One word: Grace


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The lost music of the Psalms

As you may know I’ve been thinking about the Psalms lately and wondering if I can track down some singable and contemporary arrangements. It is proving to be a slightly frustrating quest. As this post from In Touch ministries explains, much has been lost in the translation of the Psalms – our English versions simply cannot convey the original lyrical structures, making them difficult to craft into song. But while we must enjoy them more as poetry, the Psalms still provide encouragement for us today. God’s voice still speaks through them, and in them His Spirit works.

Lost in Translation -Though silent, the book of Psalms still resonates.

by Jamie A. Hughes

There are few things worse than sitting in a crowd of laughing people when you don’t get the joke, but that’s exactly what happened to me when I saw the play Cyrano de Bergerac performed in French. The title character is a force of nature, a brash swordsman as well as a gifted musician and poet. However, there’s something else that sets him apart—an enormous nose he describes as “a monument open to the public.” Cyrano feels no one could love him because of his appearance, so he uses his words to win friends and wound enemies. That’s why it’s important to understand exactly what he’s saying if you want to keep up. I had seen the play performed in English several times, but when I heard the rhyming dialogue flowing from the actor’s mouth like a melodic river, I realized I’d never experienced the play the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Then as now, I understand just enough French to follow a basic conversation, but the finer points of the language are lost on me.

I’ve learned that the same is true of Psalms, the prayer book of Israel and what many call the central, beating heart of the Old Testament. The word “psalm” is a derivative of the Greek term psalmos, which means “song,” but these scriptures are read like poetry today rather than sung with accompaniment. The music may be unknown, but the beautiful words retain a certain melodic quality of their own. That’s why the poet Naphtali Herz Imber says, “In [the psalms] one finds the deep heartbreaking tones of a Beethoven . . . the silent, sweet whisper of love’s longing, as well as the wild galloping hallelujahs suggestive of Wagner.”

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” wrote David in Psalm 139. “If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (vv. 7-10). We can savor these majestic, encouraging words and know our God is always near, but without the melody, can our hearts ever totally understand what “the man after God’s own heart” was trying to express (1 Sam. 13:14)? I can’t help but wonder if phrases like “ascend into heaven” and “take the wings of the morning” climbed a bright and brilliant scale that lightened the heart and lifted the eyes. I imagine Levitical choirs singing of hell and the “uttermost parts of the sea” in rumbling bass tones, a picture of bleak places painted with sound.

In another psalm, the author uses a simile to describe his yearning for the Lord’s presence: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God” (Ps. 42:1). Beautiful verse to be certain, but we can’t fully appreciate it without knowing the melodious sounds of the instrument for which it was crafted.

This is an ache words alone cannot express, but music helps articulate such an emotion effectively. How much better would we understand this prayer if we could participate with our ears as well as our eyes?

Though the psalms are exquisite, we can’t experience them in the same way the people of Israel did. But when we reach our eternal home, perhaps we’ll hear these prayers as songs for the first time and understand what Isaiah meant when he said, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (Ps. 35:5-6). In that moment, we’ll know more fully the extent of God’s goodness, beauty, and delight. And we will rejoice.

As is the case with God’s creations, there will always be more to learn about the psalms. His handiwork is breathtaking in depth and scope, and this is why a scripture mulled over one hundred times can still surprise on the one hundred and first reading. Or why a story that seems insignificant in times of jubilation is the only thing that sustains us when trouble comes. So while there’s no way of knowing exactly how the 150 musical prayers of praise, lament, wisdom, and thanksgiving should sound, we can still read and delight in them—and rejoice in what they (and we) will be one day.

All Scripture quoted is from the New King James Version. 2013 In Touch Ministries,

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Corporate worship is a serious gift!

blesss the lordBeing responsible for organising church music is a challenging task and not for the faint of heart. Yet music has a vital pastoral role in the church community. The songs we choose will either teach our people great bible truths, and build them up in the confidence of salvation in Christ – or not! Here is a great explanation of why and how our songs can effectively pastor the Body of Christ:

“Cross-centered songs affect our souls. You’ve heard the Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote about how most of our unhappiness comes from listening to ourselves more than we talk to ourselves. In light of this, corporate worship is a serious gift! Singing in corporate worship is a means of talking to yourself. This provides us an opportunity to stop listening to ourselves, to stop listening to sin, legalism, condemnation, and to begin singing and talking to ourselves. And by the end of corporate worship there is a good chance that we will experience the joy of the gospel. Not very often in our noisy world do we have such an opportunity to talk to ourselves. So what your church is saying in these moments of corporate singing is very important. And what a unique opportunity worship leaders have to transfer the hope of the gospel to people in corporate worship. And to think, you can do this each and every Sunday!”
Bob Kauflin at Worship Matters)

Don’t ever give up on the pursuit of engaging people in corporate worship – they need it! And that’s why God calls us to the task. It works for His glory, and simultaneously for our good.

It is interesting to note that this is the very thing that sustains music leaders and musicians in their work. When we practice the songs of faith, speaking them to ourselves over and over as we practice at home, and again with a team before the service – all this practice allows the words of the cross, the glory of grace, to sink in more deeply.  While some may see it as a big sacrifice to get out of bed early, or give up hours at home preparing music, this is the very thing that renews us in the Lord!

If you are not part of music leading at your church, please encourage those who are to keep working at it, and thank them for their efforts. Our musicians help us to give wise counsel to ourselves through song. This is precisely what David was doing as he penned the Psalms. Psalm 103 contains some of David’s most famous direct counsel to his own soul – and ours:

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
    who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

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Rising Sun (All Sons and Daughters)

IBR-1113189Here is another song from All Sons and Daughters. Again the lyrics have a beautiful Psalm-like quality. As you may know, I’ve embarked on a quest to find singable contemporary Psalms. Suggestions are most welcome. Enjoy!
(Scroll down for youtube link with lyrics).

Rising Sun

Praise Him all you sinners, Sing oh sing you weary
Oh praise Him all you children of God
We lift high His glory, Shown throughout our stories
We praise Him as the children of God

Our great redeemer, Glorious Savior
Your name is higher than the rising sun
Light of the morning, You shine forever
Your name is higher than the rising sun
Your name is higher than the rising sun

Praise His name forever, Speak it loud and clear now
Oh praise Him all you children of God

Our great redeemer, Glorious Savior. . .

Hallelujah, Name above all
Simply to speak Your name is praise
Hallelujah, Now and always
Forever we lift Your name in praise
Hallelujah, Our God, You reign
Simply to speak Your name is praise

Our great redeemer, Glorious Savior. . .

Hallelujah name above all
Hallelujah name above all
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Learn more about the Album Sons & Daughters Live

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all sons and daughtersImage created by Sarah Danaher with a Canon EOS 5D MkII

Advantages of playing an instrument

I’ve written before about the way musical training develops our brains and abilities, and helps us become well-rounded, highly functional human beings. (Check the links at the end of the page). Here is the opinion of one professional instrumentalist Emma Ayres, a musician and presenter of ABC Classic FM’s breakfast program. She talks about the benefits of a musical education, and how long students should stick with playing. No wonder God led humanity to discover the joy of making both instruments and music way back in Genesis 4:21!


We take for granted the advantages of sport and science and literature, but what are the advantages of learning an instrument, particularly in an orchestral setting? Here are a few, in no particular order.

A best friend for life

Your instrument will always be there for you, no matter whether you have failed maths, broken the family heirloom or been shouted at by a loved one. Your instrument never shouts at you and, if you spend enough time with it, it gives you satisfaction back ten thousand fold.

You make friends

Playing music with others is a deeply bonding experience. The process of rehearsal then performance, just as in sports training and a match, brings you friendships forged in occasional adversity, frequent fun and always beauty.

We take for granted the advantages of sport and science and literature, but what are the advantages of learning an instrument?

Knowing yourself

In learning an instrument, you can have easy and challenging times. By remembering the ease and using that memory to propel you through the difficulty, you learn about your own abilities and tendencies, loves and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses.

Something real in a virtual world

We spend so much time staring at screens and doing virtual things, it is wonderfully grounding to do something with our hands and lungs. To make music, rather than merely listen to it through headphones, is a true, tangible pleasure.

Listening to others and being listened to

To play well at any level, you need to be aware of all the other parts in the music, to recognise who is more important in different sections and when to take the lead. In an orchestra, being listened to and supported is one of the great joys, because you then reciprocate. An orchestra is one great big love-in.


You don’t always want to practise. But if you stuff up a part and that in turn stuffs it up for somebody else in the band, you feel terrible. So you practise and eventually that self-discipline rubs onto other areas of your life (well, most of the time…).


Sometimes words simply cannot express our emotions. You know how wonderfully transformative music can be to listen to; multiply that by a lot to know how transformative expressing yourself through playing music can be.

Being part of something greater than yourself

An orchestra is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Playing on one’s own has great benefits, but playing in an orchestra and together building a piece of art that is astoundingly complex is awe-inspiring. To be part of that must be one of the great pleasures of being human.


In my life as a musician I have travelled all over Europe, Asia, the US and now to Australia. As a musician you speak the universal language and graduates of the AYO play in orchestras all over the world.

A proud tradition

Many of the players here in Australia will be studying with musicians who can trace their musical heritage back to Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. To be part of that tradition, and to bring new music to life as well, is goose bump-inducingly splendid.

People applaud you

And finally, but by no means least, you get applauded for a day’s work. All those years of staying in to practise whilst your friends play outside, all those lessons and exams and scales and studies – yet when you walk out on stage and bring calm and wordless reason to people’s lives, you know it has been, and always will be, worth it.

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God’s Word leads us in prayer

prayer2Sometimes we can feel like our prayers are going unanswered, or that our feeble efforts to be consistent and persistent in prayer mean God probably doesn’t even want to answer! But God is not like us. He is compassionate and gracious. His grace is new every morning.

“Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:2)

If you need help to get praying again there are plenty of books to read on the topic. There is also journalling, prayer partners and other methods to try. But today I’d like to suggest a few simple points (courtesy of John Piper) to remind you that the greatest help for the practice of prayer is probably God’s Word itself. Consider the following reasons why:

  1. Much of the Bible is prayer (most of the Psalms especially).
  2. The Bible is full of commands and encouragements for us to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  3. We are told to pray according to the will of God (1 John 5:14 ), and the Bible is the revealed will of God.
  4. The Word of God cannot be truly desired (Psalm 119:36) or spiritually comprehended (Psalm 119:18) or savingly spoken (2 Thessalonians 3:1) without the work of the Holy Spirit, whom we ask for by prayer.
  5. Being saturated with the Word of God produces an effective prayer life: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you , ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).

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Great are You, Lord (All Sons and Daughters)

Written by: Jason Ingram, Leslie Jordan, David Leonard (All Sons & Daughters)all sons and daughters

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

All the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing
Great are You, Lord

© 2013 Integrity’s Praise! Music/BMI & Integrity’s Alleluia! Music/SESAC (both adm at & Sony/ATV Timber Publishing/West Main Music/Winsor Hill Music/SESAC

You can find the lead sheet for this song on CCLI. (Hope to try it at church! It has a very Psalm-like quality!) Find out more about the album All Sons & Daughters Live. You may also like their song Come to Save us which could be great for a Christmas special.

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The Bible’s Songbook

I’vpsalmiste been thinking lately about the way many churches (including mine) have let the practice of Psalm-singing slip away. I also wonder why. Why do we neglect singing from the Bible’s songbook together? Surely there is much to be gained by singing directly from God’s word, especially when it is written in the form of song. So I’ve decided to embark on an epic journey to find some great arrangements of Psalms with a more with contemporary style. (I would LOVE to hear your suggestions! Please comment if you know some.) In the meantime, consider some of these thoughts on the Psalms from MERE INKLING’s robstroud:

 . .  . the Psalms are the foundation and epitome of worship music for Jews and Christians alike. One could read a Psalm each day and since there are one hundred and fifty, when you returned to the first psalm five months after beginning, it would be utterly fresh. C.S. Lewis enjoyed the Psalms. The following passage comes from a letter written in 1940.

