Christianity 201

March 22, 2022

Musical Instruments in Worship

Psalm 150 NLT

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heaven!

Praise him for his mighty works;
praise his unequaled greatness!

Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
praise him with the lyre and harp!

Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
praise him with strings and flutes!

Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
praise him with loud clanging cymbals.

Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

It’s difficult to read the above and then realize that there are entire denominations within Christianity which do not accept the use of musical instruments in worship. The passage seems not only prescriptive in the literal sense, but seems to represent a pattern where “Praise him with electric guitars;” or “Praise him with keyboard synthesizers” would not be out of line.

And yet…

Ten years ago local church in Texas wound up as a newspaper story over their debate as to whether to go against the denomination and include guitars.

…Churches of Christ have traditionally called for instrument-free worship services, believing New Testament Scriptures and church traditions affirm and require the practice.

Some members, like Hicks, see the inclusion of instruments as a departure not just from tradition, but also from God’s word – and therefore, a matter of salvation.

Others appreciate the denomination’s a capella worship tradition, but question whether it is a Scriptural requirement…

The article pointed to Ephesians 5: 19-20

speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (NIV)

But there is a principle of hermeneutics — which we’ll get to — that just because something isn’t expressly mentioned, doesn’t necessarily mean it is forbidden.

The article — and this is actually quite commendable for a local newspaper story — goes on to note that this simply wasn’t true for the Old Testament.

Numerous Scriptures, like those in 2 Chronicles 7 and 29, Psalms 33, 92 and 150, affirmed instrumental worship, the leaders decided.

An apologetic from a leader in that same denomination states,

As further proof that we should expressively forbid the use of musical instruments in worship, we know from the first several centuries of church history that singing was unaccompanied in all Christian worship. The Latin phrase “a cappella” comes to us from ancient times with the meaning of singing without instrumental music. Literally translated, “a cappella” means “at chapel.” Clearly, this is evidence that at some time in the past Christians routinely worshiped God with unaccompanied singing. Even as recent as the 19th century, religious leaders of most denominations condemned the use of mechanical instruments during worship.

Since we cannot be absolutely certain that God finds the use of musical instruments an appropriate form of worship, then it seems quite foolish to risk His wrath by adding something which He did not clearly authorize us to do during collective worship. Our only assurance of practicing acceptable Christian worship is to disregard man-made creeds and turn to God’s Word as our only authoritative guide to worship. Unless we pattern our worship after the first century church, we can have no assurance that God approves of our assemblies.

But that statement also reminds us that worship was for many centuries conducted in Latin. This creates two problems. First, Latin would be unknown to the early church members. Did they not worship in their vernacular? Second, if that is and should be the pattern, why have we drifted from Latin today? The logic of the argument pales on close examination.

In the Catholic Bible Dictionary, Scott Hahn’s entry on Psalms states,

the Greek title for the book in the Codex Alexandrinus is psalterion, which is the name of a stringed instrument used to accompany songs of worship.

Scott Smith, the writer who quoted Hahn went on to note:

…This isn’t just the Church of Christ who discourages, if not expressly forbids, the use of musical instruments in worship. These other churches do the same: some Presbyterian churches, Old Regular Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Plymouth Brethren, the Old German Baptist Brethren, and the Amish and Mennonite communities…

In addition, it is said that the practice of using instruments was “opposed vigorously in worship by the majority of Protestant Reformers, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Alexander Campbell.” Go figure.

These New Testament verses are often cited as a basis for not using instruments in worship: Mathew 26:30; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12, 13:15; James 5:13…

However, they are merely invocations to sing, not denouncements of instruments. In these verses, Christ’s apostles find themselves alone on the Mount of Olives, imprisoned, etc. … Hey! Why didn’t anybody remember to bring a lute to prison?? Yikes.

Responding to the verse in Ephesians, a writer with the opposite viewpoint says,

…Since Paul is giving a command, if he had reference to playing a mechanical instrument of music we would all be obligated to do so. It would not be optional, but mandatory for every Christian. The early church did not understand it this way, as they never worshiped God with a mechanical instrument. Therefore, instrumental music in worship is an addition to the word of God. From passages such as Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32 and Revelation 22:18-19 we learn that God would not have us to add to His word. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:6, “Learn not to go beyond the things which are written” (ASV). In 1 Timothy 1:3, Paul admonishes, “teach no other doctrine”. Remember, “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God” (ASV).

