Psalms to Sing With Families
Pixar’s animated film, Inside Out, is one of the most creative expressions of emotion I have ever seen. In the film, five emotions – Anger, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Joy – are personified, competing in a young girl’s mind as she walks through the idiosyncrasies of adolescence. After discussing the nuances of the movie with my youngest, she looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m just glad I’m not in your head. You have a lot of emotion people up there.”
It’s the truth. And the reality is, there is no human immune to varying emotions. Desperate grief can strike the most stoic man, and utter joy can touch an apathetic heart. In His grace, God has given us books of the Bible which address different emotions, but the book of Psalms is unique. In this one book of the Bible, we find comfort in every emotion we will ever face– it truly runs the gamut! John Piper says this: “In great mercy and wisdom, God has chosen to give us the Psalms. He has put them at the very center of his inspired word. Surely this is no accident. The heart is the center of our emotional life. And God’s heart-book is at the center of his word. How easy it is to find!”[i]
As parents, incorporating Psalms into our family’s routine can have lasting effects. Many of the Psalms I learned as a child and a teen came to mind at significant moments in my own life. Whether our kids are anxious, angry, hurt, or filled with joy, the Psalms reinforce the presence of Jesus and reminds us that He is bottling up our tears and rejoicing in our gladness. The Psalms are actually songs that are meant to be sung, and singing is one of the best ways to memorize their lyrics. For this reason, I’m so grateful for artists who have given us a precious gift by putting beautiful melodies to verses from God’s heart-book:
“Praise the Lord with Glad Thanksgiving” (Psalm 118), Cardiophonia Music (Hallel Psalms) -This upbeat tune provides a beautiful, praiseworthy melody for an exuberant Psalm which calls us to give thanks to the Lord because of who He is and because of what He does. Psalm 118 is a great one to read aloud as a family when life feels mundane or dreary. It literally gives us reasons to be glad. Why rejoice when we feel overwhelmed by people or circumstances? Because the Lord is on my side as my helper (vs. 9). Why give thanks when the day ahead seems bleak? Because this is the day that the Lord has made (vs 24). Let these words from God’s Word wash over and refresh your soul; because of our great God, there are many reasons to give thanks no matter how we feel.
“Taste and See” (Psalm 34), Shane and Shane – This Psalm is written by David after reflecting on his miraculous escape from Abimelech (1 Samuel 21). Though David feared for his life, it did not stop him from blessing the Lord always and continually, and he invites the reader to worship with him: “magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together!” (vs 3). The arrangement is written with an acoustic rock feel, giving rightful emotion to a Psalm that calls us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” The exhortation is for us to experience God’s grace, peace, forgiveness, and protection. Don’t just read about it, taste it. Looking at freshly baked bread is one thing, but tasting it is an entirely different experience.
When our children are confronted with suffering, we have the privilege of teaching them why we can still praise the Lord. One of the greatest comforts in this life is knowing that God is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed spirit (vs 18). We do not serve a God who watches our pain from a distance, but He empathizes with us because He Himself faced the pains of our broken world in order to deliver us from our sin. Nothing in this life can overcome us, and Psalm 34 reminds us that this is true now and forever.
“I’ll Not Be Shaken” (Psalm 62), Wendell Kimbrough – Kimbrough’s sing-able melodies have been used across generations to teach the Psalms. The chorus of this arrangement is one that I quietly sing when I have a sleepless night. Psalm 62 reinforces that salvation comes from trusting in the Lord alone. And that trust is not in a fictitious being or a mere man, but we trust in a sovereign God who is Lord over the whole universe. Knowing this allows us to relent our desperate and exhausting need to control and instead trust in God who is our rock and salvation and our fortress (vs 6). Ask your kids how these characteristics of God might provide comfort during stressful times. The chorus is a reminder that our future is totally secure because of Jesus’ love for us, and the more we begin to grasp the depth of His love, the better we understand that there is nothing to fear, there is nothing that can shake us, and there nothing that can separate us from our mighty rock and redeemer.
“Deliver Me” (Psalm 120), Cardiphonia Music (Songs for the Sojourn Vol 1)– The melancholy tune fits this Psalm so well. Chapter 120 is a cry to the Lord, a song of ascent. Psalms 120-124 are called songs of ascent because they are believed to be sung by the Israelites as they ascended to Jerusalem for worship. This song, like so much of life, does not have a nicely wrapped, happy ending. It’s a sad and desperate song. But what I love to point out, and what we can be quick to show our children, is that while the world casts their anxious cries on humans, hoping that someone or something will fix their pain and confusion, these honest psalms were sung on the way to worshipping a God who they knew would hear their cries and answer their pleas for help. God is faithful, God is just, and God hears us when we express our hurt by the pains of this world.
“Psalm 126,” Bifrost Arts – Chapter 126 is one of my favorite songs in God’s heart-book. The Israelites faced utter desolation when their city was burned, and those left became exiles. They likely sang this song when, years later, they were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. There was much work ahead, but they recognized that because God was faithful helping them through trials in the past, He would continue to be faithful in what was to come. You can almost hear the Israelite’s singing because of God’s goodness, and when others hear their praise-filled song, they say: “Wow! [my paraphrase]. The Lord has done great things for them! (Vs 2).” What great things has the Lord done for you that you can share with others? While there are many answers to this question, there is none greater than knowing that Jesus has placed His unconditional love on you. “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad” (vs 3).
Listen here for a conversation with Tim Keller and Keith Getty on the use of the Psalms in corporate worship, family life, counseling, and personal devotions.
For other articles in Katie’s series about songs to sing with your family, please see Old Texts With New Life: Five Hymns For Parents to Play With Their Teens and Five Worship Songs For Families In Uncertain Times. Check out our new and growing Spotify playlist here!