“My enjoyment of the Psalms has been greatly increased lately. The point has been made before, but let me make it again: what an admirable thing it is in the divine economy that the sacred literature of the world should have been entrusted to a people whose poetry, depending largely on parallelism, should remain poetry in any language you translate it into. And glorious poetry it is. The beauty of the songs extends far beyond the family “Lord is my shepherd . . .” And yet, it would be impossible to comprehend the number of grieving souls that have been comforted with the words “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Most Christian traditions greatly value the Psalms, and many include them as a portion of the regular service or liturgy. And individuals who include them in the personal devotions are never disappointed. C.S. Lewis included them in his prayer and devotion. In fact, he enjoyed the Psalms so much that in 1958 he wrote a book entitled Reflections on the Psalms. There he proclaims, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance.”

The Church has added an immense repertoire to the Psalms during the past two millennia, but they will never be replaced. In fact, many inspired songs owe a major debt to the Psalms themselves. This includes the Odes of Solomon, the first (post-Psalms) Christian hymnal (composed circa 100 A.D.). Speaking of the Odes, I wrote a thesis on them many years ago, and have been considering writing a book about these treasures. Perhaps I’ll share more about them in the future. (Nb. The lovely window pictured above is from a church in Fringford, England. David was likely a bit younger when most of the psalms he composed were written.)

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‘Humility’ + ‘musician’ = Great combination

IMAG2157-1I had the privilege of being asked to organise a team of 7 musicians, most of whom I did not know, for a friend’s wedding on the weekend just gone. We had just one practice before the day, yet I am pleased to say the result was pretty great! (Out of interest, the songs we led were “Beautiful Saviour” (Stuart Townend), “This Life I Live” (Michael Morrow, EMU) and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”).
But why should I be surprised that it worked well? The team was comprised of committed Christians who have learnt to balance their musical zeal with a great deal of humility and selflessness. So when it came to figuring out how to work together as a team, and how to best arrange the music, we were on the same page.
It’s like when you meet Christians from another place for the first time and have an instant affinity, an easy friendship. This comes because we have a dad in common, our heavenly Father! We are united in Christ and share a family resemblance in our attitudes. When there is a servant heart, a willingness to (musically) do less, to be restrained and to wait on each other, there is much unity and it can lead to a beautiful harmony.
This is certainly the challenge for all Christian musicians: to move from pride, insisting on our own way and seeking our glory, to an attitude of humble servant-heartedness. It is worth reminding ourselves of this every time we turn up for music practice at church.

Nb.  In the process of working with this team I happened to meet a fellow blogger who opened with the question “You’re Seven Notes of Grace aren’t you?” (he was married to one of the musicians). Small world! (I felt famous!) I hadn’t even realised he lived in the same city. You might like to visit some of his reviews over at Eternitainment: “Eternitainment seeks to bring this Christian worldview and the beliefs of modern entertainment together for a heart-to-heart chat, to hear what each is saying. Eternitainment invites you to listen in and join the conversation.” 

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Made Alive (Citizens)

CitizensThis is one of those groovy tunes with a cool piano riff that will really get stuck in your head. It comes from the folks at Mars Hill Music, the group “Citizens” on their recent self-titled album. It became hugely popular at a recent youth camp of 150 teenagers here in south-east QLD. Isn’t it great that they are singing scriptures to a tune that will play over in their minds: Colossians 2:13, Ephesians 2:1, Romans 6:11, Romans 5:19, Romans 3:20-21, Ephesians 2:8-9, John 8:12, John 9:5 and  John 3:19.
“Made Alive presents bold Scriptural truth without apology. We are by nature objects of wrath, dead in sin, alone and hopeless. God reached us in his love and kindness and made us alive in Christ. Believers are never the same. There are some nice contrasts are in the lyrics as well — light vs. darkness, death vs. life, wrath vs. mercy, etc. This new song correctly uses Law & Gospel and makes you want to sing.” (Bread for Beggars)

Made Alive

I once was dead in sin, Alone and hopeless,
A child of wrath I walked Condemned in darkness,
But your mercy brought new life And in your love and kindness,
Raised me up with Christ and made me righteous.

You have bought me back with the riches of,
Your amazing grace and relentless love.
I’m made alive forever, with you, life forever
By your grace I’m saved, By your grace I’m saved.

Lord, you are the light, that broke the darkness.
You satisfy my soul, When I am heartless.
If ever I forget My true identity,
Show me who I am, And help me to believe.

My sin has been erased, I’ll never be the same.
My sin has been erased, I’ll never be the same.


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