He then goes on to list several things wrong with instrumental music, but you’ll need to scan that list of bullet points for yourself and see how your spirit responds to the flow of the argument.

The quotation from 1 Corinthians leads to the final thought on this topic, and for this I am thankful for having two “theologians” in the family, particularly my wife Ruth and my son Aaron, who pointed me this morning to the difference between the “regulative principle” for worship and the “normative principle.”

The most straightforward explanation I saw was this from the Compelling Truth website,

Regulative worship relies upon Scripture to dictate specifically what is allowed in worship. If it isn’t in the Bible, it cannot be in a worship setting. Normative worship looks at the other side of the coin. If it isn’t prohibited in the Bible, then it is allowed in worship.

The site provides a simple comparison:

Churches which choose regulative worship do not use musical instruments, for example, because there is no New Testament command to do so. Normative churches may use drama, music, and other expressions in worship because they are not forbidden in Scripture…

…Both regulative and normative churches claim they are following God’s Word…

The article continues in a direction which may be familiar to longtime readers here when we discussed the differences between rules and principles.* In other words, the goal is to appeal to the highest principle.

In the extreme, the regulative principle would also, in addition to the manner in which sung worship takes place, dictate the content of what is sung, as pointed out in an article in Breakpoint.

…Of course, this raises questions of where to draw the line between elements and circumstances. For example, singing is commanded in Scripture, but what are we to sing? Some denominations that adhere to the Regulative Principle argue that we should only sing Psalms as words mandated by God, perhaps supplemented with biblical texts such as the Song of Simeon. Others argue that the command to address one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs allows for a broader range of songs than just the Psalter. The rejoinder is that those terms represent different types of psalms…

The article says that in contrast,

Although the Normative Principle might seem to be less concerned with biblical fidelity than the Regulative Principle, it too looks on the Bible as the final authority on how we should worship God. However, it does not interpret the biblical text as a set of rules for worship but rather as guidelines showing us how to worship in Spirit and truth without mandating every last thing that can be done in worship. It allows for more creativity, including the use of a range of arts.

Each person reading this will decide for themselves if “doing what God commands” means “doing only what God commands.”


*I was greatly enlightened on this subject by a booklet published by InterVarsity Press (IVP) in 1981, What’s Right? What’s Wrong by Donald E. DeGraaf (sadly out of print.) In it he talks about the difference between rules and principles. A rule applies to one group of people, or people in one particular place, or at one particular time. A principle applies to all people in all places at all times. Rules derive from principles. If rules appear to be in conflict, appeal to the higher principles which govern them.

 

 

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February 14, 2022

Sometimes When We Sing

If the circumstances of the worldwide pandemic have meant there’s been a drop in the frequency of your corporate singing (worship) experience at church, I know that you eagerly await a return to in-person worship. This is an article which Ruth wrote four years ago for our Sunday Worship series.

Sometimes When We Sing

by Ruth Wilkinson

One of the precious things we do when we meet together as the Church is to sing. Together.

Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to each other.
I sing you my story, you sing me yours. We remind each other of who God is.

Our posture is face to face, looking each other in the eye, like the Psalm writers who said:

Sing to Yahweh! Sing praise to Him; tell about all His wonderful works!
Remember what He’s done: His wonders, and His judgments.
-Psalm 105

I love the Lord because He’s heard my cry for mercy.
And because He’s turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live.

-Psalm 116

Oh, happy day! Oh, happy day!
When Jesus washed, when he washed my sins away!
He taught me how to walk, fight and pray,
And live rejoicing everyday
***
Forever God is faithful,
Forever God is strong,
Forever God is with us,
Forever
***

Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to God.
We sing to say “Thank you,” to say “I’m sorry,” to say “We love you.”
Our posture is eyes raised, hands reaching high, like the Psalm writers who said:

I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars that You set in place and wonder –
who are we that You think of us?
What are the sons and daughters of man that You care for us?

