Q Is it really legitimate to treat some psalms as if they refer to Jesus?
A Christians have long interpreted several psalms (16, 24, 72, 110, and others) as referring to Jesus. This is very similar to Christological readings of other Messianic prophecies, such as Isaiah 7, 9, or 40.
How often do we equate an experience of God with good feelings? I regularly hear my students make this association. From time to time I ask them how God is at work in their lives. Their answers are telling: “My relationships with friends are really good” or “I did really well on my mid-term exam” or “My spring break trip was awesome!”
It’s time we held a special service of prayer for the Middle Eastern Church.
Some of you may be taken aback by this. Is there such a thing as the “Middle Eastern Church?” Is there really a Christian presence in the Middle East? And if there is, what does it look like?
"You are holding an unusual hymnal! The texts here are not grouped by theme, season of the year, or order of worship. Rather, they are presented in chronological order by text, beginning with a sampling of Old Testament psalms and continuing right up to songs written in the past few years. Paging through this book, then, is like taking a 3,000-year journey through the songs of God’s people.”
I’ve been planning and looking forward to this issue for some time. And now it’s finally in your hands! I feel a little selfish in dedicating this entire theme issue to the psalms because part of the impetus for it was my own desire to learn. Why is it that people are attracted to the psalms? What do we make of the current trend of increased psalm singing?
The following article, along with parts 2 and 3 to be published in later issues, though not typical for Reformed Worship, is well worth spending some time on. Pastors, musicians, and worship planners alike can benefit from considering the pairing of text and tune and the challenges that arise from a plethora of choices. In addition, several denominations are in the process of developing new hymnbooks for congregational song.
My quest to understand the psalms of lament began in the midst of a deep period of depression. I had spent a wonderfully rich two months in Ethiopia, recording Christian Somali music for broadcast from Ethiopia over Somalia. During my time there I received numerous “prophetic words” that doors would open for me when I returned to Canada. But within a few short months of my return I was unemployed and living in the basement of a friend’s parent’s house. My familial home had burned down and a friend of mine had committed suicide.
Imagine a piece of art that you would like to hang or install in your home. If it’s a painting, you’d want to frame it and then find the right spot in the right room for it, so that your viewing of the painting would be enriched by its placement. If it’s a sculpture, you’d want to find the spot that best honors the piece and allows you to enjoy it fully.
The biblical heading for Psalm 102 is “The prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord.” In the honest and vivid language typical of the psalms, the writer expresses a cry of pain and desolation, coupled with a poetic and, strangely, almost clinical description of the emotions, thoughts, and physical symptoms of a dying person. So how might we use this psalm in pastoral ministry and worship?
I suggest using the adaptation of Psalm 102, found on the next page, in at least two pastoral settings.
Growing up in a conservative Reformed church in the Netherlands, I sang only from the Genevan Psalter, a collection including all 150 psalms that was created hundreds of years ago under the supervision of John Calvin.
Behind this almost 500-year-old practice was the belief that singing the words of the psalms together meant we were singing the divinely inspired Word of God.
Am I really supposed to pray like this? That is the question I kept asking myself when I first started praying through the psalms. I tried to make the prayers “my own” but found that I could not. I tried to pray through the psalms in their totality—their joy, anger, praise, lament, exultation, despair, longing, and hope—but it was just too much for me. I wanted these prayers to echo through the depths of my heart. I tried praying through the psalms in a week, in a month, in three months.
Early this year I began working on an article for RW on the liturgical use of difficult psalms. Then on January 12 we received the news that an earthquake had struck the island nation of Haiti. By Sunday it was evident that the number of people killed, injured, or homeless would be measured in the hundreds of thousands. That Sunday morning I worshiped with two different congregations. The first congregation offered impassioned prayers for Haiti, but in a liturgical context that did not deviate from the plans laid out earlier in the week.
A colleague and friend once described a game she played with her children. They called it “I’ve got a song for that.” It was an opportunity to nurture in her kids a repertoire of songs for times of joy or sadness.
