Songs for the Soul

Songs for soul

Jonathan Mansur | January 25, 2018
Admittedly, I am a theology nerd. One year for my birthday my in-laws asked what I wanted. I said, “Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology!” While I was in seminary at the time, this was not a required textbook for any of my classes (yes, I asked for a textbook for my birthday). This massive 1,200+ page “Introduction to Biblical Doctrine,” as the subtitle states, was merely for “fun” and future reference and study in ministry.

Books of this stature, and this dense in content make many of us cringe at the thought of “theology” or “doctrine.” Yet while theology is an inexhaustible field - for God is infinite - it ought not to make us cringe. Theology, as the study of God, ought to make us worship. Grudem says,

“[The study of theology] is a study of the living God, and of the wonders of all his works in creation and redemption. We cannot study this subject dispassionately. … Systematic theology at its best will result in praise” (37, 42).

Hence, Grudem ends each chapter with a hymn that teaches the same doctrine he discussed. A hym. Knowledge of God & His Word ought to result in praise from the heart. That is why we see the psalmists write songs stating:

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them! (Psalm 139:17)

Tremper Longman III in his book How to Read the Psalms says, “Theology should be the expression of a person’s heart and should always be applied to life situations. … the Psalter represents theology in its most vibrant form” (52-53). The truths we find in these songs resonate with us because they package what we need to know about God in a memorable format.

That is why when you are overjoyed at God’s goodness, “How Great Thou Art” erupts from your mouth. Or when you are overwhelmed with life’s heartaches, “It is Well With My Soul” starts to swell within you. Or when you cannot go one minute longer in your own strength, “I Need Thee Every Hour” starts to hum from your lips.

That is why when you come to church, you anticipate singing praises with the congregation (Psalm 100). Or when you are afraid of the hurdles of life before you, you know you can trust in God (Psalm 56:3). Or when you have sinned, you turn in repentance to God for His mercy & cleansing (Psalm 51). Or when your heart is broken, you can feel the comfort of God’s presence (Psalm 34:18).

The Psalter was the hymnbook for ancient Israel - and the hymnbook for Jesus. Much like our favorite hymns, “The Psalms were born from life struggles, and they speak to people who struggle today” (Longman, 84-85). Yet these songs are greater than those in our hymnbook, for they are the songs inspired by God Himself. A “Him-book,” if you will.

On February 4th I will begin a new series on the Psalms called “Songs for the Soul.” The Psalms inform our minds to focus on God in worship, direct our wills to trust Him throughout all of life’s situations, and arouse our emotions to respond to God appropriately no matter what we may be going through. You and I need these songs for the soul.

To further stir your mind and heart over the Psalms, I highly recommend How to Read the Psalms by Tremper Longman III and The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Tim & Kathy Keller. Both are a manageable size, and rich in helping you understand & worship through the Psalms.

- Pastor Jonathan

how to read psalms
How to Read the Psalms, Tremper Longman III
The Psalms possess an enduring fascination for us. For frankness, directness, intensity and intimacy, they are unrivaled in all of Scripture. Somehow the psalmists seem to have anticipated all our awe, desires and frustrations. No wonder Christians have used the Psalms in worship from the earliest times to the present. Yet the Psalms cause us difficulties when we look at them closely. Their poetry is unfamiliar in form. Many images they use are foreign to us today. And the psalmists sometimes express thoughts that seem unworthy of Scripture. Tremper Longman gives us the kind of help we need to overcome the distance between the psalmists' world and ours. He explains the various kinds of psalms, the way they were used in Hebrew worship and their relationship to the rest of the Old Testament. Then he looks at how Christians can appropriate their message and insights today. Turning to the art of Old Testament poetry, he explains the use of parallelism and imagery. Step-by-step suggestions for interpreting the psalms on our own are followed by exercises for further study and reflection. Also included is a helpful guide to commentaries on the Psalms. Here is a book for all those who long to better understand these mirrors of the soul. | Available from Amazon and Christian Book.
Timothy Keller
The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller
The Songs of Jesus offers inspiration every day for an entire year based on the Book of Psalms. Each day readers will encounter a fresh, inspiring lesson from one of the most beloved books in the Bible.

The Book of Psalms is known as the Bible's songbook — Jesus knew all 150 psalms intimately, and relied on them to face every situation, including his death.

Two decades ago, Tim Keller began reading the entire Book of Psalms every month. The Songs of Jesus is based on his accumulated years of study, insight, and inspiration recorded in his prayer journals. Kathy Keller came to reading the psalms as a support during an extended illness. Together they have distilled the meaning of each verse, inviting readers into the vast wisdom of the psalms.

If you have no devotional life yet, this book is a wonderful way to start. If you already spend time in study and prayer, understanding every verse of the psalms will bring you to a new level of intimacy with God, unlocking your purpose within God's kingdom. | Available from various distributors.