Yahweh, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

-Psalm 8

We are a moment, You are forever,
Lord of the ages, God before time
***
O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee!
***

Sometimes when we sing together we sing as one – together.
We sing our shared history, our shared experience, our shared future.
Our posture is hand in hand, arms across shoulders, elbows linked, like the Psalm writers who said:

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found
– when the earth trembles and the mountains topple,
when the waters of the sea roar and foam
and shake the land.

Come on, let’s shout joyfully to the Lord,
shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation!
For He is our God, and we are His people.

-Psalm 46, Psalm 95

In the name of the Father, in the name of the Son,
In the name of the Spirit, Lord, we come
Gathered together to lift up your name
Our God saves, Our God saves,
There is hope in your name
***
Our God is an awesome God!
***

Sometimes when we sing together, we sing as one – each alone.
Each one alone before the Father who created us,
alone beside the Son who died for us,
alone in a body that’s wrapped around the Spirit who fills us.
Our posture may be eyes closed or open, head bowed or lifted high, knees bent or standing tall – like the Psalm writers who said:

You, Lord, are a shield around me;
You’re my glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I can lie down and sleep and I can wake again because You sustain me.
-Psalm 3

Lord, my heart isn’t proud; my eyes aren’t haughty.
I don’t get involved with things that are beyond me.
Instead, I calm and quiet myself like a little child with its mother;
I am your child.
-Psalm 131

In the morning when I rise,
When I am alone,
When I come to die
Give me Jesus;
You can have all this world,
Give me Jesus
***


Bonus item: On the subject of the triune nature of God:

This is a link to a short book excerpt from Moody Press via Outreach Magazine taken from 50 Most Important Theological Terms by J. Brian Tucker and David Finkbeiner. It looks at heresies often presented as sound doctrine on the trinity.


For those of you looking for something more “seasonal” today:

Valentine’s Day Devotionals – various authors:

March 3, 2019

The Father of all Musicians

Today we’re combining two popular features into one: The devotional writing of Charles Price, and our weekly Sunday Worship article. After a fruitful season as the teaching pastor at The Peoples Church in Toronto, Charles is now Minister-at-Large which frees him to speak in locations around Canada and the world.

Jubal the Musician

“His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes.”  —Genesis 4:21

The second of Cain’s seventh-generation descendants was Jubal, the first to play stringed instruments and pipes. This makes him the father of the arts, and particularly music. Music is the language of the heart, and God loves when we praise Him in song. As Johann Sebastian Bach said, “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment.”

Unfortunately, the Christian church has had a mixed relationship with the arts. There was a time when almost every piece of art and music in the west was inspired by or alluded to Christian themes, but as secularism grew, the arts began to fall into a category that most Christians called “worldly.” Worldliness is doing as the world does, and it became common for Christians to think that outside specific parameters within the church, art and music were to be avoided at all costs. For a long time, many Christians did not go to the theatre, cinema or concerts. Some were criticized for reading novels, and much music and art went unappreciated.

It has taken brave souls being willing to break the mould for certain musical trends to become accepted in the church. Charles Wesley, brother of the great seventeenth-century evangelist John Wesley, wrote numerous hymns, but his songs were initially controversial because they put Christian words to secular tunes. Ira Sankey, song leader for evangelist D.L. Moody, was also thought to be making a worldly compromise when he first introduced the wind organ to Christian worship. The irony is these once highly criticized hymns and instruments are now the standard to which some Christians wish modern worship would return.

We all have our own tastes for music, but in Scripture, all kinds of music are used to worship God. Psalm 150 is about how we are to praise God at all times in all places in all ways. The psalmist lists a series of instruments used to praise God. There are trumpets, the brass instruments; harps and lyres, the string instruments; tambourines and cymbals, the percussion instruments; and even dancing! The psalmist then concludes, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (Psalm 150:6).

It is usually the heart, not the head, that connects with God. Propositional belief is important for knowing truths about Him, but the Christian life becomes a dull routine if that is all we have. This is why we should be deeply thankful for what Jubal’s discovery of music and the arts have contributed to our relationship with God. As we worship God in music and song, we stoke the fire of our love for Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for music and especially the way it enables me to worship. May my songs of praise be pleasing to You.

 

November 25, 2018

Let Them Offer Thanks to Him, The Sacrifice of Praise

Today’s thoughts are from a referred source which was new to us, the website/blog of Zion Evangelical & Reformed Church in Garner, Iowa. As usual, click the title below to read this at source and then take a minute to look around their site.

