March 2007 - Vol. 6
Inspired Psalms and Songs:
the Psalms are not only inspired by God, they form and shape our praise and worship of God as well
a scriptural orientation to
worship, Part III
by Mike Shaughnessy
Psalm 23, a painting by Michael O'Brien
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with a psalm!
- Psalm 47:6
The Spirit forming and shaping
our worship and singing
“That is really an inspired song!” I have often thought that about a new song when I experience something in my own spirit that is lifted up and drawn into the presence of the Lord. Music has the power to inspire, that is, to inspirate, that is, to fill us with the Spirit. It is the way God designed us; and the way he designed music.
You may have heard a Christian song writer say, “The Lord gave me the lyrics,” or “The melody just seemed to be given to me while I was praying.” The Lord does inspire, or breathe into us, the ability to worship him in spirit and in truth. When we are open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Lord will inspire our worship and singing. This is a work of the Spirit giving expression to what he is doing or wants to do among God's people. It is the Spirit forming and shaping the worship life of the Christian people.
The psalms form and shape
those who sing them
Yet when it comes to lyrics for songs, none are as inspired as the psalms. Here we have not only inspirational lyrics, we have lyrics with the authority of the Scripture, because that is what they are. The Christian church has judged them objectively inspired by God. Because of this it is appropriate that many of the songs which Christians sing are based on the psalms.
The people of God have used the psalms as the basis of songs not just because the psalms are inspired and give honor to God in the way he intended to be honored, but also because they form and shape those who sing them. (Most of us know how “pop” songs have the ability to stick in our minds long after we last heard them. Inevitably, they affect the way we think and feel.) With songs based on the psalms it is the Word of God that is forming us. His Word is truth and life. We are centered on God and his truth, not on our self. St. Athanasius, a 4th century bishop, commented that the psalms not only stir up the emotions, but moderate them. This is at least in part because they were written by people who were trying to understand God and his ways rather than trying to understand themselves. Because of this, many songs that Christians sing are simply the Scripture put to music. However, not all are Scripture. Many songs express the fundamental truths of the faith like the hymns of old. We sing of the amazing grace of God to save us. We are inspired at the name of Jesus. We remind ourselves that we are born into a spiritual battle and need to fight the good fight of faith until we join the angels and saints in Jerusalem.
Giving the Lord the honor
due to him
Many Christian songs are simply songs that praise, exalt, hallow, and adore the Lord. This is because most of the time that Christians spend in worship together is not mainly asking God to meet our needs. We are centered first and foremost on giving God his due, knowing that our God will supply our every need, and we shall not want. Most good Christian songs also are not expressing how we feel about the Lord (although that is important). Rather they express the objective reality of the worthiness of God to receive praise and honor. Whether these songs are the Scripture put to music, hymns of old, or the latest in the Christian worship scene, the goal is the same: to give the Lord the honor due to his name.
There are other songs which Christians sing as well. Songs which are appropriate when the Lord leads his people into a time of repentance and we ask him, change my heart, oh Lord. There are times when we do ask the Lord to meet our needs or to touch us in our emotions. However, our primary objective in worship is usually meant to be honoring the Lord as the source of truth and life and not being concerned about ourselves.
Worthy O worthy is the Lord
Worthy to be thanked and praised
And worshipped and adored.
[Mike Shaughnessy is an elder
in The Servants of the Word
and the Director of Kairos in
North America (formerly known as the Director of the North American Regional
Youth Program of The Sword of the Spirit)]