In the morning our family has been reading the Psalms in reverse order (starting from Psalm 150 and going backwards). What an encouragement and refreshment to start the day being reminded to praise the LORD, who “takes pleasure in his people” (Ps 149:4), who is our “refuge/portion in the land of the living” (Ps 142:5), who formed my inward parts (Ps 139:13), in whom “there is steadfast love and plentiful redemption” (Ps 130:7), who “deals well with his servant according to his Word” (Ps 119:65)….
So I’m doubly thankful for UK songwriter Matt Searles’s latest album, “From the River to the Ends of the Earth” – a collection of 10 psalm arrangements (including some of the psalms we’ve read together as a family!)
Here are some of my thoughts (no particular order):
- I love that each track is a whole psalm put to music and versified in today’s language. When was the last time you sang a psalm in its entirety in church?
- All the tracks on this album use either the standard acoustic-guitar led band style that churches using contemporary music will be able to handle easily, or even simpler piano and vocals. I like this as I’m able picture more easily how it might work in our church context and available instruments.
- Probably the psalm that’s easiest to introduce congregationally is “O King” (Psalm 45), which uses Holst’s Thaxted melody (the one they play at the Rugby World Cup).
The words do a great job of painting the picture of the King on his eternal throne with the court in attendance, and draws the redemptive-historical connection to Jesus being King and the church being his bride. For example:
“This king will reign forever, his sons upon the earth
And ev’ry generation will tell of his great worth
All nations will soon praise him and fall down at his feet
His kingdom established, where truth and mercy meet
O Jesus we adore you, our lover and our king
Your church, your bride is waiting and so to you we sing”
- I love how “Be At Rest” (Psalm 116) brings out the psalmist’s love for the Lord, and transforms Psalm 116:8 into a vibrant chorus to be sung in every season of life:
“You delivered my soul from death
My eyes from tears
My feet from stumbling, LORD
That I may walk before you, LORD my God
As long as I shall live”
- I’m glad to hear writers putting Psalm 42 to music and words that better reflect the psalmist’s desperation (e.g. Sing Team, Sons of Korah) – certainly more accurately than the unfortunate “As The Deer”. I like Matt’s attempt (Like Deer in Thirsty Lands; using piano and vocals alongside a stanza/refrain-structured paraphrase of Psalms 42 and 43) which has a wistful, longing sound to it.
- King and Priest Forever (Psalm 110) is an upbeat Christ-centred psalm with a catchy hook (“Jesus, yours alone is the Kingdom, all the power belongs to you!”).
- Matt (formerly assistant minister at Dundonald Church, Wimbledon, currently studying at Oak Hill Theological College) draws material and ideas from the Free Church of Scotland Psalmody Committee, who strive to encouraged psalm singing among the next generation. They seem to have lots of helpful resources to help those who aren’t used to psalm-singing.
- “Let Your Kingdom Come” (Psalm 72) is a much more realistic depiction of our anticipation for Jesus’s Kingdom to fully arrive. The almost mournful way you first hear the chorus I think paints that “now-but-not-yet” tension really well. I like verse 2 in particular (paraphrasing 72:8-11):
From the river to earth’s farthest bounds
Your kingdom will reach every shore
Glory and majesty, power and honour are yours
Soon all rulers will fall at your feet
And nations and lands bring you tribute
Every oppressor will tremble before your great wrath
Jesus Messiah, you are the hope of the needy
All the world, one day will gather around your throne
Let your kingdom come
Let your kingdom come
Let your kingdom come
All in all, Matt’s album is a great resource if you’re in a church looking to incorporate more psalm singing in your gathered worship. These psalms are easy to sing to (I think more so than the Sons of Korah albums, which tend to be more a listening experience) and Matt does a great job of pointing the psalms to Jesus, the Lord who is King. May there be more songwriters that write congregational music for entire psalms!
You can listen to and get the album here: http://mattsearles.bandcamp.com/
Disclosure: I was given a review copy of the album, but all opinions are my own.