Friday, October 13, 2006

IBC Session 2: David Barker "Worship in the Psalms"

Bono said, “To kiss the heavens, you have to learn to kneel…”

This presentation is a summary of a couple of decades of thought. Petersons says, “Worship must come under the criticism and control of the revelation on which the Church is founded.

For several decades worship has been the divisive mantra of the church. People have been trying to find “meaningful worship.” The theologian of the community must guide public worship. Pastor dons the mantle of priest, prophet and sage in the New Covenant context. Too often we have passed off this responsibility to musicians who may or may not be theologically informed.

Col 3:15

The reference to “Songs” at least included the OT Psalter. New Covenant church worship needs the Psalms for it brings order to the chaos and trouble in our churches.

Who is God?

Who are the worshipers?

A Whisper of caution in our worship.

Some preliminary suggestions.

1. Who is God in the Psalms?

God is King – this is the clearest picture of God in the Psalms. Other metaphors include, shepherd, judge, warrior, lord – all the royal functions of ancient Near Eastern kings. YHWH’s kingship pervades the Psalter. At the literary centre of the book, 7 Psalms (enthronement Psalms) all point to YHWH as King. This is a providential and deliberate design on the book (93-99). Further, 7 are there – a number of totality and completion. This is followed by the doxology of Psalm 100 – enter His royal gates and courts with thanksgiving and praise.

Worship, therefore, is entering the throne room of God. We approach the “throne of grace…” When we engage in worship, we learn who we are, where we are and who God is as we open the Psalms.

2. How do we respond?

The Psalms are a unique Biblical genre. The Psalms speak for us, whereas most of the Scriptures speak to us. This does not lessen the authority or the inspiration of the Psalms. The Psalms are answering God (Peterson). They give us our words when entering the throne room. It gives the church a common form of prayer.

3. What are the voices in the book of Psalms?

We often fail by spending too much time on our awe and wonder of God. Complaint, praise, petition all are spoken in Psalms. Brueggemann’s model is that of orientation-disorientation-re-orientation sequence.

a) The voice of Orientation

Hymns of praise form the core of this grouping. Doxology, praise – these are the response of a well-ordered world. (33:1; 113). There is no tension to resolve according to Brueggemann! But praise to God places us totally outside of ourselves. We dismiss other gods as nothing. We evangelize when we doxologize. The praise of God brings order out of chaos in creation. Praise must correspond to praxis, so there is an ethical dimension to this.

Praise is an act of audacity and implicit trust; we address the Creator and we abandon ourselves to His way.

It is doubtful when we gather to worship that we are orientated correctly.

b) The voice of disorientation

The lament songs, form the largest category of the Psalms! In my own life, the lament songs became real to me while my life lay in a coma and near death. Most heard voice of the Psalmist is not the voice of praise, but the voice of lament. These voices are real. “How long…?” The words of lament would certainly catch people’s attention.

In our worship, we need to be truthful about our lives and sufferings. We need to bring the voice of lament into public worship. These lament Psalms were not meant for some kind of private piety. Why don’t we sing them now?

These Psalams are religious: not in the polite sense, but in the real sense. They lament, but they are not Psalms of resignation! They end with a vow to praise, a confidence in worship of God. These are authentic voices – they make us uncomfortable. As Baptists who have abandoned liturgy, what do we do with Psalm 88:18? But the reality is we gather as disoriented people, who need to express this to God. These are living realities.

c) The voice of re-orientation.

Christians have hope! Primarily these are thanksgiving songs. (105, 106) Songs of trust, the celebration of YHWH as king, royal Psalms, wisdom Psalms, etc. These Psalms are less declarative of God and more descriptive.

These Psalms take us into disorientation, then bring us out. They articulate the most critical voice of worship for the church.

Our worship leaders assume we are ready to worship – while we are not! All of life needs to be brought into the throne room in all of its facets.

4. Entering the throne room with courage and care.

Do we come with impunity or petulance? We need to recall Psalms 1 and 2 – they are the gateposts to get into the Psalter. All of the Psalms except these two have an introduction. “Blessed” starts Psalm 1 and ends Psalm 2.

Psalm 1 brings us to attention, and Psalm 2 calls us to adoration of the “anointed one.” This is not to dull the impact of passion and pathos in worship (see Psalms 3-7 which are all lament Psalms). We come boldly to God by bringing all of life into the presence of God.

5. Concluding with a new tehilllim (ending).

The Psalter has 5 endings or five doxologies. The final expression of Torah is always hallelujah!

6. Some suggested responses

a) Bring the Psalms back into the worship life of the community of faith. Not lines, phrases and ideas that are there, but all the words as they are. We need new music to get these ageless voices of the Psalms into the church in new and fresh ways.

b) Lets come to a new and better understanding of what it is to bring all of life into the worship of God. That ACTS prayer formula is not sufficient. Read those lament Psalms with the passion with which they were meant to be read.

c) Understand that the task of worship is to bring a new orientation – a reorientation! People are saying, “Give us some hope.” So we need to begin where they are.


Bonhoeffer said: “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”

Lets revel in the unsuspected power that comes when we speak to one another in PSALMS.


1. The Scottish Psalter – do we need it? How do you pray or sing imprecatory songs?

The Psalter is a stylistic thing – use it if you your people are good with it. “New song” means that it reaches the community. Maybe drums or Bono are needed?

Imprecatory Psalms: the most difficult part of the discussion. Calling for curse is rooted deeply in the Abrahamic covenant. This is the foundation of the discussion. While it was the voice of the people to sing these songs, but it was often the anointed king or priest of God that sang the imprecatory Psalms. As far as we embrace the Abrahamic covenant we can embrace these Psalms. We can sing these against those who are arrayed against God… but understanding the move into the New Covenant.

2. The difference between expressing lament, then accusing God.

We need to be very careful of using the Psalms our final statements of theology. Psalms are full of metaphor, hyperbole, etc. Words like “abandon, forsake” etc – this is the stock and trade of lyric. These words are not intended to be calculated systematic declarations.

3. There is a distinction between Israel and the church. Israel was a mixed multitude, but the church is made up of Christians alone.

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