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  • David Ruddick

The Psalms: Teaching our churches about God's promises

In the Psalms, God has blessed us with a songbook in the Bible, so that we can sing his words to each other, and back to Him. Singing helps us to remember what we sing. Think of the last time you were in a group Bible study, and somebody quoted the line of a favourite hymn! It happens a lot; and the Psalter sets the promises of God to music, so that those promises will lodge deep in our hearts.

It is a matter of vital importance that the songs we sing together as a church are good and helpful pointers to biblical truth. Of course, the psalms are one such resource for that; but this is not an article about psalm-singing in church. Instead, let’s consider how the canonical form of the Psalms can serve the teaching of God’s promises in a different way: as an audit tool.

You can audit the songs you and your church sing by comparing and contrasting that corpus of songs with the corpus of psalms. Where are the similarities, and where are the gaps? Are there songs which you hardly ever sing, or songs which are conspicuous by their absence in your corporate worship… but not so in the Psalms?

Songs of lament would be a good example. The congregation I serve spent some time over Lent this year looking at the book of Lamentations with the help of some Bible reading notes. We were challenged to bring lament into our personal and corporate worship. A quick glance at the Psalter suggests that it is normal for God’s people to sing with sadness: around a third of the psalms could be classified as laments of the individual, whilst another ten per cent of them are laments of the community.[1] But our modern songbooks don’t feature anything like this number of songs of lament. So the contents of the Psalter highlight this deficiency in our modern hymnody.

The same could be said for songs which express a corporate response to God. The individual singer’s voice is prominent throughout the psalms, but the individual is conscious of what Christopher Ash calls the “choir” in some psalms,[2] and of his responsibilities within the great assembly in many psalms. This consciousness of what it means to belong to a body of believers is strong in the Psalter, and critiques more modern tendencies to make sung worship all about “God and me”. The Psalms show that sung worship is indeed an individual response of the heart, but that the individual is never a lone ranger, because ties to the congregation always run deep.

The prominence of particular psalms within the canonical collection ought to give us more pause for thought. Psalms 1 and 2 are the gateway to sung worship: so do we sing in church with appropriate reference to the king installed on Zion, the Lord Jesus, and godly fear and trembling? Do we sing to remind each other enough of the many aspects of the king’s person and work which are signposted in marker-post psalms such as 110 (Jesus the priest), 118 (Jesus the saviour), 132 (Jesus the servant) and 144 (Jesus the victor)? The Psalms present Jesus to us as a jewel to admire from many different angles; so it would be a shame simply to default to favourite songs which offer only a few of those angles to the congregation.

It is common in my church for us to sing a song asking God to speak by his word in the Bible, before the Bible is read and preached. But it is striking that Psalm 119, a sustained meditation on the goodness of God’s word which dominates the Psalter, provides us with very many ways of doing this. We can sing for our reception of God’s word in times of calm and times of storm, for the ongoing effect of that word in our hearts, for a right valuing of that word, for a proper dismay at how God’s word is ignored… and all of that will require some variation in the songs we sing about God’s word.

Finally, we could ask whether our songs adequately bring to mind the major themes and turning points of the Bible, such as exodus (in many psalms of Books 3, 4 and 5) and exile (very much a theme of Book 3). The Psalms connect the worship of God’s people with the timeline of God’s saving work on many occasions (see, e.g. Psalms 78, 81, 89, 106); what we sing needs to do the same, if we are to realise God’s faithfulness and consistency fully, as his people.

There is plenty more scope for using the Psalms as an audit tool for our singing in church; these are just a few ideas. Let’s look for those patterns and emphases and images which feature highly in the Psalms, but which might be absent from our church’s sung corporate worship. The result of that audit should be a more thorough understanding of God’s promises, and a deeper love for his anointed king, shared by all his singing people.


David Ruddick is Vicar of Emmanuel Church, Morden

Notes: [1] See Philip Johnston’s survey in ‘Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches’, ed. Philip S. Johnston etall (Leicester: IVP, 2005), pp.295-300. [2] See Christopher Ash, ‘Teaching Psalms: Volume One – From text to message’ (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2017), pp.57-61,

Views expressed in blogs published by the Latimer Trust are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Latimer Trust.

For books on sung worship, try Rob Smith, Come Let Us Sing. To buy click her



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