“I always compare this Psalm to a lark,” Charles Spurgeon wrote about Psalm 23, “It begins on the ground among the sheep, but it goes up till you may hear its blessed notes echoing among the stars.”
What are the Psalms if not blessed notes that sing of a limitless God who is more glorious than the brightest star? The Psalms make me worship. They move other believers to worship too, such as the musicians who have written the numerous songs I sing at church, whose lyrics originated in the Psalms.
“Forever,” written by Chris Tomlin, quotes Psalm 136, which says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. For his steadfast love endures forever” (v.1)
“As the Deer,” written by Martin Nystrom, is lifted directly from Psalm 42:1, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”
“10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord),” written by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin, points to Psalm 103:1, which says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!”
Finally, “The Lord is My Shepherd,” written by Jeremy Riddle, is a return to the beloved Davidic Psalm that Charles Spurgeon eloquently summarized. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).
Just like the Psalms inspired these musicians’ lyrics and worship through song, so the Psalms provide a robust foundation for our worship. Here are three ways they direct our worship.
Three Ways the Psalms Direct Our Worship:
1. They give voice to our cries in prayer.
In a recent article for RELEVANT, pastor Cole Hartin spoke of how the Psalms helped voice his experience.
Everything changed for me when I started to pray the Psalms. They gave voice to the whole range of my experience and put words to nascent feelings I didn’t know I had. They taught me what it meant to be human and in relationship with a loving, intimate, mysterious God.
I wholeheartedly agree with Hartin. The Psalms capture the entirety of the human experience. They were penned by people who know the glorious joys and heartbreaking sorrows of life.
King David, who praised God for being his mighty shepherd in Psalm 23, cried out to the Almighty in anguish for forgiveness in Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (v. 1). In Psalm 22, one psalm prior to his description of God as a kind shepherd who protects, David spoke of abandonment: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning” (v.1)?
David, a man after the heart of God, went before God with all the emotions that welled up inside of him. What emotions are lodged in your spirit these days?
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Everything on our hearts can and should be brought before the Lord. For Psalm 62 says, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him” (v.8).
As professor Mark Talbot of Wheaton College makes clear, “The psalmists…model transparency, expressing their complaints to God as frankly as they can.” But Dr. Talbot also reminds us that, “The psalmists never complain about God; they always complain to him”(Desiring God). We, like David, must navigate the various seasons of life.
So, go to God with the full spectrum of your emotions. He desires to listen to us and assures us that he indeed cares for us. For, “God is a refuge for us” (v.8).
The Psalms serve as prayers when we don’t know what to pray. In fact, when we are at a loss for a prayer, this may be an ideal time—in a world full of perpetual noise—to heed the words of Psalm 46:10. Be still. Be quiet. Be settled. And let God speak through the Holy Spirit as you read his Word in Psalms!
2. They reveal the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Psalms make me worship because they, like the other 65 books of the Bible, ultimately reveal the only One worthy of worship.
Jesus, the Son of God who dwelt among us and died for our sins on the cross, echoed David’s words in fulfillment of Psalm 22 as he drew closer to breathing his last. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v.1). Jesus experienced dejection in his final moments on earth, but he committed his spirit into God’s hands (Psalm 31:5). He knew that he would not be abandoned or see corruption (Psalm 16:10).
As the Psalms note the death of Christ, so they showcase his glorious resurrection from the grave. David writes, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (16:11). Verses like this one give us reason to pause and worship the Lord for interceding for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12).
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The Psalms stir our worship because they reveal Jesus. These Old Testament songs are revealing the New Testament Messiah.
Consider Psalm 2:7-8, which says, “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” This passage declares that Jesus, the only begotten Son of God (John 1:14), has been given all things by his Father.
How should we respond? Matthew Henry writes, “If God hath said unto him, ‘Thou art my son,’ it becomes each of us to say to him, ‘Thou art my Lord, my sovereign.’”
We worship him as Lord.
3. They stir our praise for God.
I’ve grown fond of reading Psalms daily. To illustrate, I read the first Psalm on the first day of the month, the second Psalm on the second day, and so forth. Any book of the Bible can be reread from day to day, but the Psalms are convenient short prayers that are easily committed to memory.
In my experience, many followers of Christ have a favorite psalm, or favorite verse from Psalms. Number 23 is certainly beloved, as is number one. What’s yours? As a runner who loves the outdoors, I’ve developed a fondness for Psalm 121:1, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” It’s a short verse that reorients my focus towards God as I run.
What verse or Psalm from this book will you commit to memory today to fuel your praise for God?
In summary, I wonder if the final psalm, Psalm 150, is the culmination of the 149 psalms preceding it. This psalm overflows with praise, underscored by the jubilation of those who put their trust in our grand and good G od. Though it’s a relatively short song at six verses, the call to worship could not be more direct:
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! (v.6)
In response, I encourage you to revisit Psalm 100 and listen to “Shout to the Lord” by Darlene Zschech.