Prayer, Theology, Worship, and Song: An Insight on the Power of Psalms

Written by Adam Whitescarver Executive Director

Did you know that heartfelt prayer, profound theology, lively worship through song and the Good News of Christ are all supposed to be intimately tied together? The Psalms prove this as they combine in one book all of these elements. Their devotional and theological content has been used for countless Bible studies and sermons, Bible reading plans and commentaries on Scripture.

But therein lies a huge problem: this was NOT how the book was originally intended to be ingested by believers (and original intent of authors are, a good Bible scholar will tell you, important in getting the interpretation right). This is because the Psalms were essentially the hymnal of ancient Israel.

The Psalms’ rich content was meant to be sung and not merely read.

So what does this indicate for our worship now? 

For starters—don’t panic thinking you’ve never used Psalms properly. There is Biblical warrant to simply read the Psalms because the New Testament authors quoted the Psalms in their letters and writings that were only meant to be read. Phew!

Nevertheless, one can make the argument for setting Psalms to verse and music. Of course, this has already been done, and I have to recommend singing from a psalter for this reason. The Scottish Psalter is excellent, and if you learn to sing from it, the Psalms tend to come alive to you. You just can’t meditate on them the same way reading them as you can when you sing them.

Psalter or not therefore, I commend to worship leaders and song writers the good work of setting the Psalms to new music for contemporary worshippers to enjoy and be edified through.

But more to the point I want to make is this: an important indication the Psalms give for our worship today is that worship is meant for discipleship.

Songs should be utilized to be informative and transformative, bringing theology home to the heart and actions. Prayer and worship through song are not secondary in their importance to proclaiming the Word of God; they are part of it.

Paul clearly connects worship with discipleship for us in two passages: For a greater filling of the Word (Logos) of God in us, Paul exhorts us to not only teaching and admonishment, but singing. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” -Colossians 3:16.

Paul also makes the case that singing to each other and to God is essential for a greater filling of the Holy Spirit. “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Ephesians 5:18b-20.

Worship is prescriptive for anyone who wants to be filled with the Word and Spirit of God!

To back this idea up with additional passages (because ideas and doctrines in Scripture are always self-attesting), I’ll point out some other places where people were filled with the word and with power from on high through worship.

In Acts 13 Barnabas and Saul are set apart for missionary work because of a move of God that came during worship and fasting. Their ministries were incredibly powerful, obviously filled with the Word and the Spirit, and they started in worship. How much ministry is waiting to be launched from worship services where people are connecting deeply with God?

Later in Acts 16 we see worship powerful enough to break off chains and open prison doors. This is a physical picture of the reality of what happens in hearts when God is worshipped.

People can literally be set free by Jesus when He is lifted up in worship.

These two examples of Biblical worship are not just theory. They are models for us to follow, demonstrating what can happen just as easily in our times as they did both in the Bible and throughout Church history. We have seen these things happen in worship and prayer times, and we long to see them happen throughout our entire city.

Therefore, we long to see all of God’s people, including ourselves, coming to worship with no less a high purpose in mind for our own times of praise and worship.

Instead, let us be mindful that worshipping God is essential for our own spiritual good, as well as that for others. During worship, as best we can, may we seek to set an atmosphere of corporate praise (in a way that is appropriate to the culture of our churches) and let us be intentional to engage the whole of our being: that is our mind, will and emotions, our bodies and our spirits.

God, grant that our worship would launch new missionary movements, that it would set the captives free, and that it would fill whole congregations and cities with His Word and Spirit. Amen.