Why Did We Sing Psalm 107?

Last Sunday, as a congregation we lifted up our voices to a song not found on the CCLI’s “Top 40” – a metrical version of Psalm 107. Ever sung it? Unless you’ve spent time in a church that is being Reformed by the Word of God, chances are you haven’t.

While most Christians think of the Old Testament book of Psalms as important for the worship of Israelites, few Christians think of the Psalms as part of their worship today. Perhaps some realize the importance of praying through the Psalms, or studying the verses as parts of their Bible studies (Psalm 119 gets really long!). But few ever think to sing what was the original songbook of God’s people.

But in Reformed churches, psalm singing is still important. Taking Colossians 3:16 as their cue – “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” – Reformed churches have emphasized taking the inspired Word of God in the Psalms and putting them to meter so they are singable by the congregation.

Last Sunday we were preparing for Thanksgiving, and so the words of Psalm 107 in meter were especially poignant:

O praise the Lord! For He is good,
His mer-cies still endure;
Give thanks to Him, pro-claim His grace,
From sin and death se-cure

Let them give thanks un-to the Lord
For all His kind-ness shown,
And for His works so won-der-ful
Which He to us makes known

And let them of-fer thanks to Him
The sac-ri-fice of praise!
His works let them de-clare with thanks
In songs our voices raise!

Is an-y wise? Then heed with thanks
The mer-cies of the Lord!
And may we grate-ful-ly re-ceive
With thanks our lov-ing Lord!

Clearly, Psalm 107 allows Christians to sing God’s Word back to Him in the form of inspired thanksgiving!

Some Christians might wonder about the practice of psalm singing. While this article cannot tackle all the aspects of this topic, the following words by Rev. Terry Johnson give us a better understanding of the history of this important practice. Examining what Christians of past generations does not decide anything for the Church; our beliefs and practices are founded on the Word of God alone. Nevertheless, it can be very helpful to understand what our forebears in the faith have taught on a certain issue, and help us to understand what God’s Word led them to in ages past. May the following selection by Rev. Johnson be helpful for understanding psalm singing today.

*** *** ***

The church fathers and earliest Christian writings demonstrate a devotion to the Psalms, and particularly to the singing of the Psalms, that is startling.

Calvin Stapert speaks of the Church Fathers’ “enthusiastic promotion of psalm singing,” which, he says, “reached an unprecedented peak in the fourth century.” James McKinnon speaks of “an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm” for the Psalms in the second half of the fourth century. The writers of The Psalms in Christian Worship and others, including most recently John D. Witvliet, have collected a number of testimonies of psalm singing from the church fathers that survive to this day.

For example, Tertullian (c. 155–230), in the second century, testified that psalm singing was not only an essential feature of the worship of his day but also had become an important part of the daily life of the people.

Athanasius (300–343) says it was the custom of his day to sing psalms, which he calls “a mirror of the soul,” and even “a book that includes the whole life of man, all conditions of the mind and all movements of thought.”

Eusebius (c. 260–c. 340), bishop of Caesarea, left this vivid picture of the psalm singing of his day: “The command to sing Psalms in the name of the Lord was obeyed by everyone in every place: for the command to sing is in force in all churches which exist among nations, not only the Greeks but also throughout the whole world, and in towns, villages and in the fields.”

Basil the Great (c. 330–379) comments, in his sermons on the Psalms, on the “harmonious Psalm tunes” that mix “sweetness of melody with doctrine” and are sung by the people not only in the churches but “at home” and “in the marketplace” as well.

Augustine (343–430), in his Confessions (ix.4), says, “[The Psalms] are sung through the whole world, and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.”

Jerome (d. 420) said that he learned the Psalms when he was a child and sang them daily in his old age. He also writes, “The Psalms were continually to be heard in the fields and vineyards of Palestine. The plowman, as he held his plow, chanted the Hallelujah; and the reaper, the vinedresser, and the shepherd sang something from the Psalms of David. Where the meadows were colored with flowers, and the singing birds made their plaints, the Psalms sounded even more sweetly. These Psalms are our love-songs, these the instruments of our agriculture.”

