1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
I started going to the church I went to throughout college because of this psalm. We sang it in the first service I attended and I wasn’t able to escape it (Or maybe it was because of the cute girl who sat next to me that first time – it’s hard to tell sometimes).
My college church was a little strange for a few reasons, but high among them was that the only music used in worship was psalms, sung without instruments in four-part harmony. There were theological reasons for this but mostly I appreciated it for giving me a fantastic perspective on the entire psalter.
The psalms should be sung – it’s how they become meaningful and actually stick. Psalm 40 in particular worked that way for me. The melody I learned with it (which is oddly not on YouTube – ask me sometime and I’ll sing it for you) spoke to some dark places in my life in ways that words on a page couldn’t.
Because I learned this as a song it sunk in and becomes part of how I view the world. I can sing it when I’m cheerful and remembering that ‘hymn of praise to God,’ but I also keep returning to it when I’m not in a good place.
The song sticks around and bubbles up when I don’t have words or know what to do. The psalmist reminds me to wait patiently for the Lord, who will certainly hear my cry and answer me in my distress. These words, and through them a vision of God’s faithfulness, has gotten ingrained in my soul.
I don’t often have dramatic spiritual experiences, but most of the times that I have they have been linked to singing – during a particularly rough moment last year, the very first verse of this psalm gave me an anchor. I might not have been sure if I believed God’s promises but this song, and that first line, had become a part of me that I couldn’t disbelieve.
The setting of this psalm I originally learned was set in a minor key. The melody itself seemed to say that even when you are in the miry pit, still in the slime, you can have firm confidence that God will rescue you. You can be so sure of that that you use a past tense to describe it and even look forward to how you are going to praise God for rescuing you. I don’t have that kind of faith but by singing it, it starts to grow in me.
That college church became home for a lot of reasons. The biggest gift it gave me, though, was unlocking the psalter by making it sing.
U2’s version of Psalm 40, almost as good as the version I sang in that old church, as a freshmen in college