Take a moment to picture yourself singing a typical song during a typical worship service on a typical Sunday morning. What do you see? Is it a man going through the motions of standing at the right time, mumbling his way through a hymn, often with outdated words, and then sitting down at the appropriate time without giving a second thought to what he just said? Is it a woman that is repeating a song she knows by heart, and is demonstrating with both body and voice her comfort with the refrain while, in reality, she’s running through the checklist of responsibilities waiting for her at the end of the service? Is the man you picture singing at all? Is the woman more concerned about opinions of the people around her than her personal participation?
Singing is an integral part of the Christian’s life. There are dozens of scriptural references that address many different aspects of singing. The most prevalent of the reasons is to declare praise to God.
“Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!” (1 Chr. 16:9)
“Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!” (Ps. 47:6–7)
We sing to God from hearts filled with gratitude. We sing to God when our hearts are filled with joy. When even sing to God while experiencing trials.
“I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Ps. 13:6).
“I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.” (Ps. 9:2)
(While they were imprisoned for their faith) “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,” (Ac. 16:25)
For these and a myriad of other reasons we sing to God. Singing theologically rich truths helps to express them meaningfully back to God and to seal them in our minds and hearts. God’s gift of singing involves our heart, soul, mind and strength. Yes, it is an amazingly effective tool for engaging in love for God! There are a multitude of examples in the Bible in the songs of Moses, Deborah, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Mary and more. What a rich biblical history!
All that said, did you know that singing is not just for us to give praise to God, give thanks to God, express joy to God, in trials to cry out to God? Singing, particularly on the Lord’s Day, is also with and for each other. In Ephesians 5:19 God commands Christians to address one another “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” No, it does not mean that we are to walk around like a bard, strumming a mandolin while serenading each other. It means that our singing, while directed toward God, is to be done with one another and for one another. Just as the Lord’s Supper is conducted publicly and corporately to encourage each other with the truth of the gospel in collective participation, so singing is a public act for all the same reasons. Singing in a worship service is not merely a collection of individuals that start and stop a song to God at the same time. It is a family singing together (harmonizing) to the glory of God and for each other. That is to say that your singing needs to be heard by your church family. Your singing is an encouragement to other worshiping Christians in front, beside and behind you. Confident singing communicates confidence in the truth you’re singing about. Just as you would not sheepishly take the Supper, so there is no need to self-consciously mumble the lyrics of a God-honoring hymn or concern yourself with what others might think of your singing ability. Not able to carry a tune? The context of making a “joyful noise” is together.
Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
The most powerful moments of melodic praise take place when everyone is participating meaningfully and when they can hear each other. I recently heard a world-famous musician say that a melody sung by the best singer in the world with the most talented accompaniment cannot compare to a congregation that sings the same song with a sense of ownership. Brother and sister, your singing with your church family cannot be matched by any performer!
Consider making it a habit of familiarizing yourself with Sunday’s hymns. Discuss the lyrics in your family worship. Listen to the songs at home or in the car. Imagine again that typical song in that typical service on that typical Sunday. But this time it is sung by a congregation that has contemplated, prayed over and listened to the songs. Imagine a church family that robustly sang it together to the glory of God with and for each other. THAT is how you address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord in your heart.