Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace
Why we preach from Psalms
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Building a soul-song repertoire
Preaching also helps put these loud psalms in perspective. We help people see where and when this prayer will be needed. We help people prepare a soul-song repertoire for the days ahead. We may not need an angry song or an exalting anthem at this moment, but surely we will. And on that day, we won't have time to learn it. We won't want to have to hum our way through. "Why are you downcast, O my soul something, something, mmmm" Someday their souls will need a vocabulary they seldom use, a song to let the heartbreak out or to set their God-touched spirits soaring. Preachers teach them those songs.
Not long ago I sat on a bench at sunset overlooking the Grand Canyon. People strolled along in front of me, trying to take it all in. One woman stopped, shook her head a little, and, groping for words, blurted, "Ohwhoopee!" That woman needed a psalm!
Have you ever led congregational singing and spotted folks standing there, but not singing? It's unsettling. I'd really like to stop everyone and say, "What's up with you?" Who knows? Maybe they don't know the song, or don't like to sing, or don't want anyone to hear their poor voice. But I always suspect they're dulled, distant, disconnected. They don't know that singing lifts them. I sing, "Jesus is all the world to me," even when he isn't, because singing itespecially with othersmakes it truer and moves me closer to where I want to be.
Preaching the Psalms draws silent, voiceless, reluctant souls to sing or pray. Some don't know that the saved soul can sing. Only unredeemed souls are tone deaf. The redeemed have a new song to sing. When we preach a psalm, we urge people to make it the lyric of their heart. It isn't enough to tell them what it means. Our job is to set them a-singing. To set the cadences and spiritual rhymes into their memory. God's beloved people often don't know how wide and deep their songs and prayers are meant to go. When we preach the psalms, we give them a spiritual phrasebook so they have the language to push back the frontiers of their experience with God.
A friend told me about being at a Promise Keepers rally when 60,000 men sang "Holy, Holy, Holy." He dialed his wife on his cell phone and whispered, "Listen to this," and then held his phone in the air. He didn't want her just to hear the song; he wanted her to hear the way it was sung. Preachers urge people to hear the way the songs of Zion are meant to be sung. And we help them understand that these are the songs of all the saints, that a great cloud of witnesses have sung them before us.
Psalms are more soulish than the rest of Scripture. They are also more responsive. Whereas the prophets and storytellers and apostles inform our ignorance and challenge our error, Psalms teach us to talk to God, to sing to him. It is a serious matter that so many of God's people find the Psalms to be as distant to them as the poetry of Tennyson. "I just don't get into the Psalms," they say. "I prefer the epistles and the Gospels." But the Psalms teach us to pray. They are the Lord's Prayer writ large. We don't preach the Psalms only for their theology or their emotion, but to give God's people soul songs and a book of common prayer. We help them see that this ancient song is their today song and that this unusual way of talking to God is the heart's true language.
Lee Eclov is pastor of Village Church of Lincolnshire in Lake Forest, Illinois and author of Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls (Moody Publishers).
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