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405 pages
Jan 2004
Broadman & Holman Publishers

A Musician Looks at the Psalms: 365 Daily Meditations

by Don Wyrtzen

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The Psalter, the ancient hymnal of Israel, gives a magnificent picture of ­reality. The Psalter’s lyricists and composers wrestled with the nitty-gritty of life in the ancient world. They wrote honest and beautiful songs about their struggles and triumphs. Some of what they wrote seems messy to a purely rationalistic mind, but it all rings true to a full view of reality.

I believe the Lord wants us to relate to him with our whole beings with the totality of our personalities. But many of us intellectualize Christianity. We approach it much as we would a crossword puzzle in the New York Times._We are satisfied if all the little squares are filled in properly, both horizontally and vertically. If everything fits, matches, goes together, we feel content. However, a vital relationship with the Lord is based on more than head knowledge! He wants to get inside our hearts too—our psyches, our personas.

I also believe that intellectualized Christianity is too brittle and rigid for life. Brittle things tend to snap! Modern life is unpredictable, constantly changing, and complex. Both our external and internal worlds keep shifting and moving. Life seems to have a rhythm—work to rest, tension to resolution, and dissonance to consonance. We even tend to think in terms of black versus white and of relative versus absolute.

What do we need? What will give us comfort and direction in our complex modern society? We need an adequate view of reality! Intellectual precision, sound doctrine, and impeccable theology are essential, but they are not enough. They are basic blocks in the structure of reality, but they are not the whole building. Those of us who have bought into that system, to the neglect of other crucial areas of our personality, have sooner or later found our lives bankrupt.

The Lord isn’t interested in a halfhearted, casual relationship. Hear his compelling command: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5 niv). He demands that we love him with our hearts, the seat of our love and emotions; with our souls (nephesh), the center of our personalities and self-consciousness; and with our strength, our physical bodies.

This is at the fountainhead of living on the basis of the Law. In love the Israelites were to obey the Law because of an awesome respect (fear) and reverence for Yahweh. In the New Testament the Messiah taught us that the whole Law and the Prophets hang on two great commandments—loving God with our whole beings and loving our neighbors as ourselves (see Matt. 22:37–40).

The love of God was displayed not only in the Law but also on a grand and glorious scale through his “one and only Son” (John 3:16 niv). The thrill of the gospel is that is enables us, as never before, to live on the basis of these two great commandments. As we do, we come to know the Lord with our whole beings.

As I’ve written this journal, I have identified with these ancient song­writers. Their sharing with me, under the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has taken me to new heights and depths of reality. They have pulled, stretched, challenged, and comforted me.

The motifs and musings that follow are personal. These are not an exegetical and theological treatises. They are written from an artistic, musical, and emotional perspective. All 150 psalms are included, with a few key thoughts for each day of the year.

Art must be perceived in terms of both form and content. Form refers to how something is said; content refers to what is said. Form relates to style; content relates to substance. There should be congruity between the form and the content (i.e., you don’t depict a thunderstorm with a piccolo solo!). Form is important, though often neglected. I don’t think it was an accident that Psalm 51, David’s magnificent poem of confession, was written in poetic form. Poetry is much more passionate and multi-layered than prose. So both form and content are highly significant in this journal.

A sonata or symphony (a sonata for orchestra) generally has three parts: exposition of the theme, development of the theme, and recapitulation of the theme. I have loosely followed that format in my journal.

The book itself is a three-part form—prelude, body, postlude. For each day there are three sections:

  • Theme—usually several key verses from each psalm
  • Development—some personal thoughts on those verses
  • Personal prayer—an attempt to apply by faith a biblical concept for each day


I’ve also included some traditional hymns and contemporary lyrics along the way.

Where possible, I have tried to tie in a musical perspective because I believe that music can be seen as a metaphor for life. What’s wrong with many of us is that the song has gone out of our lives!

I have given each psalm its own title, using modern musical forms—sonatas, fugues, variations, rhapsodies, dirges, marches, hymns—to enhance the meaning of the text. I also have tied in some of the literary forms of the psalms—descriptive praise, individual and national lament, imprecatory, enthronement—which have only recently been discovered.

    King David, the chief musician, says:

    The instruction of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;

    the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy, making the inexperienced wise.

    The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad;

    the commandment of the Lord is radiant, making the eyes light up.

    The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever;

    the ordinances of the Lord are reliable and altogether righteous.

    They are more desirable than gold—than an abundance of pure gold;

    and sweeter than honey—than honey dripping from the comb.

    In addition, Your servant is warned by them;

    there is great reward in keeping them.

    Amen! (Ps. 19:7–11)


Ode to Joy

First Movement—in minor

 Psalm 1

How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path of sinners, or join a group of mockers! (v. 1).

Deep inside I long to be happy. At the core of my being, I crave fulfillment, meaning, and significance. The mind-set I choose and the lifestyle I live can only partly satisfy these longings.

To get a clear picture of happiness, I need to come to grips with what sort of behavior brings unhappiness. Taking advice from the ungodly, hanging around with sinners, and socializing with scoffers will sap my life of meaning and joy.

The people close to me—arrangers, composers, vocalists, and instrumentalists—strongly influence me. They have a subtle yet pervasive effect on my life. How easy it would be for me to impress them with my gifts and abilities in an attempt to make it big in records, films, or television. I don’t want to compromise my commitment to Christian music; but if I’m not careful, I will walk, then stand, and ultimately sit with people who couldn’t care less about God.

If I choose friends from a secular environment, my personal values will gradually change, the song of my life will shift to a minor key, and I’ll lose a deep sense of personal joy. I need to keep my motives pure in my professional dealings; I don’t want to become a clone of someone I admire.

Personal Prayer

Lord, help me not to be brainwashed by materialistic society,
but give me a deep sense of personal joy in knowing You.