Monthly Archives: January 2014

Christian Prayers for Psalm 130

This post on using Christian psalm collects in our Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class (with Psalm 130 as an example) is a sequel my earlier post on Psalm 130 and the post on my Psalm 130 Lenten Litanies of Confession and Assurance.

My daily prayer book for the past 13 years has been Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer, which is an abridgement of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Common Worship. Each psalm in the book is followed by a short prayer, or “collect,” that interprets the psalm in an explicitly Christian manner. These have spurred my imagination about the psalms and I went looking for more of them to share with our class. Each week we pray and discuss several of them.

I’ve found these psalm collects in four books: (1)  Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer; (2) Psalms for All Seasons; (3) Reading the Psalms with Luther (Concordia Publishing House, 2007), which contains a brief introduction to each psalm and one or more prayers by Martin Luther; and (4) Eugene Peterson’s Praying with the Psalms (Zondervan 1993), which contains a brief psalm-based devotion for each day of the year. (In my Minor Prophets class I used prayers by Calvin, which can be found in his commentaries. However, his Psalm commentaries have no prayers.)

By way of illustration, here are the five prayers on Psalm 130 we used in class:

The prayer from Psalm for All Seasons (p. 848) understands “the depths” as “the depths of our sin” and contrasts them with “the height of your mercy and the breadth of your forgiveness” that lead to “new life in Jesus”:

When we realize the depth of our sin, O God, we are driven into dark despair. It is only when we realize the height of your mercy and the breadth of your forgiveness, that we begin to see the dawning of new life in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to you, O Lord our Redeemer. Amen.

The Psalm 130 collect in Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer (p. 364) has God joining us “in the depths of our darkest despair, in the suffering of Jesus Christ”:

O God, you come to us in the depths of our darkest despair, in the suffering of Jesus Christ. By the rising your Son, give us new light to guide us, that we may always praise your holy name, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Luther’s psalm collects often address Reformation theological concerns and his own struggles. His Psalm 130 collect (p. 316) focuses on Jesus’ “sacrifice for our sins”:

God, our Father, who is rich in mercy and with whom is plenteous forgiveness, remember not the sins of our youth, nor our transgressions. Blot them out for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, who became the sacrifice for our sins. For the sake of His crimson blood let our sins be forgotten, and let them be imputed to us no more. Amen.

Eugene Peterson has Psalm 130 spread over three days and includes original prayers for two of them. The prayer for vv. 5-6  connects the waiting for the Lord like watchmen waiting for the morning in the psalm to Jesus’ disciples’ failure to watch and pray in Gethsemane and our failure to “stay awake to your commands and alert to your presence”:

You, Lord, commanded disciples to watch and pray, and not long after, you found them sleeping. I have similarly failed to stay awake to your commands and alert to your presence. Forgive my sluggishness and help me to make the most of the time. Amen.

Peterson’s prayer for vv. 7-8 calls on God to “let down the rope of your redemption and pull me to the heights”:

Father, into the depths of my need—my sin, my loneliness, my guilt, my failure, my inadequacy—let down the rope of your redemption and pull me to the heights where I may live completed and whole in Jesus Christ. Amen.


Minor Prophets Art: Amos

Amos is the topic of the second installment in my presentation of art from our Minor Prophets Sunday school class. Amos is my favorite minor prophet and this is one of my favorite drawings because it captures so many of the books’ dramatic passages.

Amos’ condemnation of Israel focuses on injustice toward the poor:

This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.” (Amos 6-7a)


As always, Naomi created the drawing during our hour long discussion of the book (which focused on portions of chapters 1, 2, 5, 7, 8 & 9). Periodically, we’d ask Naomi about her progress and make suggestions, e.g., “Let’s get the lion, bear and snake in there.”


The main figure in the finished drawing (click for a larger version) is the prophet holding a plumb line, the focus of one of the four visions in chapter 7 & 8. The other visions involve the fruit basket (lower left corner), fire (left edge) and locusts (swarming at top).


The lion, bear and snake in the lower right corner illustrate Amos 5:19: “[The Day of the Lord] will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him.”

The two women ignoring the beggar are the “cows of Bashan… you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy” (Amos 4:1).

At the top are several large houses. Amos is critical of the size and number of the houses of the wealthy: “‘I will tear down the winter house along with the summer house; the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished,’ declares the LORD” (Amos 3:15).

Like many of the prophets, Amos follows his oracles of judgement with a promise of restoration.

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the one who plows and the planter by the one treading grapes.” (Amos 9:13)

The tractor and storehouse in the upper right represent the plenty that will accompany Israel’s restoration.

Next up: Naomi’s Michelangelo-inspired Hosea drawing.

