There has been much conversation lately about including the Psalms in worship to a greater extent. The Word of God can be such a powerful part of our worship experience, yet many times, we choose to sing the words of men. Those songs definitely have value as well, but the Psalms are becoming more and more prominent in discussions about what we should include in our times of worship. So I wanted to post the topic along with some examples to encourage discussion here. I’d love to hear from you about how we can integrate the Psalms into our worship services.
Option and Example 1: Keeping the Exact Wording
Some issues with trying to keep the exact wording of the psalm are that Hebrew poetry is much different than English poetry, and some of that poetry is lost in translation. More difficult for us is that the Psalms don’t fit into a modern songwriting structure. There is not a repeated chorus; instead, there are written straight through. Sometimes they have a refrain (a repeated line), such as Psalm 136’s “for his steadfast love endures forever.” But for the most part, psalms do not fit our familiar song structures.
So, option 1 is to keep the exact wording the same. Don’t add anything. Keep it in order. Then write music to fit it. Some of the music might come back around similar to a repeated verse, but because we are sticking to the text, the rhythm will most often not be the same.
A beautiful example of this is Psalm 23 by The Corner Room.
Option and Example 2: Keep the Words, but Restructure
Another option is to choose a piece of the psalm to use as a chorus or at least as a repeated section. A great example of this format is Psalm 145 by Shane and Shane. If you actually follow along with the scriptural text, you’ll find that the Shanes’ song actually jumps around a lot, and then repeats some things that aren’t repeated in the text. But they kept the lines of the text intact and more importantly, didn’t add anything. And the song works as a different kind of song than the straight through approach of Psalm 23. The repeated sections allow for greater memorability.
Option and Example 3: Add a chorus
I have really enjoyed the story and music of Wendell Kimbrough. Wendell leads worship at a church and each week he brings a new setting of a psalm to his congregation. He studies the psalm during the week and writes a chorus that he feels expresses the main theme of the psalm. Then in the service, he has people read the psalm (like the verses of a song) with his thematic chorus in between. Then he take the songs that his congregation really connects with and works them into full songs using more of the text of the psalm itself. “I’ll Not Be Shaken” takes the chorus from verses 6–8 of Psalm 62, the first verse reaches back to verses 1–2, and the second verse digs into verses 9–10.
I’m sure there are many other approaches that would very successfully bring the Psalms into our worship times. I would love to hear about any other ideas you have, any examples you know of, or different experiences you have had. Thanks.
Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness.