Graham Kendrick on Spontaneous Worship – Part 2 Praises from the belly of a whale

Graham Kendrick on Spontaneous Worship – Part 2 Praises from the belly of a whale


In the first part of this post I wrote up some ideas from Graham Kendrick at a recent seminar about starting our in spontaneous worship. In this section he reflects on how psalm-like Jonah’s prayer was from the belly of a whale.

Graham uses material from the Psalms frequently in spontaneous worship. He has also studied the Psalms and writings about them in some depth. Quoting  from Eugene Peterson’s book about Jonah “Under the Unpredictable Plant” Graham shows how the afflicted Jonah was a scholar of the Psalms.

You will be familiar with Jonah’s prayer out of the belly of the whale. “In my distress, I called to the Lord and he answered me. From the depths….. etc”

It is not that remarkable that Jonah prayed. He found himself alive in the belly of a whale – prayer is the only obvious response. What is remarkable, however, is that the prayer is actually incredibly formal. Jonah was praying as he had been taught to from the Psalms. The structure and wording is the stock vocabulary of the Psalms and references many Psalms – see below:
Jonah 2:2a Ps 3:4; Ps 120:1
Jonah 2:2b Ps 18:4-5; Ps 30:3
Jonah 2:3a Ps 88:6–7
Jonah 2:3b Ps 42:7
Jonah 2:4a Ps 31:22
Jonah 2:4b Ps 5:7
Jonah 2:5a Ps 69:1–2
Jonah 2:6b Ps 49:15; Ps 56:13; Ps 103:4
Jonah 2:7a Ps 107:5; Ps 142:3
Jonah 2:8a Ps 31:6
Jonah 2:9a Ps 50:14; Ps 69:30; Ps 107:22
Jonah 2:9c Ps 3:8; Ps 37:39

Peterson says that not a word in the prayer is original. All are from the Psalms. The form of the prayer itself is also derivative. Scholars tell us that the Psalms are either laments or thanksgiving.  We expect a psalm of lament but in fact he is praying a prayer of praise. Here Jonah chose to pray in a form at variance with his circumstances.

So the form of Jonah’s prayer is is one of a Thanksgiving Psalm. This can be seen in the layout below:
Thanksgiving Psalm Structure Jonah 2:3–10[2–9]
Introduction to the psalm v 3[2]
Description of past distress vv 4–7a[3–6a]
Appeal to God for help v 8[7]
Reference to the rescue God provided v 7b[6b]
Vow of praise and/or testimonial vv 9–10[8–9]

Using the Psalms as the basis for our worship
Graham suggests that we shouldn’t just read the psalms, but sing them too. Saying it is fine at one level but when singing it we engage at a different level. Put a melody to the words.  He suggests that you start with your personal devotions before taking it to a congregation. Tap on the table top to develop a groove and once you become comfortable and play an instrument you can set up a loop of chords.

Using Psalm 33 as a basis, Graham then led us in an improvised song – I have re-written the structure below to reflect the pacing of the song he constructed. Some of the lines were looped several times and as with much of Graham’s writing there was plenty of call and response.

Rejoice in the Lord all you Righteous
Rejoice in the Lord all you Righteous

Praise befits the upright
Rejoice in the Lord all you righteous
Praise the Lord with the Lyre
Make melody
Make melody to him
With the harp of 10 strings

Sing to him a new song
Play skilfully
Play skilfully
On the strings

For the word of the lord is right and true
All his work is done in faithfulness
He loves righteousness
He loves justice
And the earth is full of the streadfast love of the Lord
And the earth is full of the streadfast love of the Lord

And the word of the Lord, the heavens were made
And all their hosts are the breath of his mouth
And the waters of the sea are as in a bottle
He puts them deep in storehouses

Let the earth fear the Lord
Let the earth fear the Lord
Let the earth fear the Lord
Everyone sing Let the earth fear the Lord

We’ll link to an MP3 of this recording as soon as Mission Worship (seminar host) have made it available and we’ll have more advice on what Graham has termed “Psalm Surfing” in a future post. In the meantime do let us know how you get on with these ideas.

Photo credit – Andy Pressdee – used with permission