That’s the life of true peace and blessedness.

270, “Blest the Man that Fears Jehovah”

Overall, number 270 is a solid entry in the Psalter Hymnal.  The rousing and familiar tune (GALILEE/JUDE) well reflects the joy and contentment of Psalm 128.

It takes some liberties with the text.  For instance, verse 3a, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house,” becomes stanza 2,

In thy wife thou shalt have gladness,
she shall fill thy home with good,
happy in her loving service
and the joys of motherhood.

Talk about poetic license!  Not only is any “vine” imagery missing, but there’s whole clauses of interpretation and commentary added!  On the other hand, it is a beautiful thought and reflects the application (if not the words) of the text decently.  With selections like this, I wish that we could have two selections for Psalm 128: one that faithfully represents the text of Psalm 128, and one like number 270, that is perhaps more whimsical in its paraphrasing.

One other sticking point is the awkward changing of “Blessed is everyone” to “Blest the man.”  Number 270 individualizes the application of the psalm to one representative man, whereas the text of Psalm 128 combines both a corporate and an individual sense.

Other than its excursus on motherhood in stanza 2, number 270 does stay quite faithful to the text of Psalm 128, even admirably keeping the “olive plants” imagery extant in stanza 3.  It really is an excellent selection overall, one that is well-loved by many and is quite suitable as a reminder and blessing for many occasions within the life and worship of the church and within the life and worship of our families.


Psalm 127: The Lord Builds the House

Unless the Lord the house shall build,
The weary builders toil in vain;
Unless the Lord the city shield,
The guards a useless watch maintain.

Within the group of Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134), Psalms 127 and 128 form a sub-category of what might be called “household songs,” panting a beautiful picture of a family that fears the LORD and walks in his ways.

Psalm 127 opens with three mighty declarations that fly in the face of all the world’s priorities:

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

–Psalm 127:1,2 (ESV)

Busyness seems to be such a prominent characteristic in modern American families.  School, sports, jobs, vacations, and a host of other activities keep us on our toes almost every waking moment of the week.  But a household built on busyness will ultimately crumble—because no amount of everyday “stuff” can give meaning to life.

Further, we often use busyness to keep ourselves distracted from fear and worry.  As pictures of our ever-present anxiety the psalmist describes a city watchman staying awake in vain and a busy family member “eating the bread of anxious toil.”  This too cannot create a healthy family.

In this context, the psalmist’s three big statements are incredibly refreshing.  The LORD builds the house.  The LORD watches over his people.  The LORD gives us rest from fear.  Like the writers of our Catechism, the psalmist declares that a believing family can have true comfort if their trust is in God.

Psalm 127 then transitions to a description of the most significant blessing that the LORD bestows upon the righteous family—children.

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

–vv. 3-5

Throughout the Scriptures we see examples of the godly rejoicing in their children as a manifestation of God’s faithfulness to them.  Indeed, procreation is part of the creation mandate of Genesis 1—“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”  What a blessing to fulfill this promise and behold God’s provision!

269, “Unless the Lord the House Shall Build”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

The Psalter Hymnal’s single versification of Psalm 127 is excellent, with a balanced blend of accuracy and poetic liberty.  If I were assigned the task of revising this version I might be tempted to substitute another two-syllable adjective for “stalwart sons” in the fourth stanza, to avoid any possible misconceptions of this word choice.  The only oddity in this setting occurs in the very last line, where “He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate” is versified as “No enemies by him are feared,/No lack of love, no want of care.”  Merely reworking that line, nevertheless, would make this a nearly immaculate text.

ILLA, the tune, is a typical (and solid) Lowell Mason offering reminiscent of other tunes like HAMBURG (“When I Survey”).  It requires no extraordinary vocal or instrumental feats; indeed, the only thing that needs attention is the speed—I like a tempo just a bit faster than 60 beats per minute.

Perhaps the most obvious use of number 269 in worship would be as a response to a baptism.  But don’t be afraid to use it in other settings as well, especially when focusing on the ever-present problems of busyness and anxiety.  How comforting it is to be reminded that “God gives to His beloved sleep.”


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