Singing the Psalms in Modern Worship (2023)

The Book of Psalms is the prayer book of the Church, the model for expressing ourselves to God in worship. However, the modern evangelical church has haphazardly used psalms in worship. Contrary to Roman Catholic tradition, which requires the use of specific psalms on specific days; or the historic Reformed Church that didn't admit any other cornerButpsalms; The modern church does not feel obliged to include psalms in the service.

Modern worship is not devoid of Psalms. Many of the earliest "Bible songs" quoted verbatim texts from Psalms. Many songs in the praise and worship genre are inspired by psalms. What Christian composer does not feel compelled to consult the Book of Psalms for artistic direction?

However, the relationship between Psalms and praise and worship is difficult. P&W derives from popular music, and there is not much precedent for lamentation, history, wisdom, or other common expressions in psalms in popular music. Also, the psalms don't rhyme, they use forms like acrostic that are foreign to pop music and certainly don't quite fit the verse/chorus/bridge patterns used in pop.

The composer of modern psalms must expand both the biblical text and the musical language so that they can meet. Of course, this applies to every musical arrangement of a psalm text: the requirements of the text are opposed to typical musical-aesthetic schemes (how many psalm arrangements are equally satisfactory for theologians and musicians?).

The recordings discussed below illustrate a wide range of approaches to composing Psalm texts to music. Only a handful of these songs successfully embrace the original psalm in a way that faithfully illuminates the words or spirit of the text. Even fewer do so in a way that can be sung by a congregation. Yet they all show a commitment to the Psalms shaping our faith. My prayer is that modern composers will redouble their efforts to translate the Psalms into modern musical language, and that today's churches will consciously express their faith in the rich words of God's prayer book.

I remember these thingsby Sojourner. Fellowship of Eternity, 2005. (

As praise and worship recordings become more sophisticated and professional, it's refreshing to find a CD that emerges from the context of a local church. This recording of the Sojourn Community in Louisville, Kentucky is a snapshot of the musical life of a worship community. The songs, many based on psalms, range from two-toned folk to blues rock to experimental world beat. All of the songs are well written and many - notably "Psalm Fifty-Seven", "Bow" and "Mourning into Dancing" - lend themselves to singing together. The inclusion of the lawsuit throughout the recording is particularly welcome. In fact, the CD begins with the words "All I feel is broken and tired to the bone. I gave up the fight and found I didn't have the strength to continue.” These honest expressions of doubt and confusion provide rich context when words of hope and confidence emerge. When the CD ends with the upbeat "Mourning into Dancing" it's no superficial joy. It is a deep-rooted, hard-won joy, much like the joy of the Psalms themselves.

Make a Joyful Noise: Psalms for a New Generationby Paul Feld. ICC Studios, 2003. (CD Info:; Artist information:

Though Paul Field has over 25 albums under his belt and his songs have been covered by a veritable who's who of pop music (Avalon, Rebecca St. James and Cliff Richard to name a few), he's hardly a household name. It's a shame because he's an exceptionally good songwriter. Aroundmake a happy noise, Field has created a beautiful collection of psalms for children. Each song distills the Psalm's message into a simple, memorable musical message that children can sing. The upbeat songs are energetic without being mundane and the ballads are sweet without being cheesy. On “Surrounded by His Love (Psalm 23),” the folk/pop musical style reinforces the psalm's comforting message; the simple "I will hide your word in my heart (Psalm 119)" can be sung before the scripture reading; "Hold On (Psalm 40)" is a childish lament; "Now and Forever (Psalm 121)" is a beautiful blessing or good night song. Fields is serious about getting people to do more than just listen to the CD - he's included PDF files of the song (vocals, piano, chords) and lyrics for overhead projection.

Psalmsby Shane Barnard and Shane Everett. Inpop Records, 2002. (

Shane and Shane are good musicians and songwriters. His talent and creativity shine through on this recording, which sits somewhere between acoustic pop and jam band. Although the CD is titledPsalms, few of the songs come close to the original text of the psalm. Most are meditations on a psalm or songs using language similar to the psalm. However, some of the songs do an admirable job of expressing the deepest emotions in the Psalms, such as sadness. This is a satisfactory recording, but generally not suitable for congregational singing.

