The Psalms are sometimes referred to as the Worship Manual for the Church. The apostle Paul makes clear in his letters to the church in Ephesus and Colossae that Christ’s church is expected to incorporate the Psalms in its life together in the Spirit:
“And do not get drunk with wine for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;” Ephesians 5:18, 19
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalmsand hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16
So with that in mind, let’s dive in and see how the Psalms can help us be the church/people He has called us to be.
The first reference to singing in the Psalms appears in Psalm 5:11, “But let all who take refuge in You be glad, Let them ever sing for joy; And may You shelter them, That those who love Your name may exult in You. “ According to this Psalm of David every believer who takes refuge in God should first be glad; and then second should ever sing for joy. Singing for joy should be an integral part of his or her lifestyle. Singing (to God) is a natural response to knowing God and experiencing His protection and blessing and favor (see vs. 12).
So 5:11 was the first exhortation or command to all believers to sing to God.
Psalm 7:17 is the first Psalm of David wherein we see him vow to sing to the Lord, “I will give thanks to the Lord according to His righteousness And will sing praise to the name of the Lord most High.” In David’s heart and mind, singing praises to the Lord is not an option. It is a spiritual discipline that he has resolved in his heart to regularly practice.
This inner vow to sing to the Lord can also be seen in Psalm 9:2 where David says, “I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” When is the last time you have resolved in your heart to do this as a way of life no matter what?
Later in this Psalm David again commands the people of God, “Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion; Declare among the peoples His deeds.” Psalm 9:11
Sometimes we get the sense that David sings to the Lord just because He is the Lord. But in Psalm 13:6 he gives one of many reasons for why he vows to sing to the Lord, “I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” Again the natural reasonable response for a believer who has been saved from his sins and who has been adopted into Christ’s family, and who has been given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3), etc., is to sing praises to the Lord. God has dealt wonderfully bountifully with each of His kids. One of the ways we should show our appreciation is by singing to Him.
Now we come to one of a number of the Psalms, which King David identified as a song, and which was purposed for the “choir director” to use for corporate worship, “For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this song…” Psalm 18:1 Later in this Psalm David says it is because of God’s many deliverances from his enemies that he will sing to the Lord, “ He delivers me from my enemies….Therefore I …..will sing praises to Your name.” vs. 48, 49.
Some of David’s Psalms are songs; some are prayers. Psalm 20 is a prayer, but meant to be used by the choir director as seen from the intro comments. It is a prayer for God’s great and varied blessing and favor to be poured out on believers. And in vs. 5 David declares that when that blessing is experienced and observed by those who prayed, the proper response is singing, “We will sing for joy over your victory…”.
In Psalm 21, also purposed for the choir director, David vows that, “We will sing and praise Your power.” (vs. 13). God’s power is often declared in the Psalms and since this among many other things sets Him apart as God – we should praise Him in song for it. Do you realize that one of the ways God has designed for His people (even for those who aren’t yet His people) to learn about His attributes is by gathering with God’s people and singing songs that speak of them? Isn’t that was Paul was stating when he wrote, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”? (Col. 3:16). So if I choose not to gather with God’s people to (among other things) sing God’s praises, am I not both depriving myself of needed truth through the teaching and admonition that comes from corporate singing to God, and depriving my brothers and sisters of the same?
OK. Too close and personal. Let’s move on.
Psalm 22 is a Psalm of David and yet it is also at the same time a Psalm of our suffering Messiah. Indeed it starts off with these familiar words of our Savior while hanging on the cross, "My God, my God, why have Your forsaken Me?" And throughout are other words that He easily could have uttered or thoughts that He could have thought. So when we get to vs. 3, is this Jesus speaking or is this King David? I guess because King David's words are inspired scripture, it doesn't really matter. It reads, "Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praise of Israel."This could also be translated "....O You who inhabit the praises of Israel." Somehow when the people of Israel gathered to sing praises to our God, and somehow when God's people today gather to sing His praises, His glory and majesty is seen and His voice is heard in ways that just don't happen elsewhere. He has a special delight in His people when they gather to sing His praises, and both He and we are affected in unique ways when that happens.
Out of great appreciation for God’s protection of King David from his enemies as is seen in Psalm 27:5, David responds in vs. 6 by vowing, “And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy, I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.” Singing praises to the Lord, which in this instance seems more personal than corporate, is the natural and appropriate response to experiencing God’s protection from our human enemies and the chief enemy of our soul – Satan and his demons. Psalm 28:7 is in a very similar vein.