Sidonius Apollinaris (c. 431–c. 482) represents boatmen, who, while they worked their heavy barges up the waters of ancient France, “[sing] Psalms till the banks echo with ‘Hallelujah.’”

Chrysostom (d. 407), the renowned Greek father and patriarch of Constantinople, says, “All Christians employ themselves in David’s Psalms more frequently than in any other part of the Old or New Testament. The grace of the Holy Ghost hath so ordered it that they should be recited and sung night and day. In the Church’s vigils the first, the middle, and the last are David’s Psalms. In the morning David’s Psalms are sought for; and David is the first, the midst, and the last of the day. At funeral solemnities, the first, the midst, and the last is David. Many who know not a letter can say David’s Psalms by heart. In all the private houses, where women toil—in the monasteries—in the deserts, where men converse with God, the first, the midst, and the last is David.

He says again, “David is always in their mouths, not only in the cities and churches, but in courts, in monasteries, in deserts, and the wilderness. He turned earth into heaven and men into angels, being adapted to all orders and to all capacities” (Sixth Homily on Repentance).

Over against this devotion to singing psalms, there was a growing skepticism about hymns “of human composition” throughout this period because of the use to which they were put by heretics. For this reason the Council of Braga (350 AD) ruled, “Except the Psalms and hymns of the Old and New Testaments, nothing of a poetical nature is to be sung in the church.” The important Council of Laodicea, which met about 360 AD, forbade “the singing of uninspired hymns in the church, and the reading of uncanonical books of Scripture” (canon 59). While these were not the decisions of ecumenical councils, nearly one hundred years later, the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), the largest of all the general councils, confirmed the Laodicean canons.

We cite these decisions to underscore the point that the Psalter clearly was the primary songbook of the early church. Worship in the early church was “according to Scripture” and consequently filled with scriptural praise.”


Terry Johnson, “The History of Psalm Singing in the Christian Church,” in Sing a New Song: Recovering Psalm Singing for the Twenty-First Century (ed. Joel R. Beeke and Anthony T. Selvaggio; Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), 44–46.

 

 

February 11, 2018

Sunday Worship

Today’s guest writer is my wife. This is a series of readings she put together in the church where she was leading last week, along with lines from the songs they sang corresponding to each aspect of congregational worship.

Sometimes When We Sing

by Ruth Wilkinson

One of the precious things we do when we meet together as the Church is to sing. Together.

Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to each other.
I sing you my story, you sing me yours.  We remind each other of who God is.

Our posture is face to face, looking each other in the eye, like the Psalm writers who said:
Sing to Yahweh! Sing praise to Him; tell about all His wonderful works!
Remember what He’s done: His wonders, and His judgments.
-Psalm 105
I love the Lord because He’s heard my cry for mercy.
And because He’s turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live.

-Psalm 116

Oh, happy day! Oh, happy day!
When Jesus washed, when he washed my sins away!
He taught me how to walk, fight and pray,
And live rejoicing everyday
 ***
Forever God is faithful,
Forever God is strong,
Forever God is with us,
Forever
***
Sometimes when we sing together, we sing to God.
We sing to say “Thank you,” to say “I’m sorry,” to say “We love you.”
Our posture is eyes raised, hands reaching high, like the Psalm writers who said:
I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars that You set in place and wonder –
who are we that You think of us? 
What are the sons and daughters of man that You care for us?

Yahweh, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

-Psalm 8

We are a moment, You are forever,
Lord of the ages, God before time
 ***
O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee!
***
Sometimes when we sing together we sing as one – together.
We sing our shared history, our shared experience, our shared future.
Our posture is hand in hand, arms across shoulders, elbows linked, like the Psalm writers who said:
God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found
– when the earth trembles and the mountains topple,
when the waters of the sea roar and foam 
and shake the land.

Come on, let’s shout joyfully to the Lord,
shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation!
For He is our God, and we are His people.

