Posts Tagged 'Prayer'



Lord’s Day 47: Always Honored and Praised

Catechism and Psalter

Perhaps it’s just because of the archaic language, but “Hallowed be thy name” has always seemed to me the most cryptic line out of the Lord’s Prayer.  In everyday terms, what does it mean for the Christian to hallow God’s Name—that is, to keep it holy?  In one concise question and answer, Lord’s Day 47 of the Heidelberg Catechism expounds upon the ramifications of this request.  Today we’ll consider this Lord’s Day in our ongoing URC Psalmody series.

122 Q.  What does the first request mean?

A.  Hallowed be thy name means,

Help us to really know you,
to bless, worship, and praise you
for all your works
and for all that shines forth from them:
your almighty power, wisdom, kindness,
justice, mercy, and truth.

And it means,

Help us to direct all our living—
what we think, say, and do—
so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us
but always honored and praised.

Suggested Songs

280, “O Bless Our God with One Accord” (Psalm 134)

“Help us to really know you, to bless, worship, and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them.”  The attitude described in this petition is one of wholehearted praise and devotion.  Such a picture is captured wonderfully in the three verses of Psalm 134, which begins, “Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD!”  A fitting tune to pair with this exultant text is found in the blue Psalter Hymnal:

O bless our God with one accord,
Ye faithful servants of the Lord,
Who in His house do stand by night;
And praise Him there with all your might.

Lift up your hands, in prayer draw nigh
Unto His sanctuary high;
Bless ye the Lord, kneel at His feet,
And worship Him with reverence meet.

194, “Jehovah Reigns in Majesty” (Psalm 99)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, Michigan and by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir)

“For all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth.”  Psalm 99 is a particularly appropriate selection for this Lord’s Day, praising God for each of these attributes while repeating the refrain, “Holy is he!”  Although it takes some poetic liberties, the Psalter Hymnal paraphrase adequately renders this verse-refrain structure:

Jehovah reigns in majesty,
Let all the nations quake;
He dwells between the cherubim,
Let earth’s foundations shake.
Supreme in Zion is the Lord,
Exalted gloriously;
Ye nations, praise His Name with awe,
The Holy One is He.

The mighty King loves justice well,
And equity ordains;
He rules His people righteously
And faithfulness maintains.
O magnify the Lord our God
Let Him exalted be;
In worship at His footstool bow,
The Holy One is He.

When priests and prophets called on God,
He their petitions heard;
His cloudy pillar led them on,
And they obeyed His Word.
Though sending judgments for their sins,
He pardoned graciously;
Exalt the Lord and worship Him,
The Holy One is He.

92, “The Mighty God, Jehovah, Speaks” (Psalm 50)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, Ontario)

“Help us to direct all our living…so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised.”  Psalm 50 reminds us of our place before this holy God: he needs none of our worship, yet he desires it from sincere hearts.  As we pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” we express our grateful desire to see the name of the Lord exalted above every other.

The mighty God, Jehovah, speaks
And calls the earth from sea to sea;
From beauteous Zion God shines forth,
He comes and will not silent be;
Devouring flame before Him goes,
And dark the tempest round Him grows.

He calls aloud to heaven and earth
That He may justly judge His own:
My chosen saints together bring
Who sacrifice to Me alone;
The heavens His righteousness declare,
For God Himself as Judge is there.

Behold, if I should hungry grow,
I would not tell My need to thee,
For all the world itself is Mine,
And all its wealth belongs to Me;
Why should I aught of thee receive,
My thirst or hunger to relieve?

Bring thou to God the gift of thanks,
And pay thy vows to God Most High;
Call ye upon My holy Name
In days when sore distress is nigh;
Deliverance I will send to thee,
And praises thou shalt give to Me.

–MRK

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!

–MRK

Lord’s Day 45: The Most Important Part

Catechism and Psalter

Today in URC Psalmody’s series we enter the last section of the Heidelberg Catechism, which provides a comprehensive devotional model based on the Lord’s Prayer.  Lord’s Day 45 begins by explaining why Christians are called to pray—and more than that, why they need to pray.

116 Q.  Why do Christians need to pray?

A.  Because prayer is the most important part
of the thankfulness God requires of us.
And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit
only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly,
asking God for these gifts
and thanking him for them.

117 Q.  How does God want us to pray so that he will listen to us?

A.  First, we must pray from the heart
to no other than the one true God,
who has revealed himself in his Word,
asking for everything he has commanded us to ask for.