Psalm 30 is introduced as a “song at the Dedication of the House” by King David. In the first part of verse 1 he speaks of his personal response to the Lord for His protection from his enemies as is spelled out in vs. 1b-3. Then in vs. 4 he commands all believers to, “Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones, And give thanks to His holy name.” The reason why we should do this is in vs. 5, “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
We who have “believed on the Lord Jesus Christ” and been born again by the Spirit of God, and thus whose names are written in the book of life, and thus who have been saved from His wrath and from condemnation, are clothed with His grace and favor. And the proper and rational response to such blessing is to “Sing praise to the Lord, And give thanks to His name.”
At the end of the Psalm David tells the Lord, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,” (vs. 11); and he then says something very interesting, “That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent….” Is he not saying that God does these wonderful things for us in order that or so that we might sing His praises? Our God folks is very invested in our singing praises to Him. It pleases Him greatly, and it releases His activity in ways that we will see more clearly as we go on in the scriptures. God wants and expects us to respond to His goodness by singing His praises.
Psalm 33 is a corporate call to worship in song. It begins with a command, followed by a truth we need to know. “Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright.” (vs. 1). Praise in song and with instruments as the following verses will show is what upright or godly believers do. It is what sets us apart. It is part of our “aroma” and “fragrance of Christ” (II Cor. 2:14,15). While the world gathers to scorn and scoff and criticize and frolic, we gather to sing praises to the living God. This practice is part of what makes us a believer and makes us contagious!
The call to worship continues in vs. 2, 3, “Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.” Please note we are to sing “to Him”, not just about Him. One of the many things I have grown to appreciate about the contemporary worship movement in the last few decades is how they have sought to write more songs to Him, and not just about Him. Songs should be a vehicle for us to express our devotion to Him, and our affection for Him.
The reason we should sing and praise and give thanks and play instruments to Him is, “For the word of the Lord is upright, And all His work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.” (vs. 4,5).
Psalm 40 starts off with King David speaking of how he had sought the Lord (vs. 1), and how the Lord answered and delivered him (vs.2). Then in vs. 3 he says (as part of God’s answer and deliverance), “He put a new song in my mouth a song of praise to our God; ….. God, knowing the power of songs of praise to Him from His people, gives new songs so that we have yet another arrow in our quiver. Never tire of all the new songs coming out these days. God is probably the author of many of them.
I don’t want to read too much into a passage, but in Psalm 42:8, the Psalmist states, “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, A prayer to the God of my life.” Is the Psalmist by calling the song “His song” emphasizing that it came from God? That God was its ultimate author?
Speaking of new songs, I would point out that Psalms 45, 46 & 48 are identified as “Songs” of the sons of Korah.
Tucked in between those Psalms is a missionary Psalm of sorts. Psalm 47 is a call to all the nations to worship the one true King. And one of the reasons all believers should invest time, prayers, $$, etc., in completing the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19, 20) is because God wants and expects and deserves worshippers from every tribe, tongue people and nation (see Revelation 5:9).
The Psalm begins with a command to all the peoples of the earth, “O clap your hands, all peoples; Shout to God with the voice of joy.” Then the reason all the peoples should do this is given in vs. 2-4, “For the Lord Most High is to be feared,…” This pattern of commands (mostly to sing) (vs. 6,7) followed by reasons why we should do so continues through the Psalm. The primary reason for this call to worship with shouting and singing is that our God is a great King over all the earth (vs. 2, 6, 7, 8, 9). He “reigns over the nations” (vs. 8) whether they acknowledge it or not. And one of the ways the nations can discover this is by observing the people of God among the nations worshipping Him as such and experiencing His presence in their midst.
In Psalm 51 we find King David crying out to God with great passion and persistence for forgiveness, mercy and cleansing. His sin against Bathsheba and her husband as well against His God and his family and the people of Israel was great, as were the consequences. Thus in vs. 14, he cries, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.” One of the reasons we should joyfully sing to our God is because of the greatness of His many deliverances to us from the full consequences of our sins. Yes there are consequences for every sin. But by God’s mercy we don’t experience full rejection from Him; and by His mercy we can even be restored to our families and our congregations. This is worth singing about!!
In Psalm 57 we see one of David’s great attributes where he declares, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!” (vs. 7). Singing praises to God should not depend on our circumstances or how we feel. He is worthy of it always and David knew that and practiced that. In vs. 9 he vows, “I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to You among the nations.” And then he gives his reason in vs. 10, “For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens And Your truth to the clouds.”
David never got over God’s lovingkindness towards him. Surely it inspired many of his songs and times of worship. We see this in Psalm 59:16, 17 “But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, For You have been my stronghold And a refuge in the day of my distress. O my strength, I will sing praises to You; For God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.”