As a pastor who works with our worship team, I regularly consult songbooks. Some are old, very old; others are very new. I’m glad that at times in history people have made the effort to write out the songs of our faith. Today, we have thousands from which to lead the church of God in worship. It is a blessed heritage to me.
Of course, the Old Testament book of Psalms is also a songbook, one of the oldest in history. There is much historically of interest about the book. Yes, it has 150 Hebrew poems written over a span of a thousand years. We know David as the author of 73 of them, but let’s not forget about Asaph, Solomon, the sons of Korah, Heman, Ethan and even Moses and their contributions to the book.
Interestingly, as I attempt to navigate with biblical clarity through the worship wars of my generation, the book of Psalms often strikes a relevant note. For example, did you know that the Hebrew title of the book of Psalms is Tehillim, which means “praise songs”? See, it’s not a bad term to use.
Amid the interesting facts about the book of Psalms lie the words themselves. They are wonderful and full of life. These praise songs, inspired by God, command my attention each time I gaze into the book’s pages. One of the gripping attributes of the Psalms, in my opinion, is their amazing ability to integrate both doctrine and relationship into each poetic burst. Maybe we can say it this way: spirit and truth?
On the one hand, the Psalms speak with all the authority of God himself in describing his greatness and power and rightness and goodness and love and mercy and patience and justice and anger and sorrow and brilliance and gentleness and forgiveness and wisdom and holiness and beauty. Is there another book in all the Scriptures where a person can get a more comprehensive and compelling view of God Almighty?
And yet, the Psalms model for us the most honest and raw relationship with the Creator of anywhere else in Holy Writ. In the deepest recesses of our being, I think we all desire such a relationship. Nowhere else do we see such whole-hearted, whole-bodied responsive worship of God. Dare we complain to the Almighty? Would you pray for the destruction of your enemies? Tell God the deepest and most protected cares of your soul? Do you pray or sing to the Lord with a shout? How about a cry? On your feet? On your knees? On your face? With hands raised high? Do you ever jump and cheer to the Lord? For the Lord? Clap your hands?
Sure, we confess our sins. When we’re caught. When we’re up a creek. But when do we ask God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me”? When do we marvel in the Lord’s creation? Do we come into his presence with thanksgiving? Do we spend time adoring the Lord for his goodness? Do we rehearse his works through history? Do we publicly state our love and submission to his statutes? Do we tell God about the dryness in our soul? The pain of persecution? The stab of rejection?
Do you know why I love the Psalms? The Psalms to me are a goal of where I want to be in my relationship with God. If God is my Father, why do I so often act as though he were an uncle in a far-off land? Where is the abandonment of myself that he requires and I desire? Why do I spend so little time with him when he authorizes every breath of my life? How can I be embarrassed to shout and laugh and leap and cry about my God when he forsook his own Son for my reconciliation?
What a feast lies before us! The famous London preacher Charles Spurgeon knew the richness of Psalms. His “Treasury of David” was perhaps his greatest accomplishment in his life, taking 20 years to write. He wrote in the preface, “The delightful study of the Psalms has yielded me boundless profit and ever-growing pleasure; common gratitude constrains me to communicate to others a portion of the benefit, with the prayer that it may induce them to search further for themselves.
“That I have nothing better of my own to offer upon this peerless book is to me matter of deepest regret; that I have anything whatever to present is subject for devout gratitude to the Lord of grace.”
Boundless profit. Ever-growing pleasure. I concur.
Brian McCrorie is senior pastor of Heather Hills Baptist Church. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.