What worship leaders can learn from Asaph

Psalm 81If you were charged to write songs about God, what would they say?  

Would the words wax poetically about His creative power? Would the melody rise as an anthem to His mighty works? Would it be a tune that put quotable phrases and feel-good imagery on repeat in the brains of its listeners?


Many tend to think of the Psalms as that kind of music. We say things like, “I just feel so good when I read them.” We take one verse from one poem at one moment and expand it to describe the whole book.


We fail to listen to the music the Psalms are singing to us.


Asaph was charged to write songs about God. He was given that duty by David in 1 Chronicles 16. Many Psalms are attributed to him, which means those feel-good quotes of the Psalms are often lines from his works.


The problem is, when we quote Asaph’s Psalms one verse at a time, we hear the tune of his chorus, without hearing the layers of his composition.


Psalm 81 begins,


“Sing for joy to God our strength;     shout aloud to the God of Jacob!” -Psalm 81:1


A classic start to a Psalm if there ever was one. This could easily hang as a plaque on the wall of a church, beating the obligation of joy over the head of each passersby.


Yet, Asaph hasn’t always written words like these. He has experienced the breadth of emotions this life of faith puts before us and written about them all.


O God, why have you rejected us forever?     Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? –Psalm 74:1

We praise you, God,     we praise you, for your Name is near;     people tell of your wonderful deeds. –Psalm 75:1

God is renowned in Judah;     in Israel his name is great. –Psalm 76:1

I cried out to God for help;     I cried out to God to hear me. –Psalm 77:1

How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever?     How long will your jealousy burn like fire? –Psalm 79:5

Restore us, O God;     make your face shine on us,     that we may be saved. –Psalm 80:3


So, when Asaph shouts for joy in Psalm 81, I am ready to listen. I know that shouting is not his only volume and joy is not his only theme. He has cried out in agony, and whispered the fear of being abandoned. He has talked of his hope and pleaded for restoration.


Asaph has earned the right to call us to joy. He has not glossed over life with fake platitudes. Nor has he missed noticing the way God is at work in the midst of it all.


His poems to the Lord are reflective of the depth of human experience and the fullness of God’s goodness all at once. His music invites us to a concert with a richness that extends beyond one quotable lyric.


If I were charged to write music to the Lord, I hope I would learn from Asaph.


That was my reflection on Psalm 81. Please link up with your own reflection below. Then come back next week to reflect on Psalm 82. (Email & RSS readers, click over to my website to add your link or read the links of others.)