Psalms: Yours sincerelyby Margaret Becker and David Edwards. Music Here For Him, 2004. (

Margaret Becker is a consistently strong but overlooked artist. Though known as a CCM singer, her foray into worship spawned songs like "Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer," which she co-wrote with Keith Getty. David Edwards is a lesser known worship leader but he certainly makes a significant contribution to the CD. Here they teamed up to create songs that used the "actual word-for-word text of the new Holman Christian Standard Bible Translation." As a reviewChristianity todaypointed out that this CD is not top music. However, most of the songs are very singable. Becker and Edward make it clear that they intend for this song to be sung by congregations by including PDF files of the songs on the CD. This powerful collection of songs could easily become part of a church's repertoire.

Graham Kendrick's collection of psalms.Music Makes Room, 2002. (

This collection spans Kendrick's career and exemplifies his ability to write lyrics that approximate the original Psalm and combine them with memorable, singable melodies. Lyrically, the songs resemble metrical psalms or the hymns based on Watts and Wesley's psalms. Musically, the recordings are brought to life with the help of a tight band, crackling brass and precise backing vocals. Sometimes the style of music is outdated; Because the musical style is so closely associated with the "celebration" paradigm of worship prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, it is doubtful whether these songs will regain popularity. We can expect Kendrick to revisit the Psalms and use his considerable skill to write new Psalms with music that will wear better over time.

King of Glory: Worship from the Book of Psalmsby Scott Brener. Music by Scott Brenner. (

Emking of gloryScott Brenner has created a beautiful rhapsodic tapestry from the Psalms. The elastic musical forms it uses allow to follow the ups and downs of the emotions of the lyrics. Rich melodies are supported by a tight rhythm section and tasteful electric guitar work, interwoven with soulful lines from oboe, recorder and cello. The orchestral approach and focus on the words of Scripture are reminiscent of Michael Card, but Brenner's design does a better job of enhancing the emotion of the Psalm text and shedding new light on its meaning. Little of this music is inherently collaborative, but it makes for satisfying listening.

Celtic Psalmsover the Eden Bridge. StraightWay/EMI, 1997. (

It's nice to hear music that doesn't fit into the narrow sound of the typical praise and worship genre. Although the musical style is off-the-beaten-track, the project had considerable success, even reaching the top 100 on the Christian Albums Chart. The songs are in a light Celtic folk-pop style, similar to Clannad, which goes well with the earthy, psalm-based lyrics. Ethereal vocals soar above mesmerizing torrents of instrumental harmonies and rhythms, but a strong backbone of melody and form runs through each song. While most worship bands do not include these songs in their repertoire, many would work well in a church context.

Prayer Book #1by Brian Moss, 2005. (

Moss' ambitious goal is to write songs based on all 150 Psalms. It started well with the fifteen songsPrayer Book #1(Psalms 1-15). The music is competently composed, skilfully performed and creatively recorded; it is qualitatively equal to many modern worship CDs of big labels. Moss does an excellent job of interpreting the spirit of the Psalm's original text in a modern context, both musically and lyrically. The result is a CD that truly sounds like a sung prayer. From the boundless joy of "Your Glory on Display" (Psalm 8) to the anxious prayer of "Arise, Lord" (Psalm 3), the songs are faithful to the Psalms and honest first-person expressions. Moss writes on her blog ( Some of the songs may be sung in whole or in part by the congregation, but most are more suitable as performance/listening pieces. Hopefully in future volumes byprayer book, Moss will be recording more songs for congregational singing - it would be a gift to the church!


Singing the Psalms in Modern Worship? ›

Psalms helps us express ourselves to the Lord. The book is filled with words to pray and songs to sing. It reminds us we can lament and express our grief to God. The psalms remind us to remember the God who is the beginning and end of all things, to rest in His sovereignty, and to have joy in all circumstances.

What do the Psalms teach us about worship? ›

Psalms helps us express ourselves to the Lord. The book is filled with words to pray and songs to sing. It reminds us we can lament and express our grief to God. The psalms remind us to remember the God who is the beginning and end of all things, to rest in His sovereignty, and to have joy in all circumstances.

Should the Psalms be sung? ›

When we think of the Psalms, most of us think solely of reading them. But we should also sing them, particularly in the gathering of the church. Indeed, for 3,000 years the Psalter has been the songbook of God's people. Here are 10 reasons why it's important to sing the Psalms in your church today.

What is singing the Psalms called? ›

psalmody, singing of psalms in worship.

Why do people sing psalms? ›

Psalm-singing is more than just a good idea – it is an apostolic command. In Colossians 3, Paul commands the church to let the Word of Christ dwell in them richly, “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16).


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