Second, we must acknowledge our need and misery,
hiding nothing,
and humble ourselves in his majestic presence.

Third, we must rest on this unshakable foundation:
even though we do not deserve it,
God will surely listen to our prayer
because of Christ our Lord.
That is what he promised us in his Word.

118 Q.  What did God command us to pray for?

A.  Everything we need, spiritually and physically,
as embraced in the prayer
Christ our Lord himself taught us.

119 Q.  What is this prayer?

A.  Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory, forever.
Amen.

Suggested Songs

299, “O Lord, Thou Art My God and King” (Psalm 145)

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

“Prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.”  From beginning to end, the Scriptures are replete with commands and encouragements for us to call on the name of the Lord.  “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22, ESV).  “Pray to your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6).  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).  Psalm 145, a lofty song of praise, resounds with the greatness of God and the wondrous privilege of calling on him in prayer.  Below are selected stanzas from the Psalter Hymnal’s versification:

O Lord, Thou art my God and King,
And I will ever bless Thy Name;
I will extol Thee every day,
And evermore Thy praise proclaim.

The Lord is greatly to be praised,
His greatness is beyond our thought;
From age to age the sons of men
Shall tell the wonders God has wrought.

Upon Thy glorious majesty
And wondrous works my mind shall dwell;
Thy deeds shall fill the world with awe,
And of Thy greatness I will tell.

Thy matchless goodness and Thy grace
Thy people shall commemorate,
And all Thy truth and righteousness
My joyful song shall celebrate.

The Lord our God is rich in grace,
Most tender and compassionate;
His anger is most slow to rise,
His lovingkindness is most great.

43, “Unto Thee, O Lord Jehovah” (Psalm 25)

“We must pray from the heart to no other than the one true God.”  Psalm 25 exalts the Lord as our only strength and refuge:

Unto Thee, O Lord Jehovah,
Do I lift my waiting soul.
O my God, in Thee I trusted;
Let no shame now o’er me roll.
On my enemy be shame,
Oft without a cause transgressing,
But all those who trust Thy Name
Honor with abundant blessing.

Yea, the secret of Jehovah
Is with those who fear His Name;
With His friends in tender mercy
He His covenant will maintain.
With a confidence complete,
Toward the Lord mine eyes are turning;
From the net He’ll pluck my feet;
He will not despise my yearning.

50, “O Lord, to Thee I Cry” (Psalm 28)

“We must acknowledge our need and misery, hiding nothing, and humble ourselves in his majestic presence.”  In addition to exalting the Lord, prayer also serves to remind us of how small and weak we are before him.  Yet even in the depths of despair we can cry out to God and know that our prayers are heard, as the author of Psalm 28 realized:

O Lord, to Thee I cry;
Thou art my rock and trust;
O be not silent, lest I die
And slumber in the dust.

O hear me when in prayer
Thy favor I entreat;
Hear, while I lift imploring hands
Before Thy mercy-seat.

119, “O All Ye Peoples, Bless Our God” (Psalm 66)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and West Sayville URC on Long Island, New York)

“We must rest on this unshakable foundation: even though we do not deserve it, God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ our Lord.  That is what he promised us in his Word.”  Psalm 66 proclaims the comforting truth that not only does God hear our prayers, he answers them by working out his all-wise purposes for our lives.

O all ye peoples, bless our God,
Aloud proclaim His praise,
Who safely holds our souls in life,
And stedfast makes our ways.
Thou, Lord, hast proved and tested us,
As silver tried by fire;
Thy hand has made our burden great
And thwarted our desire.

Come, ye that fear the Lord, and hear
What He has done for me;
My cry for help is turned to praise,
For He has set me free.
If in my heart I sin regard,
My prayer He will not hear;
But truly God has heard my voice,
My prayer has reached His ear.

117, “Before Thee, Lord, a People Waits” (Psalm 65)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

What can we glean from this Lord’s Day’s study of prayer, the “most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us”?  In short, we serve a faithful God who will provide “everything we need, spiritually and physically.”  This is cause for humility, but it is also a cause for joy.  Psalm 65 expresses it well:

Before Thee, Lord, a people waits
To praise Thy Name in Zion’s gates,
To Thee shall vows be paid;
Thou Hearer of the suppliant’s prayer,
To Thee in need shall all repair
To seek Thy gracious aid.

How great my trespasses appear;
But Thou from guilt my soul wilt clear,
And my transgressions hide.
How blest Thy chosen, who by grace
Are brought within Thy dwelling-place
That they may there abide.

