I had the privilege of leading music at a women’s conference in Brisbane last month, a conference called “Dazzled by Grace”. The speaker was Kathleen Nielson, head of women’s initiatives at the Gospel Coalition (USA). Her focus across three talks was how to read the Psalms in a way that allows us to drink deeply the beauty, poetry and truth they contain.
First she spent some time defining the Psalms, as:
*The beating heart at centre of God’s Word.
*The heart cries of God’s people: the thoughts, prayers and praises of people living in His story and seeking to trust Him through life’s ups and downs.
*Cries from a kingdom, the gathered people living under an earthly king, which points us right to God’s chosen perfect King, Jesus.
In addressing our modern difficulties in reading and appreciating the Psalms, Kathleen pointed to the fact that reading poetry has simply fallen out of practice in our culture. This was a regular practice in families for centuries gone by. They would sit around and listen to poetry, to appreciate the imagery and the repetition it contains. People would even hire poets to recite poetry for their dinner guests, and children would learn much poetry by heart. But now we live in a culture which is saturated not by poetic images, but Instagram, Facebook, Flash chat and the likes. We have trained ourselves through new technology to be addicted to cool graphics and images, through the multiple screens about us. So when it comes to the Psalms, their poetic form has become so foreign, so strange to us, something we are not used to reading.
This must really delight our enemy: “The devil is happy with a people who live on images and sound bites and tweets. He wants words of bible to seem foreign.”
So it is no wonder that we struggle to drink from the riches of the Word if the word is strange to us. How easily our minds can wander when we don’t see the point or the beauty of the poetry. But the more we immerse ourselves in it, the more the words of the Psalms become familiar to us, the more strength and confidence these words will bring to our lives. We must make friends with the imagery, the emotion, the shape, the rise and fall, of the tapestry of the Psalms. And naturally this applies to all of God’s word. We must not let His Word be a stranger to us. God has provided it for our strengthening and joy!
(Finally let me just add that I haven’t forgotten my project, of gathering all the most singable arrangements of hymns for congregational use! These talks highlighted for me the importance of us singing the Psalms together. Thanks for continuing to read along, dear followers. And welcome if you have just joined us! If you would like to spend some more time exploring the Psalms, check out this blog: Singing in Babylon)