The worship song outpouring in the last two decades has resulted in thousands of new songs for the church to sing. Many have been expressions of praise, thanksgiving, love, and commitment to God. Others intentionally seek to help us engage directly with God’s Word to us.
That’s one of the purposes of music Paul refers to in Colossians 3:16 when he says that we’re to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly as we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
I was encouraged a while back to come across an album by Matt Searles, a 32 year old assistant pastor at Dundonald Church in Wimbledon, London. The album is called Now and Not Yet – Acoustic Psalms. The production is simple – just guitar and female vocal – but the lyrics are derived directly from 10 different Psalms. Two are taken from the Free Church of Scotland Psalmody Committee, and the rest are written by Matt. Here’s what he has to say about the project:
We need the psalms. Not only does God graciously reveal himself to us in his word, but he also gives us vocabulary to express our experience of him. The psalms speak of joy, confidence, celebration and praise, but also despair, grief, questioning and doubt. Rather than deny these feelings, our loving Father tells us to bring them all to him. The psalms are the words he gives us to do this.
The psalms speak of the great joy there is in this life in following the Lord, but also the fact that we await the new heavens and earth before we’ll fully experience all the blessings that are ours in Christ. In short, the psalms speak of what is now and not yet.
I wrote and asked Matt to fill me in a little on how the album came about and this is his response:
I’d been spending a lot of time in the psalms since studying them at theological college, and there we’d sung some metrical psalms, which I’d found to be a blessing. The range of imagery and emotion (including lament and crying out to God as well as praise) was broader than what I was used to singing in church.
Then this all hit home 18 months ago when my Mum suddenly fell ill, and died 3 months after. My Dad had died some years previously. At this time of grief I was spending lots of time in the psalms, and I began humming tunes for the words that were going round my head. In the Lord’s goodness this really helped me to get the words of the psalms not just into my head by my heart. My version of Psalm 30 was performed at my Mum’s funeral, and after this I thought that these songs might be a blessing to others, so I took a decision to try to record a simple album (I can’t sing or really play guitar, so I paid someone to do it for me!)
My prayer is that through these songs people might be helped to engage with our loving Father, even at times of great sorrow. I’m increasingly persuaded that part of a pastor’s job is not simply to teach sound doctrine, but to teach our people the vocabulary to express their relationship with God. That’s why, despite being a pastor rather than a great musician, I’ve been pursuing this project.
I’ll certainly keep writing songs – my Dad was a guitarist and when Mum died I inherited a couple of guitars from him (including a 1930s Gibson!!) that I’ve been learning to play. And there are plenty more psalms I could do with knowing a bit better! But I feel that God helped me with these songs in a particular way, perhaps if nothing else because I needed the words of these psalms in my head and my heart.
You can check out his album at Bandcamp.