On Thy sustaining arm depend,
To earth and sea’s remotest end,
All men in every age;
Thy strength establishes the hills,
Thy word the roaring billows stills,
And calms the peoples’ rage.

–MRK

Psalm 142: From Prayer to Praise

"The path I take is known to Thee."

“The path I take is known to Thee.”

Why do we need to pray?  The Heidelberg Catechism answers that “prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.  And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them” (LD 45, Q&A 116).

When the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer—a New Testament model for Christian prayer.  For an Old Testament model of prayer, the Psalter excels; and for a model of a believer’s cry for deliverance, we need look no further than Psalm 142.

With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.

–Psalm 142:1, 2 (ESV)

Why does David need to tell his trouble before the LORD, who he confesses in Psalm 139 to “know when I sit down and when I rise up,” and to “discern my thoughts from afar”?  First, because God commands it, and second, because it is for his benefit.  Charles Spurgeon says, “Note that we do not show our trouble before the Lord that he may see it, but that we may see him.”  There is nothing more comforting than to unburden our souls before our gracious heavenly Father, assured that he already knows and cares.  The psalmist knew this assurance as well: “When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!” (v. 3).

Next David presents a stark contrast between his earthly “refuge” and his heavenly Refuge:

Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, ‘You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.’

–vv. 3, 5

Psalm 142 ends with both a sharp cry and a joyous note of praise.

Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me!
Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
for you will deal bountifully with me.

–vv. 6, 7

Of all the nuances of this closing passage, the one I love most is David’s reaction to his imminent deliverance.  The salvation the Lord has wrought for him finds immediate expression in his worship with God’s people.  It is there that he praises his Savior and proclaims to his brothers his wondrous works.  How can we, who have been delivered from such great depths of misery, fail to unite with Christ’s church to give him thankful praise?

293, “To God My Earnest Voice I Raise” (Psalm 142)

(Sung by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir)

To God my earnest voice I raise,
To God my voice imploring prays;
Before His face my grief I show
And tell my trouble and my woe.

The Psalter Hymnal’s single versification of Psalm 142 reads more like a paraphrase than like the original text, yet it preserves the tone and flow of thought of the psalm quite well.  I think the most powerful words are found in the last three stanzas.

The tune, of course, is instantly recognizable as HAMBURG, sung so often to the words of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  The plaintive chant-like qualities of this tune (indeed, it was arranged from a Gregorian chant by Lowell Mason) make it perfectly suited for this prayer of supplication.  Yet its broadness also provides for a bold and confident final verse, as the delivered singer unites with the congregation in praise.  The Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir renders the nuances of Psalm 142 exceptionally well in their arrangement, even mirroring David’s response by having the congregation join them on the last stanza.

And so we find in Psalm 142 a surpassingly beautiful summary of a believer’s prayer in affliction.  As Spurgeon puts it, “When we can begin a Psalm with crying, we may hope to close it with singing.  The voice of prayer soon awakens the voice of praise.”

The righteous then shall gather round
To share the blessing I found,
Their hearts made glad because they see
How richly God has dealt with me.

–MRK

Sing a New Song, Chapter 11: An Incomparable Treasure

Although it’s hard to believe, it was exactly three months ago that we began our chapter-by-chapter discussion of Reformation Heritage Books’s 2010 title Sing a New Song: Recovering Psalm-Singing for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Joel R. Beeke and Anthony T. Selvaggio.  Over the past thirteen weeks, despite a few interruptions, we’ve progressed steadily through the three thorough sections of this book: “Psalm Singing in History,” “Psalm Singing in Scripture,” and “Psalm Singing and the Twenty-First Century.”  Today we’ve finally reached the end of Sing a New Song with Chapter 11, entitled “Psalmody and Prayer.”

JDO: J. V. Fesko wraps up this collection of essays with a contemplative chapter on the relationship between psalmody and prayer.  He introduces his chapter by musing on the question, “Why do we sing in worship?”  Our modern church culture, he muses, would answer that our music serves as entertainment and a way to keep visitors interested.  Fesko challenges this entertainment-centric model of worship and posits an older, oft-ignored dimension of singing: our corporate music in worship serves as “a form of congregational prayer” (p. 173).

MRK: Succinctly, Fesko explains that his purpose is firstly to show the relationship between song and prayer; secondly to explore the Psalter as an all-season school of prayer; and finally to explain how psalm-singing teaches us both to worship and to pray.

