What Are We Doing Singing the Psalms? Reclaiming the Psalter, One Lament at a Time


Name and Place for Tuesday, July 8 (’14)

Gordon Wenham has written an exceptional book on the psalms.  Entitled The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms, Wenham not only seeks a reclamation of the Psalter, but also extends an invitation for us to remember their purpose: prayer, praise, worship.

Here is a snippet to whet the appetite and, we hope, encourage you to purchase and read the book.  At less than 200 pages, it’s shorter than a Harry Potter book and, with just 5 pages read a day, you could be finished in 40 days.

The psalms teach us the fundamentals of the faith and instruct us too in ethics.  But the psalms do even more.  Singing them commits us in attitudes, speech, and actions. 

In the mid-twentieth century, two philosophers, J. L. Austin and J. R. Searle, shed light on the nature of speech.  They pointed out psalmsthat speech is much more than the exchange of information: it changes situations.  A promise, for example, lays an obligation on the one who makes the promise and creates an expectation in the one who hears it.  This has implications for our use of the Psalms, as we shall see.  By using them as prayers or singing them, worshipers declare their faith and their commitment to God’s ways.  But narrative and law are different.  The Old Testament narratives were presumably recited by storytellers, but they rarely make explicit their judgments on the actions that are recited, so the moral of the story might have been missed and certainly did not have to be endorsed by the listeners.  They could just ignore the point, as I suspect many listening to worthy sermons often do….But reciting the psalms is quite different.  The one who prays the psalms is taking their words on his lips and saying them to God in a personal and solemn way” (26-27).

The book is The Psalter Reclaimed.  We encourage you to try the book, and we urge you to let Psalms become your go-to prayer guide, a constant companion, and even a tool for evangelism.  Curious?  Doubtful?  Dive in and see if you regret it.


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