Psalm 130 Lenten Litanies of Confession and Assurance

As a sequel to my recent discussion of Psalm 130, here is series of Lenten Litanies I wrote for the section of our service we call “We Are Renewed in God’s Grace,” which typically consists of a confession, assurance of pardon, and (if neither of those was a song) a song of response. Last Lent I put together a five-week series that used five different musical settings of Psalm 130—two from the gray Psalter Hymnal, which we then had in our pews, and three from Psalms for All Seasons.

The first week, we read the entire Psalm 130 responsively using a standard translation (TNIV) as the confession. The second week, we read a paraphrase (Eugene Peterson’s The Message) of Psalm 130 responsively as the confession. After that I assumed the congregation was familiar with the text and used hymns for the week 3 and 4 confessions and a prayer based on the psalm for week 5. The songs also moved from close versifications to looser ones.

If we used this series again, I would reconsider the songs—with “Out of the Depths I Cry, Lord” (PH87 #130) as the most likely to be dropped  and “In Deep Despair I Cry to You” (PFAS #130E) or “Out of the Depths I Cry to You” (PFAS #130D) as the likely replacement.

Week 1

Confession: Responsive reading of Psalm 130 (TNIV)

Assurance of Pardon: O God, you come to us in the depths of our darkest despair through the suffering of Jesus Christ. By the rising your Son, you give us new light to guide us that we may always praise your holy name, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Song of Response: “Out of the Depths I Cry, Lord” (PH87 #130)

[The assurance of pardon text is an altered version of the Psalm 130 collect in the Book of Common Worship: Common Prayer.]

Week 2

Confession: Responsive reading of Psalm 130 (The Message) (“Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life!”)

Assurance of Pardon: People of God, wait and watch for God. By the sacrifice of his Son, He shows us love, buys us from captivity to sin, and grants us life forevermore. Amen.

Song of Response: “Out of the Depths I Cry to You on High” (PFAS #130C/LUYH #655/PH87 #256/PH57 #273).

Week 3

Confession: “From the Depths of Sin and Sadness” (PFAS #130F)

Assurance of Pardon:  When we realize the depth of our sin, O God, we are driven into dark despair. It is only when we realize the height of your mercy and the breadth of your forgiveness, that we begin to see the dawning of new life in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to you, O Lord our Redeemer. Amen.

[The assurance of pardon text is the Psalm 130 collect in Lift Up Your Hearts.]

Week 4

Confession: “Out of the Depths I Cry to You” (PFAS #130A/HFW #10) (Luther’s version)

Assurance of Pardon: People of God, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem his people from all their sins. Amen.

Week 5

Confession/Assurance: “A Prayer of Hope” (PFAS #130H)

Song of Response: “For You, My God, I Wait” (PFAS #130G)

Psalm 130

(Here’s the 12th post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122Psalms 2/99Psalm 72Psalm 95Psalm 147,  Psalm 112,  Psalm 29,  Psalm 40Psalm 23, and Psalm 27. Today (Jan. 26) we looked at Psalm 130.

Since Psalm 130 is one of my favorites, I have enough material for three posts. In this one, I’m going to do my regular work of going through all the Psalm 130 settings we sang in Sunday School today. In a second post, I’ll share my series of  Psalm 130 lenten litanies. In a third post, I’m going to discuss using Christian prayers to illuminate psalms using Psalm 130 as an example.)

My favorite section of the Psalms are the songs of ascents (Psalms 120-134), a collection of short pilgrimage songs that touch on the major themes and moods of the entire Psalter.  Psalm 130, a highlight of this collection, is an succinct but eloquent expression of despair and trust.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.

Some of the psalms have vivid images of tribulation (e.g., from David’s military misfortunes) that are hard for me to connect to my own. “Out of the depths” leaves to the listener’s imagination the deep trouble from which the psalmist is calling: Drowning in deep water? Lying broken at the bottom of a chasm? At the bottom of the social hierarchy? In the “depths of sin and sadness”?  Perhaps calling out from the depths of grief and anguish? (Eugene Peterson’ paraphrase puts “the depths” in modern idiom as “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life!”)

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
therefore you are feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

If God was unforgiving, keeping a permanent record of all our sins, the psalmist suggests, we would have no hope because our sins are too many. But we can put our trust in the Lord and put our hope in his word because he forgives us. We can trust even though we have to wait—and wait—because the Lord’s mercy is as sure as the sun rising each morning.

Psalms for All Seasons’ responsorial setting text (from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship) translates the beginning of verse 3 as “If you were to keep watch over sins,” which (a member of the class pointed out) highlights the fact that the psalmist wants to get the Lord’s attention—but not too close attention.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

In the final verses, the psalmist moves from his own experience in the depths and his trust in the Lord to the whole people of God, who are in the depths of their sins and need put their trust in God to redeem them.

Psalm 130 is one of the seven penitential psalms, probably because of the clear connections than can be made from the psalm to Christian soteriology. It is the first penitential psalm our class has taken up, but we’re planning on looking at the other six (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 143) over the next few weeks.

