"On key or off, our songs of praise rise as a sweet incense to the King of Glory..."
At any given Christian gathering, you will likely find that music, or more specifically singing, is given a large chunk of the time allotted. We take it as a ‘given’ that we sing in church. It’s just something we all do, isn’t it?
As a weekly leader of Sunday worship for many years, I have often cast a look around the gathering and noted that many strongly committed believers are simply standing during times of sung worship. Is the key too high? Too low? Is the tune unfamiliar? Why aren’t they singing?
Now, I’m fully aware that there are times of worship during which silent reflection is appropriate, necessary, and desirable. Moreover, there have been times where I, or others I know of, have been unable to sing the lyrics there before me - for any number of reasons perhaps. However, do we really take the time to reflect during those times? Or do we simply take our cue that ‘not singing’ is appropriate during times of corporate worship singing. Have we been conditioned culturally by such events as national anthems at sporting events that the star sings and we stand at attention in respect? Is it something we are to leave up to the ‘skilled’ few who are enlisted to entertain us?
Perhaps it falls upon us as leaders to ask ourselves whether or not we who lead the songs have fully communicated the significance of why we make time for singing at church.
A (Very) Brief History of Sacred Song
Singing has been a part of Christian, and in fact Biblical worship gatherings as long as history can trace. Although the first recorded song in Scripture is not until the crossing of the Red Sea by the nation of Israel in Exodus 15, there is good reason to infer that songs may have been a part of the expression of worship long before that – not just something someone decided to do on that particular occasion.
Jubal (Gen 4:21) was pointed out as a skilled musician early in Scripture. Though he was not a singer, it does not necessarily mean that singing wasn’t a part of culture, and hence worship.
It suffices to mention that since David’s time onward, songs have been a major part of our worship. In fact, time after time we are exhorted in scripture to sing our praises to God, especially in the midst of his people. As David wrote, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (Ps. 34:3, ESV).
Christian Karaoke - or something more?
But singing as a form of worship is much more than simply singing along to our favourite songs on the radio! Whether or not we like them, these songs are in fact ‘sacred’ pieces – songs set aside to facilitate our worship of The Most-High God! They enable worship on four distinct levels:
1) On a personal level, they enable us as individuals to pray, to confess, to repent, to honour and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. The Psalms are God’s way of putting his words on our lips as we pray and sing. Moreover, Tim Keller points out in his recent podcast that singing is a way of activating with our body that which our minds and hearts believe.
2) On a communal level, they enable us to ‘encourage one another’ in our belief and commitment to Christ, just as St. Paul exhorted us to do in Ephesians 5:19. It strengthens and encourages my fellow believer with the knowledge that I have not jettisoned the faith or given up my trust in God. In a sense, it’s a credal act – designed to help us voice what we believe, and in doing so repeatedly, to root it in our being such that it truly shapes how we see God, ourselves, and one another.
3) On a missional level, to each non-believer in our midst, singing is a mighty tool of proclamation of both one’s own commitment, and of the great truths of our faith that declares, “Come, join me in pursuit of this Great and Marvelous God!”
4) On a spiritual level, they are a way that we declare the lordship and reign of Christ to “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”, (Eph. 6:12, NIV) As Paul put it, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”, (Eph. 3:10, NIV). When we join in, we magnify the declaration as a people in unity of faith and purpose.
“Sing it out!”
Please be assured that our singing is so much more than Christian Karaoke; more than entertainment designed for our pleasure!
So, encourage your brothers and sisters to raise their voices and to sing with gusto - to take part in one of the most enduring forms of worship that all God’s people can partake in – not just the professionals! It will be something we will do in eternity. Of course, those who sing well should lead the singing, BUT… on key or off, our songs of praise rise as a sweet incense to the King of Glory, while at the same time help to build the body of Christ gathered around you and declare to the world and to the cosmos that Jesus is Lord. What a divine privilege! Let’s not miss out!
Tim Keller: God of the Nations, https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/god-of-the-nations/id352660924?i=1000596895177, Jan. 27, 2023.
Photo by Hannah Busing, courtesy Unsplash.