Here is a challenge for the coming year. Look at the Psalms and the singing of the Psalms in a new light. In so doing, trust the Lord to use this means to put “your soul in tune” that you might better live each and every day in response to the work of Jesus Christ. Let me explain.
The Psalms give you a divinely guided tour of your emotions and their appropriate expression. Calvin puts it this way. “I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, ‘An Anatomy of all parts of the Soul;’ for there is not an emotion of which any can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, fear, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated”
Geerhardus Vos follows Calvin in this understanding of the Psalter. “The deeper fundamental character of the Psalter consists in this that it voices the subjective response to the objective doings of God for and among his people. Subjective responsiveness is the specific quality of these songs. As prophecy is objective, being the address of Jehovah to Israel in word and act, so the Psalter is subjective, being the answer of Israel to that divine speech” [The Eschatology of the Psalter, The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 324]. As the Psalms guide us in our responses to God, we must remember that they are a Divine Guide.
It is very likely that Calvin and Vos build upon the Athanasius (295-373 AD). “[A]mong all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul” [Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus Concerning the Psalms,
But this is not the end of the matter. Because the Psalms portray every possible emotion, they guide you in the expression of your own emotions. “For no matter what you seek, whether it be repentance and confession, or help in trouble and temptation or under persecution, whether you have been set free from plots and snares or, on the contrary, are sad for any reason, or whether seeing yourself progressing and your enemy cast down, you want to praise and thank and bless the Lord, each of these things the Divine Psalms show you how to do, and in every case the words you want are written down for you, and you can say them as your own” (Athanasius, italics added).
Not only so, the Psalms, as the Divine Guide, train you in the expression of your emotions. “[A]s it is written that by the Spirit a man lives and mortifies his bodily actions, so he who sings well [by singing the Psalms] puts his soul in tune, correcting by degrees its faulty rhythm…” (Athanasius, italics added).
In the coming year, commit yourself to sing the Psalms with this perspective. Consciously put the words of the Psalter in your heart and on your lips as your own words. By God’s grace, make the Divine Guide of the Psalms your response to God’s acts and words. And in so doing, expect God to use this means, “by degrees,” to put your “soul in tune.”