The penitential psalms are traditionally Lenten psalms, and the Revised Common Lectionary includes Psalms 32 (Years A  & C), 51 (A, B & C),  and 130 (A) during Lent. Psalm 143 is the Easter Vigil psalm all three years. However, Psalms 6, 38 and 102 aren’t in the lectionary at all, which seems like an odd choice. (The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship’s daily lectionary does assign one penitential psalm a day though Lent, except that 91 has replaced 38). Incidentally, all the songs of ascents are in the lectionary except for Psalm 120, 129 and 134.

Psalms for All Seasons includes six hymns based on Psalm 130 plus the responsorial setting “Out of the Depths I Cry to You” (PFAS #130B).

“Out of the Depths I Cry to You on High” (PFAS #130C/LUYH #655/PH87 #256/PH57 #273) is one of 69 hymns to appear with the same tune (SANDON)  in all three Psalter Hymnals and Lift Up Your Hearts. The hymn first appeared in the 1912 Psalter as “From Out the Depths I Cry.” The lyrics were altered for the gray Psalter Hymnal.

Out of the depths I cry to you on high;
Lord, hear my call.
Bend down your ear and listen to me sigh,
forgiving all.
If you should mark our sins, who then could stand?
But grace and mercy dwell at your right hand.

 “Out of the Depths I Cry to You” (PFAS #130A/HFW #10) is the only hymn in PFAS with words and music by Martin Luther. The first and fourth stanzas are derived from the psalm while the second and third develop its themes in Christian language. Here is verse three:

In you alone, O God, we hope,
and not in our own merit.
We rest our fears in your good Word,
and trust your Holy Spirit.
Your promise keeps us strong and sure;
we trust the cross, your signature
inscribed upon our temples.

For those who don’t like Luther’s tune (AUS TIEFER NOT)—like some members of our class—we chose WAS GOTT TUT as an alternate.

“In Deep Despair I Cry to You” (PFAS #130E/SNC #62) has modern lyrics set to MORNING SONG (AKA CONSOLATION/KENTUCKY HARMONY). The tune is the most used in Lift Up Your Hearts (five hymns), often for hymns of anguish [e.g., “Why Stand So Far Away, My God?” (LUYH #648)] and waiting [e.g., “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” (LUYH #476/PH87 #615), “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” (LUYH #132)].

In deep despair I cry to you—
Lord, hear my voice, my prayer.
If you should mark iniquities,
who would stand guiltless there?
But, Lord, with you forgiveness dwells
and love beyond compare.

“From the Depths of Sin and Sadness” (PFAS #130F) is a modern versification set to a Russian folk melody.

From the depths of sin and sadness,
I have called unto the Lord.
Be not deaf to my poor pleading,
in your mercy, hear my voice.

The final two settings in Psalms for All Seasons are modern hymns with beautiful piano accompaniments.  “Out of the Depths I Cry to You” (PFAS #130D) uses a pair a syncopated melodies (for stanzas 1, 2, 4 & 5 and stanzas 3 & 6). A sample is here.

Out of the depths I cry to you.
O Lord please hear my call.
O Lord be merciful to me;
at your throne of grace I fall;
at your throne of grace I fall.

“For You, My God, I Wait” (PFAS #130G) is a hymn with lyrics by Mennonite pastor Adam Tice. The melody by David Ward is my favorite Psalm 130 tune. A sample is here. [Tice also wrote the Psalm 122 setting “Rejoice, Rejoice, Come Sing with Me” (PFAS #122A)]. “For You, My God, I Wait” is a loose paraphrase of the Psalm 130 (and Psalm 131 in stanza 5). Each of the first four stanzas refers to the “sleepless ones” who are waiting.

For you, my God, I wait
with hope born of the Word.
Like sleepless ones who long to dream
I wait and call my Lord.

The ending (stanza 6) circles back to “the depths”:

O God, you are my hope;
I know that you forgive.
Your love redeems me from the depths
so I may rise and live.

PFAS also includes “A Prayer of Hope” (PFAS #130H) based on the psalm which we’ve used as a Lenten confession.

The gray Psalter Hymnal also includes a Psalm 130 versification (in two stanzas), “Out of the Depths I Cry, Lord” (PH87 #130) set to GENEVAN 130. This is one of a number of Psalm hymns in the gray Psalter Hymnal that combined modern lyrics (many apparently written explicitly for the hymnal) and tunes from the  appropriate psalms in the 16th Century Genevan Psalter; many weren’t carried forward into Lift Up Your Hearts. (The gray Psalter Hymnal has 38 Genevan tunes; LUYH has 15. PFAS has just 19.)

We didn’t sing the three additional hymns from the blue Psalter Hymnal, but our class member who grew up with the hymnal played them for us and talked about how they were used in her church. She said the most commonly used were “From out the Depths I Cry” (discussed above) and “From the Depths Do I Invoke Thee” (PH57 #274), which has lyrics from the 1912 Psalter and a lovely tune (EVENING PRAYER) more cheerful than any we sang in class. Her church never used “From the Depths of Sadness” (PH57 #272), which is in a minor key. The final setting in the blue Psalter Hymnal is “From the Depths My Prayer Ascendeth” (PH57 #275).

Minor Prophets Art: Introduction & Jonah

One of the reasons I set up this blog is to give a wider audience to the Sunday School art that Naomi Friend created for the Sunday school classes we taught together and, more generally, promote the idea of integrating visual art and music into adult Sunday school. Our classes received some coverage in The Banner (online version here), but most of the art itself has been previously viewable only on my Facebook page.


Our artistic focus developed through providence rather than planning. Last fall (2012) Trinity needed another adult Sunday school class so I volunteered to teach one on whatever topic was chosen by whoever showed up. The group chose Minor Prophets so next week I came ready to lead a discussion on Joel, and Naomi brought paper and pens and told people to make art. People drew pictures of locusts, rent hearts and the like. I told Naomi she should bring an easel next week and draw a picture herself so she did. I still like the idea of having everyone in a Sunday school class create art, but after Naomi started drawing, everyone else stopped.


Each of the pieces of Naomi drew was created during an hour-long Sunday school class while she was intermittently discussing her work and fielding ideas from the class. Watching her draw and discussing her drawings brought to life the books we discussed, as I hope to show by posting her work. (Images of Naomi’s professional art can be found at


This is Naomi’s Jonah drawing (click for larger version). In the foreground are a drowning Jonah, the ship and the large fish/whale. Out of the whale’s tail are the two other living creatures “appointed”/“provided” by God: the vine/gourd that shelters Jonah and the evil-looking weevil/worm that eats the gourd. Jonah sits under the gourd shaking his fist at the repenting Ninevites.

In future posts, I’m going to show the 20-some drawings Naomi drew for our classes on Minor Prophets and the Parables of Jesus, as well as discuss how we attempted to incorporate music into the classes.

Omitted from Your Hearts, part 6

Previous items in this series of posts about notable hymns from the gray Psalter Hymnal that were omitted from Lift Up Your Hearts focused on songs from the 1960s & ’70sPsalm settingsBible songs,  Christmas/Advent songs, and rousing mid-19th Century hymns. This post deals with the half a dozen miscellaneous hymns remaining on my list.

Five of these six hymns made their first appearance in a CRC hymnal with the gray Psalter Hymnal (“Hail, O Once-Despised Jesus” was also in the blue Psalter Hymnal) so they don’t have deep roots in the denomination. Still, I don’t have a very good idea about what deficiencies could have led to their being cut.

“Lord, I Want to be a Christian” (PH87 #264), a popular spiritual first published in Folk Songs of the American Negro (1907), was part of our repertoire at Trinity. It seems like a strange omission.

“Sing, Choirs of New Jerusalem” (PH87 #404) has lyrics (originally in Latin) from the 11th Century by Bishop Fulbert of Chartres set to LYNGHAM, which the Psalter Hymnal Handbook calls a “fuguing tune” (I would say it ends with a two-part round that is fun to sing). (According to the hymn’s page, the more popular tune for the hymn is actually ST. FULBERT.) It was also part of our Trinity repertoire.

Sing, choirs of new Jerusalem,
your sweetest notes employ,
your sweetest notes employ
the paschal victory to hymn in songs of holy joy,
in songs of holy joy, in songs of holy joy!

“We Plow the Fields and Scatter” (PH87 #456), “originally a poem in seventeen stanzas” from the 18th Century (says the Psalter Hymnal Handbook), is a nice song of harvest thanksgiving.

We plough the fields, and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft refreshing rain.

“Hail, O Once-Despised Jesus” (PH87 #395/PH57 #369) is a theologically rich Lenten/Easter hymn from the 18th Century set to ARFON.

Hail, O once-despised Jesus! Hail, O Galilean King!
You have suffered to release us,
hope and joy and peace to bring.
Hail, O agonizing Savior, bearer of our sin and shame;
by your merits we find favor;
life is given through your name.

“Living for Jesus” (PH87 #292), an early 20th Century hymn, is, Justin Struik informed me, the theme song of the Calvin Calvinist Cadet Corps, a group that, given my boyhood as a Lutheran, I never had the pleasure of joining. (If you’re reading this Justin, feel free to reminisce in the coments about singing “Living for Jesus.”) According to the Psalter Hymnal Handbook, “This is a hymn of total consecration and dedication in which we commit to ‘living for Jesus’ in all that we do (st. 1) and wherever we are (st. 3) in response to Christ’s sacrifice (st. 2; refrain).”

O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to you,
for you in your atonement did give yourself for me.
I own no other master, my heart shall be your throne:
my life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for you alone.

“We Come, O Christ, To You” (PH87 #238), another 20th Century song, is “a hymn of praise to Christ, who is the source of our life (st. 1), the Way (st. 2), the Truth (st. 3), the Life (st. 4), and the one we worship as Savior and King (st. 5)” (Psalter Hymnal Handbook). It is usually set to DARWALL (“Rejoice the Lord Is King”), but the Psalter Hymnal sets it to EASTVIEW. We sang this at Trinity.

We come, O Christ, to you, true Son of God and man,
by whom all things consist,  in whom all life began.
In you alone we live and move
and have our being in your love.

This post exhausts my list of 30 notable hymns that appeared in the gray Psalter Hymnal but not in Lift Up Your Hearts. I originally put this list together for our worship committee and included every hymn we had used in the past year and other hymns that were missed by me or brought to my attention by someone else on the committee. That’s under a tenth of 300+ hymns that got dropped, which seems like a positive reflection on LUYH’s selection process. (The roughly 300 hymns that did make the cut are listed here.)

Psalm 27

(Here’s the 11th post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122Psalms 2/99Psalm 72Psalm 95Psalm 147,  Psalm 112,  Psalm 29,  Psalm 40, and Psalm 23.)

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27 alternates between a description of the psalmist’s dire situation—“evildoers assail me to devour my flesh,” “my father and mother forsake me,” “false witnesses have risen against me and they are breathing out violence”—and heartfelt declarations of trust in and devotion to God.

One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.

Some commentators divide the psalm into a psalm of confidence (vv. 1-6) and an individual lament (vv. 7-14). Most of the settings in our hymnals focus on the first part of the psalm, particularly on the three images of God in the first verse—light, salvation and stronghold—while the second part is neglected.

The Revised Standard Lectionary assigns the entire Psalm 27 to the 2nd Sunday after Lent in Year C and vv. 1 & 4-9 to the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany in Year A. We took the psalm up during our Nov. 3 class.

“O LORD, You Are My Light” (PFAS #27C/LUYH #773/PH87 #164/PH57 #48) is a versification of the first six verses (minus two). The version in the 1912 Psalter and the blue Psalter Hymnal (“Jehovah Is My Light”) has six stanzas that cover verses 1-6. The gray Psalter Hymnal dropped the second stanza (verses 2-3) and modernized the other. This version, which is found in PFAS and LUYH, now covers vv. 1, 4-6. PFAS & LUYH set the lyrics to RHOSYMEDRE.

O LORD, you are my light
and my salvation near;
then who will cause me fright
or fill my heart with fear?
While God my strength, my life sustains,
secure from fear my soul remains.

The detailed PFAS performance note to “O LORD, You Are My Light”: “Since its appearance in the Psalter, 1912, to the tune of ARTHUR’S SEAT, this versification has often been sung in a confident, even triumphalistic tone of voice. The coupling with the tune RHOSYMEDRE allows for a more nuanced rendering of the different emotions of the text. St. 1 can be sung with a sense of quiet trust. Sing st. 2 in harmony with a sense of earnestness. St. 3 might begin with a sense of anxiety, accompanying the opening phrases with D-minor and G-minor chords. This stanza grows in confidence and intensity, leading to a joyful, harmonious, and resounding singing of the final stanza.”

 “God Is My Strong Salvation” (PFAS #27D) is another traditional hymn based on the first part of the psalm and set to CHRISTUS, DER IST MEIN LEBEN.

The Palm 27 settings also include four hymns titled “The Lord is My Light”: “The Lord Is My Light” (PFAS #27A) is a Taizé song consisting of two short themes based on v. 1; “The Lord Is My Light” (PFAS #27B/LUYH #431) is a gospel song based on vv. 1, 5 & 14; “The Lord Is My Light” (PFAS #27J/SNC #192) is an Iona Community hymn based on vv. 1-6 and set to CZECHOSLOVAKIA; and “El Señor es mi luz/The Lord Is My Light” (PFAS #27G/LUYH #774), a Spanish-language hymn based on vv. 1, 4, 9-11 & 13.

“One Thing I Ask” (PFAS #27I), based on vv. 4, 7 & 9, is the only setting in PFAS that doesn’t begin with verse 1 and doesn’t mention “light” or “salvation.”

One thing I ask, one thing I seek,
that I may dwell  in your house, O Lord,
all of my days, all of my life that I may see you.

The responsorial setting we used was “The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation” (PFAS #27H/LUYH #885/SNC #206), which we were familiar with from Sing! A New Creation. Psalms for All Seasons includes three other responsorial settings: “The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation” (PFAS #27H-Alternate), from the Orthodox tradition; “The Lord Is My Light and My Stronghold” (PFAS #27F), a jazz tune; and “My God Is My Light and My Salvation” (PFAS #27E, which is labeled “An Accompaniment for Reading” and includes a “vocal vamp” (“Who shall I fear?”) to sing during the spoken verses.

Two hymns from the Psalter Hymnals that include the second half other psalm aren’t included in the new hymnals. The gray Psalter Hymnal  includes a versification of the entire psalm by Marie J. Post set to Louis Bourgeois’ Genevan 27, “The LORD Is My Light and My Salvation” (PH87 #27), which uses the rare (for good reason) 11 10 11 10 10 10 10 10 meter. The blue Psalter Hymnal has a versification of vv. 7-14 titled “O Lord, Regard Me When I Cry” (PH57 #49).

Psalm 23

(Here’s the tenth post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122Psalms 2/99Psalm 72Psalm 95Psalm 147,  Psalm 112,  Psalm 29 and Psalm 40.)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Today (Jan. 12) we kicked off the new semester in grand fashion with Psalm 23, which is the most beloved psalm for good reason. It’s build around a simple, comforting narrative: God is our shepherd and we are his sheep. It contains striking images: “the valley of the shadow of death,” “my cup overflows.” The shepherd story has connections to Israel’s history—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were all shepherds before David—and is picked up by Jesus, who calls himself the Good Shepherd (John 10) and tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7) as an illustration of God’s love. In Christian preaching, art and music, the different shepherd images get mixed together and illuminate one another.

The Revised Common Lectionary assigns Psalm 23 to the fourth Sunday of Easter during all three years and also assigns it to the fourth Sunday of Lent in Year A—which is why we took it up today.

Psalm 23 is well represented in CRC hymnals. Psalms for all Seasons contains 11 musical settings of Psalm 23. (The others in double digits: Psalms 51 and 119 with 15, Psalm 118 with 11, and Psalms 27 and 150 with 10.) Lift Up Your Hearts contains five complete versifications of Psalm 23, more than any other psalm (Psalm 117 gets six versifications but two cover only one verse. Psalms 103, 116, and 119 each get five versifications and Psalms 22, 42, and 95 four, but, again, none of them are complete.) All the Psalm 23 hymns in LUYH and the gray Psalter Hymnal are also included in PFAS.

Of the traditional hymn settings, our class favorites were the first three settings in PFAS, all of which we recognized from the Psalter Hymnal. Andrew played all of them on the organ.

“My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” (PFAS #23A/LUYH #369/PH87 #550), with lyrics by Isaac Watts, is set to RESIGNATION. (RESIGNATION is also the tune to “My Only Comfort” (LUYH #781), a hymn based on the Heidelberg Catechism’s Q&A 1 that we used as the theme song for our most recent summer book club.) A sample is here.

Watts’ third verse finishes a versification of the psalm and closes with a striking interpretation of what it means to live in the house of the Lord:

The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come
no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.

“The LORD’s My Shepherd” (PFAS #23C/PH87 #161/PH57 #38/HFW #2), set to BROTHER JAMES’ AIR, has lyrics from the 1650 Scottish Psalter, making it even older than the Watts’s version. (A sample is here.) The lyrics are not modernized:

My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for His own name’s sake.

PFAS includes the lyrics translated into Spanish and Korean. The hymn doesn’t appear in Lift Up Your Hearts.

“The LORD, My Shepherd, Rules My Life” (PFAS #23B/LUYH #732/PH87 #23)
is set to a traditional hymn tune (CRIMOND) but with a modern versification by Christopher M. Idle “to provide a version of the twenty-third Psalm in familiar meter which would avoid the archaisms and inversions of the established sixteenth-century version from the Scottish Psalter” [=“The LORD’s My Shepherd”?]. A sample is here.

Psalms for All Seasons also contains three other traditional hymns with tunes less familiar to us. “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” (PFAS #23D/LUYH #824) (set to ST. COLUMBA) and “Such Perfect Love My Shepherd Shows” (PFAS #23E) (set to DOMINUS REGIT ME) are two versions of Henry William Baker’s 19th Century hymn.  According to the Psalm 23 notes on the Psalms For All Season web site, “the compilers of the 1906 English Hymnal were denied permission to use Dykes’s original tune [DOMINUS REGIT ME]” so they substituted ST. COLUMBA; now both are associated with the song.

The third (of fifth) verses is based not on Psalm 23, but on the Lost Sheep:

Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me;
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me.

“Such Perfect Love My Shepherd Shows” modernizes the lyrics, eliminating “thees” and “thys” and changing the opening lines. I couldn’t find an explanation of who altered the lyrics or why  PFAS included both versions. (A sample is of “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” here.) Given the strengths of the other traditional settings, I’d only consider using one of these in a worship service to make the connection between the psalm and the New Testament shepherd images.

“The God of Love My Shepherd Is” (PFAS #23J) has the very oldest lyrics (1633) of any Psalm 23 setting in Psalms for All Seasons but is set to a modern tune by Roy Hopp.

The God of love my Shepherd is, and he that doth me feed:
while he is mine and I am his, what can I want or need?

Of the more contemporary sounding hymns, we most appreciated “Shepherd Me, O God” (PFAS #23H/LUYH #456), a modern versification of Psalm 23 by Marty Haugen with a haunting chorus:

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

A sample is here. It would probably work best to have soloists or a choir sing the stanzas and the congregation sing the chorus. The chorus of “Shepherd Me, O God” (PFAS #23G/SNC #181) is Psalm for All Seasons’ responsorial setting.

“The Lord’s My Shepherd” (PFAS #23F) is Stuart Townend’s versification of Psalm 23 with a chorus that also draws on Psalm 56:3:

And I will trust in your alone.
And I will trust in you alone,
for your endless mercy follows me,
your goodness will lead me home.

Townend, who co-authored such great 21st Century hymns as “In Christ Alone” (LUYH #770/SWM #208/HFW #254), “The Power of the Cross” (LUYH #177), “Speak, O Lord” (LUYH), and “Behold the Lamb” (LUYH #840), has two other hymns in Psalms for All Seasons: “My Soul Finds Rest in God Alone” (PFAS #62B/LUYH #370) and “My Soul Will Sing” (PFAS #103E). (A sample of Townend’s “The Lord’s My Shepherd” is here.)

“El Señor es mi pastor/My Shepherd Is the Lord” (PFAS #23I/LUYH #368/PH87 #162) is a versification of verses 1-5 (why leave out 6?) translated from Spanish with a short chorus (“My Shepherd is the LORD; nothing indeed shall I want”). A sample is here.

“The Lord Is My Shepherd” (PFAS #23K/SWM #192) is a short round based on vv. 1-2. I can imagine it as a closing song or a response to a confession or other litany. A sample is here.

The Lord is my shepherd; I’ll walk with him always.
He leads me by still waters; I’ll walk with him always
Always, always, I’ll walk with him always.
Always, always, I’ll walk with him always.

The blue Psalter Hymnal has two Psalm 23 settings that don’t appear in CRC subsequent hymnals: “My Shepherd Is the Lord” (PH57 #39) and “The Lord, My Shepherd Holds Me” (PH57 #40). We didn’t sing either of them in class.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 40

(Here’s the ninth post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122Psalms 2/99Psalm 72Psalm 95Psalm 147,  Psalm 112 and Psalm 29.)

The Revised Common Lectionary assigns the first half of Psalm 40 (vv. 1-11) to the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. Our Sunday School class took it up on Oct. 27.

The first part of the Psalm (vv. 1-11) is a prayer of thankfulness for salvation that uses vivid language to describe the psalmist’s plight.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear,and put their trust in the Lord. (vv. 1-3)

The psalmist shares “the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation” (v. 9) and “has not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness” (v. 10).

The second part of psalm (vv. 11-17), which isn’t in the lectionary selection, is a lament and prayer for help about a current trouble: “evils have encompassed me without number; my iniquities have overtaken me, until I cannot see” (p. 12).

Psalms for All Seasons includes only two hymns based on Psalm 40. The class’s favorite was “I Waited Patiently for God” (PFAS #40B/LUYH #670), which is also the only complete Psalm 40 setting in Lift Up Your Hearts. The four stanzas are based on verses 1, 2, 3 and 5.

I waited patiently for God,
for God to hear my prayer;
and God bent down to where I sank
and listened to me there.

The lyrics are credited to the Iona Community; the tune is NEW BRITAIN (AKA “Amazing Grace”). Some members of the class felt that NEW BRITAIN is so closely associated with “Amazing Grace” that another tune would work better. Andrew played through a number of tunes (there are 25 in LUYH) and we chose NAOMI as our favorite alternative tune for “I Waited Patiently for God.”

The other hymn in PFAS is Greg Scheer’s “I Will Wait upon the Lord” (PFAS #40C). Here is Scheer’s recording of  “I Will Wait upon the Lord.” The chorus is based on vv. 1-2:

I will wait upon the Lord For He will hear my cry.
He has pulled me from the grave and set me by His side.
He has set my feet upon the solid ground of the Cornerstone.

Scheer wrote the song for Cornerstone University Ministry at the University of Pittsburgh. According to Scheer, “I chose Psalm 40 because I felt that the image of the feet being placed on solid rock could be appropriately updated to refer to the Solid Rock, Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone of our faith.”

Most of the language in the four short stanzas is drawn from the thanksgiving part of the psalm, but the final stanza suggests the troubles of the lament part (“Lord, you’ve always been my help and my strength, and I will trust in you to hear me against, hear me again”).

