In 1815, eighty Protestant Christians in Nimses, France, experienced persecution at the hands of an anti-Protestant mob.  Many of these believers were beaten and dragged through the streets.  Moments before the onslaught of violence, even as the mob was trying to force open the doors of the church, the ministers at Nimses sought to comfort the believers.

They sang what could have been their last song this side of eternity–Psalm 42.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.  

Perhaps, that seems like an odd response to the threat of persecution.  Yet, until quite recently, the Psalms have been the script for Christian devotion.  For hundreds of years, the Psalms served as the hymnal and prayer book of Christians.  To express joy and to describe grief, believers of many generations consistently turned to the 150 poems of praise collected at the center of their Bibles.

The Psalms:  Truly Persistent Songs is a new series, here, at The Persistence of Song.  Over the course of the next several weeks, we’ll rediscover Psalm-singing, an element that has disappeared from the worship of many contemporary churches.  Along the way, I will posit an argument for the (re-) inclusion of Psalms into congregational singing, while also highlighting some of the practicalities of Psalmody.

As introduction to the idea of Psalm-singing, reflect on these words from the Apostle Paul:

. . . addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. . . (Ephesians 5:19)

Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 5 is his elaboration on the Lord’s will.  Instead of being controlled by substances (v. 18), Christians ought to live full of the Spirit.  During corporate worship, Spirit-filled living manifests itself in joyful praise to God (“singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”).

However, Paul does not intend for congregational singing to be directed heavenward only.  Even as we sing “up,” we are also called to sing “out.”  Christian worship includes an element of encouragement and edification, by which we address one another in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”

I will marshal Ephesians 5, later, to support biblically the singing of the Psalms, but, for now, I’ll underscore that Paul envisions Psalm-singing as a means by which we encourage other believers.  The Protestant persecution at Nimses, France, is a good example of how the Psalms are ready to strengthen us in life’s situations.

As a more recent example of the sufficiency of the Psalms, Terry L. Johnson–the senior pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia–recounts a special Psalm-singing service his church conducted in the wake of the September 11th tragedies.

The congregation sang songs of grief, including Psalm 130:1-2, 5-6; 13:1-6; 25:16-20; and 142:1-6.  What an appropriate time to sing “My griefs of heart abound; my sore distress relieve” (Ps 25:17)!

The congregation sang songs that implored God for his protection and justice, including Psalm 54:1-7; 57:1-5; and 71:1-6.  Have we comfortable and safe evangelicals ever had a better occasion to sing, “Strangers have come up against me, / Even men of violence, / And they seek my life’s destruction” (Ps 54:3)?

The congregation declared their trust in God through Psalm 23; 37:1-2, 10-19; 46:1-3, 10-11; and 91:1-12.  Those God-inspired words–“Be still! Know I am God. / Exalted o’er all men, / Exalted o’er all earth.”–vividly remind us of God’s authority and power, even in the midst of tragedy.

I hope this series of posts will start meaningful conversations on the value of Psalm-singing in congregational worship.  I would love to hear from others who have experienced the Psalms in corporate worship.

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