Singing the Psalms

GBC has held three Reformation Concerts since 2014. That year, the first concert focused on “The Five Solas” of the Reformation, while the second, two years later, “Tell Me The Story Of Jesus”, focused on the Bible’s storyline from Genesis to Revelation. This year, close to 800 people in total attended the third concert, “Psalms: Grace That Sings”, in our new sanctuary on the 27th Oct and the preview a week before. But what do the Psalms have to do with the Reformation?

 

The Reformation and congregational singing

Step into a church service today and chances are, there will be singing sometime in the service. But modern worship seems to have forgotten the central role of the Psalms for the Christian life. It was, after all, the hymnbook of Jesus and His apostles. The Reformation helped us recover that.

Prior to the Reformation, liturgical singing was the responsibility of professional singers and choirs. But when the Reformation came around, congregational singing was transformed as  God’s people gained access to the Scriptures in their own heart languages. The Reformers instinctively turned to the Psalms for their material, and they saw congregational singing of the Psalms as a way to teach worshippers truths, and to deepen their understanding of the gospel.

The Psalms are part of God’s inspired Word, and the Reformers rightly pointed to it as the core content of Christian prayer and singing. GBC’s Reformation Concert was designed to remind us of this tradition of singing and reading the Psalms congregationally, which the Reformation recovered. Its riches and depths prove to be relevant and important for us today.

 

Reformation Concert: Grace that Sings

The concert began with a prayer using the words and music of the hymn “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God”. This was the prayer of all the participants that God the Holy Spirit would go before us and make Christ’s presence felt that evening. The rest of the concert was split into 8 categories, based on the different categories of psalms and themes, with songs based on individual psalms from those categories:

  • Godward Psalms: Hymns to the Almighty
  • Messianic Psalms: King Jesus is Coming
  • Imprecatory Psalms: The Heart's Godward Cry
  • Psalms of Personal Worship: I Seek You, Lord
  • Psalms of Lament: Confessing Sin, Waiting on God
  • Psalms of Thanksgiving: Counting Blessings
  • Lyric Psalms: Prayers of Trust And Devotion
  • Covenant Psalms: Helping God's People Trust  Psalms of Hope: Singing Future Grace

The God-ward, Christ-centred start of the concert helped us to focus on God’s character as the Almighty God, worthy of our praise and worship. Before we engage our emotions -- joy, lament, despair -- we should focus on God first. The next section of psalms dealt with the heart of the Christian in response to a holy God. We recognise our sinful state as Man before a holy God, that He is the Creator and that we are His creatures. The heart’s expression in imprecatory prayer, personal worship, confession of sin and thanksgiving help us to turn to God in all of our circumstances. The concert ended with the corporate expressions of lyric and covenant psalms, looking to God and trusting Him for the future and the promised return of our Messianic King.

The concert also included videos that told the stories of hymn writers who engaged deeply with the Psalms in their writing:

  • English hymnwriter Isaac Watts wrote “O God our Help in Ages Past” based on Psalm 90, the psalm of Moses. The hymn (and the psalm) speaks of the God who helps, and has even by sung by great world leaders, as an acknowledgement of the need for God’s help.
  • Baptist hymnwriter Anne Steele’s hymn “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” echoes Psalm 27. Her lyrics reveal her struggles battling illnesses, heartbreak and disappointment, and yet how she testified to God’s grace in her grief.
  • Psalm 130 speaks of the sinner’s pardon, and the German reformer Martin Luther who sparked the Protestant Reformation, paraphrased the psalm in an early hymn he wrote. He wrote of the depths of his sin, but also the abundant grace in Christ.
  • Fanny Crosby has gifted the church with many wonderful hymns. Though she was blind, Fanny’s keen spiritual sight and clear faith shone through in the hymn “In the Shadow of the Highest”. The hymn adapts lines from Psalm 91.
  • Turning to local and regional works, the concert also featured pieces by GBC’s church members and a Southeast Asian composer from the Singapore Bible College based on Psalms 97 and 116 respectively. We are reminded that we join Christians not only through the ages, but also presently, all over the world to praise God and sing of His goodness and love.

 

Continuing to sing of God’s grace

This concert taught us how to die to ourselves, and work together as one entity. We had the opportunity to practically love and serve others. Many in the choir were not musically trained, but it was a joy to see more adept members helping the others to improve and make music together. One concert audience remarked that it was a beautiful picture of the church in action, working as one.

Young and old, long-time and new members came together to make the concert a success. The children also participated in the concert by singing 2 items from Psalm 139. Entire families even participated together, which was a real encouragement to see! What better way to commemorate the legacy of the Reformation by being the church together, and reforming our habits to bring God praise?

Indeed, we will continue to share stories and reflections about what God has been doing in our participants in successive posts, so watch this space! In the meantime, you can watch the concert here: