by Mark Horne
The Bible is often treated as a book of rules with directions for living. To some extent, that is true; but it is neither the whole truth nor the most important truth about the book. Ultimately, the Bible is a story about God and man and their reconciliation in Christ.
Yet even when we think of the more practical aspects of the Bible, it can still be misleading to say it is a “book of rules” or that it contains “directions for living” and think that we have done justice to how God is interacting with us in Scripture.
To understand what I mean, consider how God instituted the Sabbath for the Israelites in the wilderness. Did God merely tell them, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”? No! He carefully prepared them to hear these instructions by first training them in the pattern of a six-day workweek and Sabbath rest. He used the miraculous bread, manna, to build Sabbatarian habits in the people.
Now it came about on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, then he said to them, “This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul, nor was there any worm in it. And Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.” And it came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? “See, the LORD has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day (Exodus 16.22-30).
God does not merely issue orders; he trains his servants to do what is right. Not only did he do this for the Israelites under Moses, he does this for us in regard to prayer. Through Matthew he gave us the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6.9-13). Thus, we have a way of learning to pray by first praying a prayer that God himself has given us. I have heard some say that the Lord’s Prayer is not meant to be repeated, but only to be a general guide. Maybe it is true that it is meant to be “only” a guide, but it will be used best as a guide if it is used, from time to time, as an actual prayer. By praying God’s prayer to the point that we memorize and internalize it, we will be better equipped to create our own prayers that are pleasing to God.
And this brings us to the Psalms. God has given us an actual hymnbook in the Bible. We can study them. We can hear sermons on them. We can find proof texts in them for various doctrines. But we ought to be singing them; or at least praying them out loud. During the Protestant Reformation many sang metricized paraphrases of the Psalms. This was wonderful, but it would have been better to learn to sing or chant them directly from the Bible. If we were to memorize and internalized the Psalms, we would be much better equipped to compose and to recognize God-pleasing hymns and spiritual songs.
It is unlikely you can suddenly begin chanting the Psalms. But you can read them out loud as praises and prayers to God by yourself or with your family. You can also probably find some pretty worthwhile metricized versions of Psalms in a hymnal. God wants us to sing to him and when we sing his own songs we can be certain that he loves to hear them. By becoming intimately acquainted with God’s songs, we will be much better able to create our own in such a way that they are both truly from our hearts and also according to God’s own Word.