-Psalm 46, Psalm 95

In the name of the Father, in the name of the Son,
In the name of the Spirit, Lord, we come
Gathered together to lift up your name
Our God saves, Our God saves,
There is hope in your name
 ***
Our God is an awesome God!
***
 Sometimes when we sing together, we sing as one – each alone.
Each one alone before the Father who created us,
alone beside the Son who died for us,
alone in a body that’s wrapped around the Spirit who fills us.
Our posture may be eyes closed or open, head bowed or lifted high, knees bent or standing tall – like the Psalm writers who said:
 
You, Lord, are a shield around me;
You’re my glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I can lie down and sleep and I can wake again because You sustain me.
-Psalm 3
 
Lord, my heart isn’t proud; my eyes aren’t haughty.
I don’t get involved with things that are beyond me.
Instead, I calm and quiet myself like a little child with its mother;
I am your child.

-Psalm 131

In the morning when I rise,
When I am alone,
When I come to die
Give me Jesus;
You can have all this world,
Give me Jesus
***

 

December 10, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: ,

Today’s article is best read at the author’s site because it contains a video of a different type of congregational singing which may or may not work depending on your system. But I encourage you to read this there on the off chance that it plays for you, which it did for me one time. The author is Kyle Borg who is a pastor in Winchester, KS in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the website is Gentle Reformation. Click the title below to read it there. There’s also an introduction which you need to read at that site as well.

What Then Shall We Sing About

God wants us to sing about depression. Yes, even believers get depressed and the Psalms give us songs to sing in the blackness and ache of depression, “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” (Psalm 42:5) and, “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave” (Psalm 88:3-5).

God wants us to sing about persecution. Jesus warned that in the world we will have many troubles and the Psalms give us words to express the troubles that come for bearing the name of Christ, “For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me with cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies(Psalm 69:1-4).

God wants us to sing about children. Though many view children as an inconvenience in our culture, God delights in opening the womb and the Psalms instruct us to sing of their blessedness, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5).

God wants us to sing about death. Often death is viewed as an almost taboo topic and yet the Psalms give us language to sing not only of its dark reality but of our confidence in the midst of it, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4), and “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

God wants us to sing about sleep. The rest that is given to us is traced even to the gifts of God, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8), and “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest; eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2).

God wants us to sing about atheism. The Psalms show us, in singing, how to interpret the world and its systems around us, even the system of unbelief, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:1-3).

God wants us to sing about prosperity. The Psalms demonstrate to us that God cares not only for our souls but also our physical well-being and blesses us in this manner, “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace; may our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce; may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing; may there be no cry of distress in our streets! Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!(Psalm 144:12-15).

God wants us to sing about enemies. It’s probably hard for the Western and contemporary church that has experienced little by way of outward and physical oppression to comprehend the way the Psalms invite us to sing over our enemies. But the Psalms are filled with warlike victory anthems, “I pursued by enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed. I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet. For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me. You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine as dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets(Psalm 18:37-42).

God wants us to sing about missions. The scope of the gospel isn’t confined to the borders of any nation or people group. The knowledge of Jesus Christ knows no boundaries and we are to sing of the advance of the gospel to foreign lands and foreign people, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth(Psalm 67:1-4).

God wants us to sing about alcohol. The Psalms celebrate that it is God who waters the earth causing vines to grow which produce wine to cheer the heart even of the afflicted, “From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:13-15).

God wants us to sing about sin. Not only are we to sing about sin’s pardon and forgiveness but the Psalms often emphasize the great danger that accompanies sin. We are to sing out these warnings and cautions, “For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealous with their idols. When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel” (Psalm 78:58-59), and “Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death” (Psalm 107:17-18).

God wants us to sing about hell. Frightening, terrifying, and sorrowful as the topic is — to bear the unmitigated wrath of God is unimaginable — yet the Psalms direct us to sing even of this, “The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17), and “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Psalm 49:14-15).

In the Psalms we sing of protecting the poor (Psalm 15:5), angels (Psalm 91:11-12, 104:4), political upheaval (Psalm 2:1-4, 135:8-12), frustrations (Psalm 73:1-3), history (Psalm 95:8, 106:32), the birthing of animals (Psalm 29:9), the keeping of vows (Psalm 76:11, 116:14), the failure of friendship (Psalm 55:14), family relationships (Psalm 128:3), false gods (Psalm 135:15-18), and so much more. These are some of the things that fill the content of the very songs that the Holy Spirit has given to the church… And he himself has approved these things to be expressed through the gift of singing in order to impress them upon our minds, provoke the emotions of our hearts, and activate the deepest recesses of our memories as our tongues are loosened to sing the praises of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.