As our worship committee planned a service around Psalm 130, we were reminded that this is a Psalm of ascents, sung by the people of Israel as they approached the temple to worship. The psalmist begins in the depths of sin, moves to trusting in God as the One who forgives, and concludes with a communal call to trust in God. Wanting to remain true to the text, we planned our service as a journey moving from sin to trust. This momentum helped us all to acknowledge our need for a Savior and to go forward, confidently trusting in the Lord’s compassion.
Our congregation lives in a secular California suburban culture that’s enamored by and often addicted to the latest trends in fashion, décor, and home design. A thousand voices urge us to work and purchase our way to happiness. Two years ago anyone driving through our growing city might have been impressed by its carefully manicured lawns, late-model SUVs, and growing number of hybrids. Everything looked new. Everyone looked happy. On the outside everything was fine. It was as if everyone was busy refining what sociologists call “image management.”
When someone makes profession of faith at our church, after all of the important theological questions are answered, my favorite question to ask is, “What talents or abilities might you be able to share with others in our church?” The answers are what you’d expect: “I like kids, so I’d be good working in the nursery or teaching Sunday school”; “I own a business, so I think I could be a good deacon”; “I can sing, so perhaps I could join a praise team.” But never once have I heard, “I can paint” or “I can sew banner
As to public prayers, there are two kinds: the one consists of words alone; the other includes music. And this is no recent invention. For since the very beginning of the church it has been this way, as we may learn from history books. Nor does St. Paul himself speak only of prayer by word of mouth, but also of singing. And in truth, we know from experience that song has a great power and strength to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a heart more vehement and ardent.
I want to thank you for the series on the book of Job. I had been asked a few years back to preach on Job. As I am nearing the end of my time in the church here in Saskatoon, my thoughts went back to that request. Then I opened up the December issue of Reformed Worship to find this series. It was a Godsend in so many different ways! Thank you for your good words in the sermon notes. They have been helpful in shaping some of what I’ve preached on.
Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship
by Brett Scott Provance.
InterVarsity Press, 2009. 140 pages.
What is a canticle, a rubric, or chrismation? Do I need these to worship? Why do they make the language for worship so hard?
Jesus Cleanses a Leper
The sermon ends and the organist launches into the “sermon hymn.” In many congregations this is where the service begins winding down. But at Eliot Presbyterian Church in Lowell, Massachusetts, the sermon hymn signals a worship practice that people look forward to all week.
As the congregation sings, several people move forward to sit in the front pew. Others join them. Two by two, they talk quietly and then pray together—with eyes open or closed, heads bowed or not, hands folded or clasped.
For the last fifteen years LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church has welcomed children to the Lord’s table by means of a Table Fellowship liturgy.
In early 2007, Gabriel Surjana, 16, began reaching for the communion cup and the tray of bread as it was passed in worship. Before that he had shown interest, but now he was indicating in his own way that he wanted to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper like his parents, Pearl Shangkuan and Okke Surjana. So they explored with his Sunday school teachers the possibility of Gabriel professing his faith in Christ at their church, Neland Avenue Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
This column is the oldest continuing column in Reformed Worship. From the first issue (RW 1, Advent 1986, then named “Hymn of the Month”), the column guidelines set a goal that “one (or more) should be a psalm or a setting of Scripture.” That guideline has been followed more or less over the years, but in this issue, we’re happy to offer all psalm-based songs as a way of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (1509-1564).
People often ask, “How can we improve or renew our worship?” My response is that we should restore the central things and practice them robustly, using contemporary forms rooted in the practices of John Calvin, a sixteenth-century pastor and liturgical reformer. Even though Calvin is most widely known as a systematizer (Institutes, 1536-1559) and exegete (Commentaries on almost all the books of the Bible), the twenty-first century church should not ignore his leadership in liturgical renewal.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted ninety-five theses on the church door at Wittenberg—an action that helped to spark the Protestant Reformation. Protestants of various backgrounds commemorate this act on the Sunday closest to Reformation Day (October 31) each year. In fact, all believers are indebted to the Reformers’ courageous stand for the purity of the gospel over against virtually all the civil and ecclesiastical forces of their day, armed only with an unshakable confidence in God and his Word. Many were persecuted; some paid with their lives.
