by Jeff Ritchie
On a visit to Pakistan a decade ago I learned that the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan had translated the Psalms into songs that could be sung in the heart language of most of the believers (Punjabi). This may have been a legacy of the early Presbyterian missionaries who were singing the metrical Psalms in their countries of origin. By putting the Psalms to music, Reformed and Presbyterian believers in Pakistan effectively internalized the “prayer book of the Bible.” I was impressed.
In another former mission field of the American Presbyterian Church, Egypt, I saw the lips of older believers moving when the scriptures were read in worship. These believers had memorized the scriptures, especially the Psalms, through constant reading and hearing of the Word of God. Again, I was impressed.
N.T. Wright in his volume, "The Case for the Psalms," encourages contemporary Christians in the Western world to re-appropriate the singing or reading of the Psalms as a basic spiritual discipline. It was the prayer book of Jesus, Wright asserts. For centuries the Psalms have been a staple of monastic spirituality. For many of our Western Reformed forebears the singing of the metrical Psalms was their primary hymnody (and still is for some). And as I have discovered from my mission travels, the Psalms are the basis for worship and praise in parts of the non-Western world to this day.
I am attracted by Wright’s “case” for the Psalms and even more by the example of brothers and sisters in the global church. The Psalms run the gamut of emotions. They help us praise and exult in God; they give us language to lament our condition or the conditions of the world around us; and they do not tie up life in a neat, ordered package. The heights and depths of life are simultaneously present, and all are known to God.
Most important, the Psalms affirm that God is sovereign over all and that he will fill the earth with his glory (Ps 57). God will one day overcome the contradictions of life. He is coming to judge the righteous and the peoples in his faithfulness (Ps. 96:13). With words of faith like these on our lips, we can “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23).
May we let God’s Word, especially the Psalms, shape our lives and participation in God’s mission in this year. May the year 2017 be a year when more of earth’s families remember and turn to the Lord and worship him to whom all dominion belongs (Ps 22:27-28).