The Benefit of Writing Psalms as a Devotional Practice

From time to time I have written on various devotional techniques, and today I want to share one that has become a favorite of mine: psalm writing.

notebook and pencil

Why Write Psalms

A psalm is simply a sacred song or hymn, particularly modeled after the psalms of David.  While many psalms are laments, and sometime I will write one of those, many psalms are pure adoration and praise.

I find my attitude and spiritual perspective improve greatly when I spend concentrated time praising God. Praising God means focusing completely on who God is and what he has done. During this time I do not confess my sins, thank God for personal blessings, or ask him to answer my requests. This time is devoted to recognizing God for who he is and what he has done.

I can begin writing a psalm of praise in a spiritual dull and ambivalent mood, and by the time I am done my spirit has been lifted, encouraged, and strengthened simply because I have been reminding myself who God is. This is why God told his people to always be talking about God and his works; we are encouraged through who he is.

How to Write a Psalm

Begin by choosing an attribute of God, and then start writing down the ways God shows himself in your life as that attribute.

That’s all.

This is not a time to be grammatically perfect, but to be perfect in spirit.

An Example

Here is a psalm of praise I wrote earlier this month. On this particular day I decided to focus on God as my Provider. Here is what I wrote, with only one name edited out for privacy.

God, you are my Provider
on my left hand and on my right;
in difficulty and ease
you fill my heart and life with good things.
I will meditate on all your wondrous deeds.

When I was depressed and overwhelmed
by my guilt and shame
you sent encouraging angels
and friends to comfort me.
When I was struggling under poisonous stares,
you were my shelter,
my umbrella in the rain of accusations.
When I needed nothing material
you were the satisfaction of my heart
and the source of all my good.
When I was desperate and without hope
you became my hope and assurance.
You showed me a way when I could not see
and gave me a hope I did not know.
I was rejected, and you welcomed me
and said, “I was rejected, too.”
I was distraught, and you encouraged me,
for you wrestled with God at Gethsemane.
I was poor and you made me rich;
your people brought me money out of their abundance
and paid my bills.
I was tired from weeping and despair,
and you revived my spirit.

All my life you have been my good;
and nothing good have you withheld.
Your grace and mercy are greater than I know
and more integral than I can express.
You are the blood in my veins and the breath in my mouth,
O God, my Strength and my Provider.

What attribute of God would be most beneficial for you to meditate on?

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Devotions for the Artist

The word “devotions” has gotten a bad rap.  “Devotions” are often tied to boring rituals of Bible reading and long prayers, when the “boring” piece is usually the fault of the person doing the Bible reading or praying.

God is certainly not boring; he is anything but.  So how do we resurrect the practice of devotions, and how can artists make this essential discipline a unique expression of their gifts and calling?

Bible

I have had the blessing of growing up in a Christ-centered home with parents who value and pursue a relationship with God.  Since my childhood I have heard and seen them listen to and read the Bible, pray, and do ministry.

My own experience has followed theirs.  I have never second-guessed the need to read the Bible or pray, but I have often missed the opportunity devotions provide to me as an artist.

I remember many sessions of prayer and Bible reading where my mind would go wandering through a to-do list, through a movie landscape, or into a concert hall.  That is, if I had not fallen asleep already!

My dad speaks of the reality of joy in a discipline being on the other side of perseverance, but I often had difficulty finding that joy.  I seemed to get lost in the perseverance stage.

Recently, however, I have found a new joy and peace in my relationship with God, and that joy and peace has filled my devotions more and more.  Here are a few things to consider if you are looking to improve your time with God.

General Considerations

  • Find a quiet place by yourself and away from distraction.  I find it best for me to use an analog Bible (read: paper and cover book) but I do sometimes use my YouVersion app.  The less electronics the better, which will take some discipline at first.  Eventually your heart and mind will crave that silence and freedom from being “plugged in.”
  • Set your heart on knowing God.  I do not mean knowing as in going to the library, but knowing as in knowing his heart and knowing how he looks at and reaches out to you.
  • Ask him to reveal himself to you before you read the Bible or pray.  He usually doesn’t show up in a vision, but you may find your heart and mind drawn to particular words in the Bible passage you are reading.  The Bible promises that if you seek God with all your heart you will find him.

For the Artist

Here is where devotions become really fun.  The options are endless.

Just a note for the perfectionists among us: Don’t judge your devotional art harshly.  God is not looking for perfection in your relationship with him; he is looking for your heart.  

  • Write a song based on a trait of God you find in the Bible passage you are reading.
  • Paint a picture to represent your prayer to God.
  • Write your prayers in poetic form.
  • Build something out of Play-Doh or Legos to represent your response to God.
  • Rewrite a Bible passage in your own words.

Today

This morning I wrote a song based on God’s pursuing love.  That phrase set in my heart yesterday and showed up again in the Psalms I read this morning.  Since I said that God is not about perfection, I am going to post the lyrics here.  They are only an hour old.

Pursuing God

Verse 1
Love of God so great and strong,
triumphant over fear;
reigning over hope and faith
you sing salvation’s song.

Chorus
Pursuing us through sin and death
and climbing Calvary’s tree,
I will sing my whole life long
of how you rescued me.

Verse 2
Leaving heaven’s throne and crown
for swaddling clothes and hay,
laying down his kingly rights
redeeming love came down.

Verse 3
Love exchanged a golden rod
for rugged wood and nails,
set aside his purple robe
for clothes of dust and blood.

Verse 4
Love destroyed the chains of death,
escaped the tomb of stone.
Power of God and Son of Man,
your love has rescued us.

Do something artistic during your devotions and post the result below.  Remember, perfection is not the focus; responding to God is what matters.