Q After a few years of welcoming younger children to profession of faith, our church has reverted to the older pattern where only the young people eighteen and older want to profess their faith. That seems to be when they are ready. Isn’t that OK?
A Having eighteen-year-olds make profession of faith is indeed terrific. It is far better than in many churches where youth simply drift away!
In this article Bob Langlois addresses that critical period of time before the worship service: the sound check. This can often be a frustrating time with too many leaders and not enough followers, and it can turn pretty ugly if someone doesn’t take charge. Langlois suggests that that person needs to be the sound engineer. —JB
Sometimes my three-year-old daughter wants to join me for worship instead of attending her Sunday school class. On one such Sunday, I ran down the litany of things she would not be allowed to do during worship if she stayed. I told her she wasn’t allowed to walk around, crawl on the floor, or talk; she would need to sit still and listen. Innocently she looked at me and asked, “Am I in time out, Mama?”
We asked a variety of church leaders five questions about the formative practices in their churches; this article is a digest of their responses. After reading this issue of Reformed Worship, we encourage you to engage your church council, staff, or worship committee in a similar discussion, using these same questions to guide your reflections:
In her engaging introduction to Christian spirituality, Debra Rienstra describes her experience of church during her childhood years:
Resources for Worship and Faith Formation
Worship That Changes Lives
(Baker Academic, 2008)
A collection of wide-ranging essays on the theology of worship and the arts, including essays about drama, visual arts, film, jazz music, worship in Africa, the emergent church, and more. Each essay probes how exactly worship transforms, disciples, and shapes worshipers as apprentices of Jesus.
“In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”
Even Google knows about David and Goliath. Enter “five smooth stones” and “sling” in the search box and you’ll get thousands of websites about the well-known Bible story. Many explain the story as a tale of courage, which is how you may have learned it in Sunday school.
Sermons posted online ask listeners to name their personal Goliaths: things like cheating, using drugs, or problems as giant as AIDS and poverty.
Preachers describe David’s five smooth stones as the ammunition we need to face impossible odds.
Soul shaping takes time. Some people go to church a few times hoping for a dramatic encounter with God and an entirely new life—in six weeks! That does happen occasionally. As Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases,” a metaphor he immediately applied to the Spirit (John 3:8). But instant transformation is not the typical pattern. What with our own obtuseness and tendency to suffer from bad worship and all, most of us require years of churchgoing before showing improvements.
Congregations have always been charged with forming the faith of their members. Regardless of how well your church currently handles this important task, it is helpful to learn from the best practices of others. Of course, it would be difficult and probably unwise for any single church to try to do all of the ideas presented here. We hope you’ll use them to spark discussion and creativity in your own congregation.
OK, I’ll admit it. I’m not especially fond of those plaques with large decorative words, usually in capital letters made out of wood, that command us to PRAY or BELIEVE or IMAGINE. I’m not sure why. Probably because they are so popular. Or maybe I just wish they said EAT or SKIP or SLEEP instead. Who knows!
Having said that, I’ll also admit that the design of these baptism and profession of faith mementos comes dangerously close to those wooden words. I justify their use because these are events that should be shouted out.
In early September, many churches begin a new season of church education classes and a host of other programs with a special “kick-off” worship service. Most often these services focus on a theme of dedication, and there never seems to be enough songs with words like “Take My Life and Let It Be.” While this is a strong theme, it can also focus a lot of attention on the enormous outpouring of busyness the new year promises.
This service is full of worshiper participation, including lay readers, instrumentalists, lots of congregational singing, and the opportunity for congregants to write their own prayers of thanksgiving. Each bulletin includes one or two slips of paper printed with the words “I am thankful for . . .” Worshipers are invited to complete the sentence. These slips are gathered as a second offering, organized to avoid too much duplication, and then brought to the pastor, who incorporates them into the congregational prayer.