PFAS also includes a responsorial setting “Here I Am” (PFAS #40A/LUYH #740) based on verse 8, which appears in Lift Up Your Hearts as a short standalone chorus. (Full lyrics: “Here I am Lord, here I am. I come to do your will.”) Another responsorial setting, “Wait for the Lord, whose Day is Near” (SNC #96), appears in Sing! A New Creation.

None of the Psalm 40 settings from the Psalter Hymnals made the cut into PFAS or LUYH. The only setting in the gray Psalter Hymnal is “I Waited Patiently for God” (PH87 #40), versified by Bert Pohlman and set to MERTHYR TYDFIL, which is a darker, more solemn tune than those in the newer hymnals. It covers the entire psalm.

The blue Psalter Hymnal has three settings for Psalm 40, all from the 1912 Psalter. “Thy Tender Mercies, O My Lord” (PH57 #70) covers only the lament section of the psalm (vv. 11-17). It was my favorite of the settings that didn’t make Psalms for All Seasons.

Thy tender mercies, O my Lord, Withhold not, I implore;
But let Thy kindness and Thy truth Preserve me evermore.
For countless ills have compassed me, My sinful deeds arise;
Yea, they have overtaken me; I dare not raise my eyes.

“I Waited for the Lord Most High” (PH57 #71) is a versification of just the thanksgiving section of the psalm.  “Before Thy People I Confess” (PH57 #72) starts with v. 10, covers some of the lament section, and then finishes with v. 3.

Is Chris Tomlin the “most-sung music artist in history”?

A recent article (“Chris Tomlin: On Top of the World”) in Christianity Today claims that Christian singer Chris Tomlin is the “most-sung music artist in history.” Could that possibly be true?

The CT story makes the claim in the first sentence and never brings it up again. The  words “most-sung music artist in history” are linked to another CT story (“Move Over, TobyMac: Chris Tomlin Tops Billboard 200 [Thanks to Passion]”) that says no such thing. The original version of the story is about Tomlin’s new album topping the Billboard sales chart. However, the story was updated three months after it originally ran with the following paragraphs:

Update (Mar. 11): CNN has profiled worship leader Chris Tomlin, calling his songs the “most widely sung music on the planet today.”
Not convinced? Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) CEO Howard Rachinski has done the math. “CCLI estimates that every Sunday in the United States, between 60,000 and 120,000 churches are singing Tomlin’s songs. By extrapolating that data, Rachinski says, ‘our best guess would be in the United States on any given Sunday, 20 to 30 million people would be singing Chris Tomlin’s songs.'”

The quote from the Newsweek story is accurate, but there is no evidence here that Tomlin is the “most-sung music artist in history,” only that he is one of the most-sung composers now.

The CCLI data raises a few more questions: Why is the range of churches allegedly singing Tomlin songs so large?  What math did CCLI do to get the 20-30 million figure? Does the calculation take into account the fact that a good proportion of people in churches that play Tomlinesque music aren’t actually singing but just watching the performance?

Assuming the 30 million figure is correct, does that even make Tomlin the most-sung composer now? How many people sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “Happy Birthday” in an average week? How many people sing “March of the Volunteers,” the Chinese national anthem? (To be fair, the composers of these songs are all dead, so perhaps Tomlin is the most-sung living composer.)

Could Tomlin be the most-sung worship music composer in history? Could he have already caught up with Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts? How about King David? I’m doubtful. In any case, Christianity Today should provide some evidence for its claim

Absurd statistics like this abound—one of the assignments for students in my Social Problems class is to find and analyze one—but the fact that this howler could lead off a Christianity Today story possibly says something about American evangelicals’ amnesia about worship music.

I don’t have much knowledge about Tomlin’s oeuvre—I saw him in concert a few years ago and have six of his songs on my iPod—but how could his music be so significant that 60,000+ churches are singing it on a typical Sunday? Was pre-Tomlin English-language hymnody so impovershed that his songs need to be played so often?

The problem isn’t the popularity of Chris Tomlin, but the fact that so many evangelical churches have tossed out a centuries-old musical tradition to play only songs written in the past couple decades. It’s possible to be a regular church-goer who is unfamiliar with “And Can It Be,” “All Creatures of Our God and King,” “Jesus Shall Reign” and the version of “Amazing Grace” that doesn’t have Tomlin’s superfluous praise chorus tacked on. It’s a real shame.

The CRC’s new hymnal, Lift Up Your Hearts, gets it right. Modern praise songs, including seven by Tomlin, join hymns by Watts, Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Martin Luther, John Newton, psalm settings, laments, seasonal music, and the whole range of Christian hymnody.

[Tomlin’s seven songs in LUYH are “The Wonderful Cross” (LUYH #176), “I Will Rise” (LUYH #468), “How Great Is Our God” (LUYH #574), “Forever” (LUYH #578), “Our God” (LUYH #580), “Holy Is the Lord” (LUYH #579), “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” (LUYH #693).]