How to Make Your Quiet Time Creative

I love quiet time with God, but often I find it helpful to do something creative with my time.  I am a creative person, after all, so why shouldn’t I?

Innovation

The basics of time with God:

  1. Scheduled – If it’s not on the calendar it won’t happen.
  2. Time – It has to be more than a passing prayer or thought.
  3. Alone – Remove distractions.
  4. Bible – God speaks most often through his Word.
  5. Prayer – Speaking with and listening for God.
  6. Journal – Often it helps to write down your thoughts.

In reality I could simply read the Bible, speak to and listen for God, and journal every day and probably have a good relationship with God.  Ultimately exclusive time with him and a heart inclined to him are all that are needed.

But if I am honest I sometimes can slip into routine and take God for granted.

Here is where creativity comes in.

Creativity can:

  1. Refresh your interest by breaking routine.
  2. Reframe old truths in new light.
  3. Reveal new truths because your mind is working differently.

Recently I decided I wanted to do something different, something creative.  The verse of the day on my YouVersion app was 1 John 4:18-19 (CEV):

A real love for others will chase those worries away.  The thought of being punished is what makes us afraid.  It shows that we have not really learned to love.  We love because God loved us first.

This verse really struck a chord with me, so I decided to dive into it a bit more.  Here is what I did:

  1. I read the verses in several translations to get a full picture of the verse’s meaning.  I usually read the Amplified Version (AMP), the New International Version (NIV), the Contemporary English Version (CEV, and the English Standard Version (ESV).  Sometimes I also read The Message (MSG) translation.
  2. I wrote out how the verses impacted me in light of what I was experiencing in my life.
  3. I wrote out my conversation, or prayer, with God.  I have found that writing out my prayers can be very illuminating.
  4. I wrote a song based on those verses.  So far I have only two verses and a chorus (it needs a Bridge), but I felt like I was able to put into song form the encouragement I needed that day.

Here are the lyrics:

When I am afraid
I will trust in You
When life is hard
I will trust in You
When feelings fade
I will trust in You
When friends betray
I will trust in You

Your love is deeper
Your love is fuller
Your love has overcome my every fear
All of my worries
All of my trouble
Your love has overcome my every fear

When I am alone
I will trust in You
When I am wrong
I will trust in You
When my words fail
I will trust in You
When hope is gone
I will trust in You 

Your love is deeper
Your love is fuller
Your love has overcome my every fear
All of my worries
All of my trouble
Your love has overcome my every fear

What creative things have you done during your quiet time?

Rehearsal Leadership for Beginners

Learning to lead a band rehearsal can be a hazardous process.

First of all, accepting the title of “leader” can feel like taking a target and taping it to your shirt.  You get to answer all of the questions and settle all of the disputes.

Once you have accepted that reality you must become comfortable with sharing your heart with people who are not always in your inner circle of friends.  This experience can feel much like undressing in front of strangers (not that I have, but just saying).

Deal with that and you still have not even begun deciding how to structure the rehearsal.

Help?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, let me tell you that I constantly deal with the first two issues.  If you are human you will need to occasionally revisit those things.

What you can do, however, is develop a rehearsal process that is clear and does not add stress to an already challenging experience.

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Begin on time.  No matter who is there always begin on time.  The key to valuing volunteers is valuing their time.  Those who are late should not penalize those who are on time.  Later that week (NOT after rehearsal) call those who were late and ask them to step up.  They are holding everyone else back.
  2. Always begin with prayer and a brief devotional.  By brief I mean 5-10 minutes maximum followed by 5-10 minutes of sharing and prayer.  The goal of this time is two-fold: 1) to enable everyone to deal with the baggage they bring with them, and 2) to emphasize that our focus is on Christ and worship and not on ourselves or perfection.  Treat your worship team like a small group.
  3. Deal efficiently with sound checks.  One of the most frustrating parts of a rehearsal can be getting the technical issues straight.  Cut this one off at the pass and meet with the technicians ahead of time to decide how you are going to handle set up and sound checks.  Set a time limit that is reasonable but preferably short.  I prefer to have my musicians arrive 15 minutes before rehearsal begins to set up and plug in so time is not lost within rehearsal.  Do not assume anything; communicate, communicate, communicate.
  4. Methodically go through each congregational song. 
    1. If the band has had a recording to work with in preparation, or if the song is familiar, play straight through the song without stopping.
    2. As soon as you end direct them to any major meltdown areas and play through those areas until they are comfortable.
    3. If things sounded fine to you, ask if anyone has an area they want to revisit.
    4. Finally play through the song once more without stopping.
  5. Play congregational sets through.  After you have worked through each congregational song individually, play through any groupings of songs in the service in order to get the transitions figured out and to get the feel of doing the songs as a group.
  6. Work up the special or performance tune, if you have one.  Leave at least 30 minutes for this.  You may even want to play the recording through once before you start, if that would help.
  7. End on time.  The best way you can value a volunteer is to end on time.  If you find you are consistently running over in time, ask yourself several questions:
    1. Am I leading the rehearsal effectively?  Usually there is something we as leaders can do better.
    2. Is the music too hard?  Quite often I have found that I want to do too much hard music for my team and I have had to pull back.
    3. Are we trying to do too much music?  Playing 4 songs well is much better than playing 6 songs moderately well.
    4. Have I allocated enough time for rehearsal?  2 hours should be a given.  1.5 is too short, and 2.5 is really long.
    5. Can we improve how we work with the technicians?  Sometimes the key to improving rehearsals is working more closely with the sound technicians to prepare more effectively for rehearsal.

Ultimately leading rehearsals is a lifetime learning process.  Hang in there.  You can do it.

What rehearsal leadership tips do you have for beginning rehearsal leaders?