Tag Archives: Psalms

How to Address God in Prayer

I’m continuing to read and enjoy Herman J. Selderhuis’ Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms.  In a section on “Prayer as Covenant Communication,” Selderhuis remarks that Calvin “describes the contact between both partners of the covenant as ‘familiariter,’ a term which suggests a child speaking with his father.  This contact, though, is most threatened when prayer is neglected.  The remedy for this is to regularly address God in prayer as ‘my God.’” (219)

In a footnote, Selderhuis refers to Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 5:2.  Unfortunately, the most common edition of Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms (published by Baker Book House and widely available) does not give a satisfactory translation from the Latin.  I have a .pdf of an earlier English translation (by Arthur Golding), but this page is not very legible.  So, this is my idiomatic translation from the Latin:

Furthermore, if we don’t feel like praying or our devotion to God is under swift attack, we must pay attention to these ox-goads which will prick us.  Just as the Psalmist called God “my king and my God,” and so sharply incited himself to better hope, we ought to learn to apply these titles in a similar way.  In so doing, we render God to be family with us.

Calvin makes an excellent point here.  This is exactly why the Lord Jesus taught us to address God as “Our Father.”  We should make it our habit to address God in family terms.  There is nothing wrong or sinful about calling him “Lord” (the Bible does that too, on many occasions).  But to consistently and regularly address him as your God and your Father is beautiful and serves to undergird the nature of our relationship with him.


Growing to Love the Psalms

Herman Selderhuis, in Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms, notes how Calvin grew in his love and appreciation for the Psalter:

…for Calvin the book of the Psalms assumed greater and greater significance in his theological development.  In the first edition of the Institutes (1536) the Psalter is the least-quoted biblical book, in the last edition it is quoted more than any other with the one exception of the epistle to the Romans. (16)

Is it fair to conclude that a sign of growing Christian maturity is a deeper appreciation for God’s songbook?


1565 Genevan Psalter

Google Books has a downloadable .pdf of the 1565 Genevan Psalter (h.t. Todd Rester).  A couple of interesting things at first glance:  the title of each psalm is given in Latin (everything else is in French), each psalm has an introduction, and there is also a prayer at the end of each psalm.  I’m not musical at all, but it looks like to me that there were half-notes and quarter-notes.  Finally, the collection concludes with the Ten Commandments, the Song of Simeon, a prayer before the meal and a prayer after the meal — all set to music.


Singing Psalms — Why Not the Whole Enchilada?

Frank Ezinga has another interesting post over here about the singing of Psalms. Specifically, he’s interested in tracing the history of why so many Reformed churches only sing very select parts of the psalms, rather than whole Psalms.  He believes there’s a historical reason for this and he provides a musical sample to prove his point.  If you’re familiar at all with the Genevan tunes as sung in Canadian Reformed Churches, this sample will probably be unrecognizable.

I’ve always agreed with Frank:  we ought to strive for singing whole Psalms.  I know that sometimes it’s impractical — Psalm 119 being the classic example.  My personal guideline is that if it has five stanzas or less, we normally sing the whole thing.  I don’t think that’s unreasonable.  By that guideline, with the latest revision of the Book of Praise there are some 72 Psalms that can easily be sung in their entirety.  There are quite a few more that have six or seven short stanzas that could also be sung whole.  Psalms of eight or nine stanzas can be split and the whole psalm can still be sung in the worship service, even if not all at once.

I know that if I’m sitting in church and the minister selects, say stanzas 1 and 5 of Psalm 146, I always feel cheated.  It’s only five stanzas — why not sing the whole thing?  It’s a beautiful Psalm.  Sometimes, however, even ministers get squeamish about some of the content of the Psalms.  A classic example is Psalm 95 and its last two stanzas.  The Psalm starts off encouraging praise for God and then stanza 4:

Today, would you but hear His voice:

Do not repeat your father’s choice

who stubbornly with Me contended;

at Massah’s rock and Meribah

they tested me although they saw

how they by Me had been defended.

And stanza 5:

For forty years they wearied Me,

I said, “They show no loyalty.”

Their hardened hearts resist My favour;

My ways they foolishly ignore.”

And so I in my anger swore:

“Into my rest they’ll enter never.”

I can remember attending a Psalm-sing at a Free Church of Scotland congregation some years ago.  I requested Psalm 95 (from the RPCNA Book of Psalms for Singing).  The minister presiding asked the congregation to sing it, but left off the last part because he thought it was awkward for us to sing that.  I’ve seen many CanRC ministers do that too and I’m just as guilty as anyone.  Why are we so squeamish?  We have no problem reading the whole of Psalm 95, why such a problem with singing it?  Are we afraid that someone might be offended?  Then we may just as well drop the reading of the Law.  It makes no sense.  Let’s sing whole Psalms as much as possible.


Psalm-singing, Reformed Worship and our Youth

Frank Ezinga has some helpful reflections on how we sing the psalms and how that relates to “keeping the youth.”