The author to whom Fesko first turns is John Calvin, whose thoughts on the psalms are some of the richest in Reformed literature.  According to Calvin, prayer is the means by which we confirm and receive the blessings God has promised us.  He further shows that singing is our primary means of corporate prayer, as well as a means of edifying our fellow believers.  How does this compare to the typical modern view of worship?

JDO: I think that the idea of singing as corporate prayer probably doesn’t enter into too many people’s minds.  But singing is really one of the most convenient ways to get everyone saying the same thing at the same time.  Fesko points out that many in churches today have an “individual” rather than a “corporate” view of what happens when we sing.  One hears comments like, “Oh, I didn’t get anything out of that song,” or, “That style of music just doesn’t do it for me.”  We approach the singing (if we think about it at all) hoping to get something out of it for ourselves.  Very rarely is this corporate prayer element developed or even realized.

MRK: This is abundantly true. Worship is popularly viewed as either a service of works (“I’ve got to sing harder in order to please God”) or self-entertainment (“I’m not truly worshiping unless I’m happy”).  Either way, the Christian church has missed the point: Singing is primarily a means by which we communicate with God, and as Fesko will go on to point out, we ought to do so in His language.

JDO: One of the Christian’s greatest needs throughout life according to Fesko is to know “how or what to pray in a given situation on circumstance” (p. 175). And just like children learn to speak and converse from their parents, we learn to pray by listening to God’s own Word and repeating it back to Him.

MRK: Fesko describes a wall that most Christians have experienced, and that most of us are, frankly, embarrassed to talk about: We struggle with finding the words to pray.  Often under the false assumption that prayer should just come naturally to our sinful minds, we stumble through private prayer and shudder at the thought of praying in public.  Add to this ineptitude the burden of affliction or temptation, and we often find our prayers reduced to a mere “Lord, please!”  Many of us, I’m sure, are desperate to find a source for renewed strength in our prayer lives.  But thanks be to God!  Such a source does exist—right under our noses.  Fesko describes it this way:

God has spoken to His children primarily through His Word, and so as His children, we learn to speak to God by repeating His own words back to Him.  In doing so, we learn how to pray.  In such Scripture-filled prayers, we learn how to speak to God using His words, dialect, and manner of speech, not the false, confused language of our sin-burdened hearts or of the idolatrous world around us.  If we want to pray in all assurance and joy, then the Word of God must be our foundation in prayer as well as in our song-prayers.  Through Jesus Christ and the Word, we learn how to pray and even how to sing.  (p. 176)

Specifically, of course, Fesko points to the psalms as the “Prayer-Songbook of the Bible.”  “Through a steady diet of the Psalms,” he says, “we can learn how to pray.”

JDO: Having introduced us to the importance of the psalms as a guide for prayer, Fesko proceeds to walk us through several key themes in the psalms, using the same outline as Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic commentary on the Psalms, Prayerbook of the Bible.  The three themes Fesko illuminates are (1) creation, (2) the suffering Messiah, and (3) our own suffering.

MRK: The first theme deals with another sticky matter pertaining to our prayer lives.  One popular model for prayer is summarized by the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  Now, I don’t know about you, Jim, but while the last three items flow readily, I often have tremendous trouble praying in adoration to God.  Focusing on him rather than myself is extremely difficult for my sin-stained heart.  The psalms can help to fix this, however!  Fesko says, “Meditating upon and singing psalms about the creation can certainly tune our hearts not only to sing praises about God’s work of creation, but also fill our prayer lives with a wealth of things for which we can praise our Creator” (p. 177).

JDO: One method that’s been suggested to me is to use a notebook to jot down every name, metaphor, title, or characteristic that’s used to describe God as I read through the psalms, and then to pray my way through that list.  This can easily keep the “adoration” part of my prayer from running dry, especially with psalms like Psalm 18 that just pile on the names of praise for God.

MRK: Right.  As a side note, the Psalter Hymnal can help in this regard as well with its easily-memorized poetic expressions.  For instance, we just sang #288 (Psalm 139, “Lord, Thou Hast Searched Me And Dost Know”) this past Sunday night, and the vivid expressions of the second stanza have stuck with me all week:

My words from Thee I cannot hide,
I feel thy power on every side;
O wondrous knowledge, awful might,
Unfathomed depth, unmeasured height!

Finally, our adoration of God remains closely connected to the other aspects of our prayer, because “if we praise God and reflect upon His wonderful work as Creator, we will inevitably be drawn to His outpouring of mercy in redemption.”  All in all, Fesko points us to the recurring theme of this book: “We must remember when we read, pray, or sing the psalms, that they are primarily about Christ” (p. 178).

