Emma Stokes is a lecturer in Bible and Mission at Carey Baptist College.

I think many people would agree that a good song can change your mood, but what about the idea that a song can change a community? Sound like a stretch? I would have thought so too, but now I am not so sure.

In preparation for the upcoming Psalms Conference a group of us at Carey have been gathering to study a psalm together. It has been one of the most intense, prolonged, and beautiful experiences I have had of working communally on a passage of Scripture. Our time together has been genuinely formative. As we have lingered in the psalm and sought to capture the song we can hear rising from the text, that song has also captured us. In the process of trying to write a song together, we have been held in place, wrestling with God, confronting suffering, and asking painful questions that we might not have had the courage to ask alone.

This is one of the many gifts of the Psalms to us. They offer us a plethora of voices and emotions, some of which we have avoided, ignored, or suppressed. They contain jubilant and faithful declarations but also doubting, begging, angry, desperate voices that draw us into places we would not typically choose to go. If we allow them room the Psalms can form us into people who listen well. They can help us to become communities who are sensitive to the suffering of others, who can linger in hard places, and who can stay in our own pain long enough to journey well with others in theirs. This, I would suggest, forms us missionally. These ragged, raw, beautiful articulations not only resonate within us, they also shape us for deep engagement with the world. They grow within us the compassion we need to enter hard spaces and build the resilience we need to remain there alongside others when there are no quick fixes or easy answers. In particular, the psalms of lament have a way of sustaining us as people of hope. We can keep singing because, as a community, we remember that we are part of a bigger story in which our God saves.

The way Old Testament scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann frames it, the Psalms are subversive and give us eyes to see a different world:

The Psalter is not a collection of beautiful sayings from which we can lift pious snippets. It is, taken as a whole, the ground and constitution of an entirely different life-world, one that refuses to let us live in the thin world of anxiety, greed, self-sufficiency, denial, despair, amnesia, and normlessness. The Psalter shows us that the dominant world given us in our culture is not the real world, and we need not inhabit it. Instead, we may indeed lift our hearts in joy and enter into another realm—one of weeping and laughing, even if that weeping is now and the laughing only later (Ps. 30:5; Luke 6:21–25).[1]

This July, we want to invite you to join with us to inhabit the different world that the Psalms open for us. This is not just another conference, but the opportunity to be part of a unique gathering where we will be formed, confronted, enriched, and renewed as we linger in the Psalter as a community. Come and be part of it. We’d love to have you join us to bring forth songs that help bring needed change in us and in our communities. Let’s sing for a change.


Join us for our three-day conference in July exploring how the Psalms can inspire Christian worship and shape God’s people here in Aotearoa. The conference will gather a range of Christian leaders including students, pastors, worship leaders, scholars, musicians, poets, and creatives to explore the Bible’s songbook and prayerbook. You don’t want to miss this! 

Get your tickets here


[1] Walter Brueggemann, From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms, ed. Brent A. Strawn, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 26.


Photo: By Nutthaseth Vanchaichana on iStock

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