JDO: The second theme to help us in our prayers is “The Suffering Messiah.”  Fesko draws our attention especially to Psalms 22 and 69, “the fifth gospel account of the crucifixion.”  Singing and praying psalms that focus on Christ’s suffering rather than our own drives us “out of ourselves, away from the introspective gaze on our own souls.”  Through such psalms “our faith looks extraspectively to Christ, His suffering, and His work on our behalf” (p. 179).  Such a focus gives us hope and courage “in our own persecutions, great or small, for the sake of Christ.”

MRK: Indeed.  Teaching us from the example of the suffering Messiah, the psalms allow us to pray “for our deliverance from persecution in a God-honoring way.”

In the third theme, Fesko points to a topic we discussed at length last week in Chapter 10.  He says, “Intense personal suffering is something with which many in the church are intimately familiar.  But the problem with many contemporary forms of worship music is that there is no place given for an expression of such suffering.”  The psalms are the solution here too.  Many of the psalmists endured suffering in doses of which we can’t even conceive.  Yet “the Psalter knows nothing of trite answers but instead offers shelter beneath the mighty wings of God in Christ” (p. 180).

JDO: Many modern Christians assume that suffering means we’ve failed at “living right.”  Suffering means we need a vacation, a pill, or a shopping trip.

MRK: Or—another popular catch-all phrase to explain away suffering—“Well, you must have some unconfessed sin in your life!”  This isn’t at all the proper view of affliction, nor is it the view expressed in the psalms.

JDO: Suffering is what shapes us.  A life without suffering is a life without sanctification.  Suffering drives us again and again to our Lord, as we “admit we are unable to carry the burden and cast it upon Christ.”

MRK: After this helpful journey through some of the spiritual riches of the psalms, Fesko concludes this final chapter with a few practical thoughts on psalm-singing.  These statements are so important, I wish we could broadcast them in ticker tape across the home page of URC Psalmody.

First, “Pastors and elders should make a concerted effort to explain what congregational singing is. Most every church sings in worship, but few actually understand why they sing” (p. 181).  We need to start by understanding the importance of singing as prayer; this will lead to a greater appreciation of the words and less focus on how much the music “moves” us.  Reflecting on his own spiritual walk, Augustine wrote that he was properly affected “not by the change but by the words being sung, when they are sung with a clear voice and entirely appropriate modulation.”  Similarly, Psalter Hymnal #204 (Psalm 103, “O Come, My Soul”) moves me to tears not simply because of the music (which is rather ordinary by technical standards), but because of the music’s powerful interaction with the text—“He knows that we are dust, He knows our frame.”

JDO: Second, we need to sing the psalms in the name of Christ. We pray “in Jesus’ name” not just as some ritual, but in recognition of the fact that he is our Mediator.  Each psalm (and thus each prayer) is about Christ.  Every psalm is messianic and can be prayed only in and through Jesus Christ.  The way to articulate this, says Fesko, is not simplistically to end each song with the phrase “in Jesus’ name, amen,” but to regularly preach from the psalms and consistently point through them to Christ.

MRK: Third, we need to use the psalms as the groundwork for our own private worship as well as public worship.  Our Lord’s Day worship “should always be supplemented with a steady diet of private worship, reading and studying the Scriptures, and prayer.  If one looks to the Psalter as part of that diet, then his prayer life can be greatly enriched.”  And “just as the Psalms were a source of comfort for David, Solomon, faithful Israelites, and even Christ Himself, they can be a wealth of blessing and comfort to us in our own day-to-day lives” (p. 183).

JDO: Fesko closes his chapter by summarizing three reasons to sing the psalms.  “In pray-singing the Psalms, we sing the Word of God, learn to pray by speaking the words of our heavenly Father back to him, and find a source of joy, consolation, and encouragement, as well as a food source for our sanctification and growth in grace.”

MRK: His final challenge pricks to the heart: “If we do not know how to pray, could it be that we know not because we sing not the Psalms?”  When our worship becomes saccharine, our prayers sincere, or our churches stagnant, we must return again and again to this question.

As a conclusion to this chapter as well as the entirety of Sing a New Song, it’s hard to find more fitting words than those of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom Fesko quotes here:

Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure is lost to the Christian church.  With its recovery will come unexpected power.

Although this marks the end of our chapter reviews, we plan to return to Sing a New Song once more next Thursday to revisit our favorite spots and share our overall responses to this book.  Join us then, won’t you?

–JDO/MRK


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