We live in a singing culture. We sing carols at Christmas time, “Happy Birthday” at parties (although I’m not quite sure why), and “Auld Lang Syne” to bring in the new year (another mystery to me). Rabid crowds scream out “We will, we will rock you!” at basketball games. During the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s, the strains of “We Shall Overcome” reverberated across the country. And concert-goers find it hard not to sing along when their favorite artists perform their favorite songs.
At different times, the songs we sing can comfort, calm, excite and unify us. That’s why throughout history, singing has been a vital part of our lives.
But why do Christians sing? Do you ever wonder if God even likes our singing? He obviously has better things to do than listen to our out-of-tune voices belting out the same praise songs over and over. Right?
Apparently not. The Bible mentions singing over 400 times, including 50 direct commands to sing God’s praise. And because God is infinitely wise and good, His commands are always for His glory and our benefit.
I read once that when a non-singer becomes a Christian, he or she becomes a singer. That doesn’t mean we instantly get a beautiful, multi-range, in-tune voice. It means that we’ve been given a song to sing that we never knew before. And now it’s our joy to sing it as loud and as often as we can. It’s the song of the redeemed for our Redeemer. It’s the only song that we can really call “The Song That Never Ends.”
But if you’re like me, you’ve probably been in meetings where you’re singing on the outside but totally distracted on the inside. The songs don’t seem to be going anywhere, least of all to heaven. But God wants us to sing, and He wants us to understand why. If we don’t, we’ll miss out on its benefits. More importantly, we’ll fail to give God the glory He deserves. So, here are three reasons why God wants us to make singing together a priority.
Singing Helps Us Remember God’s Word
The first purpose of singing is more about words than music. Colossians 3:16 commands us to “let the word of Christ dwell in us richly” as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another. It seems there’s a connection between singing and letting the Word of Christ dwell in us. Or any words, for that matter.
Scientists have discovered that we use different portions of our brain to process music and speaking. A few years ago that came home to me powerfully when our church taught a series on Galatians. To help people remember the book, we produced a CD of verses from Galatians set to music. Later, I received an e-mail from a woman in our church whose husband lost his memory due to a stroke. She asked him simple questions, and he couldn’t answer them. Where do you work? I don’t know. Who is the governor of our state? I don’t know. But when she mentioned “Galatians CD,” he instantly began singing songs from the CD, even though he had no memory of studying the book as a church. Music helps us remember words we might otherwise forget.
Not many people can quote the sermons of John Wesley from the 18th century. But almost everyone knows the words to “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” written by his brother, Charles. He ended up writing over 6500 hymns for the express purpose of helping people remember the doctrines he and his brother taught.
God knows the power of song to help us remember His Word. As the Israelites were about to enter the promised land, God told Moses to teach them a song so that “when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring)” (Deuteronomy 31:21).
We remember what we sing. And there’s nothing more important to remember than the Word of Christ. That “Word” is the amazing news of God sending His Son to redeem a people for His glory. The entire Bible is filled with the Word of Christ. Our songs should be, too.
The feelings that music produce will fade, but the living and active Word of God will continue to work in our hearts, renew our minds and strengthen our faith. Praise makes our times together profound; music makes them memorable.
That’s why the words we sing matter. We remember them. Songs are more than opportunities to express our emotions to God. They’re a way of “teaching and admonishing one another” (Colossians 3:16). Songs can correct wrong thoughts about God, display the glories of Christ more clearly, and help us remember what we so easily forget.
As one man put it, “We are what we sing.”
Singing Helps Us Respond to God’s Grace
Music is an emotional language. It’s meant to affect and move us. And nothing should move us more than the grace God has shown us in delivering us from condemnation through the sacrifice of His own Son. We have been raised with Christ. We have died to sin, and our life is now hidden in Christ. We are holy and beloved, God’s chosen ones! How can we not sing?
Drawing from Colossians 3:16 again, God wants us to sing with “thankfulness in our hearts.” The “heart” here refers to our whole being. God isn’t glorified by mumbled responses from lukewarm hearts. He wants us to be thankful.
It’s possible to sing without much emotion, but it’s unnatural. The Puritan pastor Jonathan Edwards once said, “The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections. There is no other reason why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose and with music, except that these things have a tendency to move our affections” (The Religious Affections, p. 44).
That’s why we don’t simply recite “Happy Birthday to you,” and why Broadway musicals and opera have such a wide appeal. OK, maybe not opera.
Singing allows us to combine intellect with emotion, objective truth with our emotional response to it. And in Scripture, the emotion most often connected with singing is joy. That doesn’t mean that we can never sing songs that acknowledge the human condition through confession, repentance or lament. But on this side of the empty tomb, we need to be constantly reminded that Jesus has crushed the powers of hell and now reigns as our victorious redeemer, King and champion.
Singing Helps Us Reflect God’s Glory
One of the ways singing reflects God’s glory is by expressing the unity Christ has made possible through His atoning death. Listen to how Paul uses musical terms as he prays for the Roman Christians:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6, emphasis mine)
In the next verse, he adds, “Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” As we sing the same biblical truths together, express our gratefulness for the Gospel, and declare our commitment to follow our King, we’re bringing glory to the One who made it all possible.
Singing together also glorifies God because God himself sings. In fact, all three members of the Trinity create song. Zephaniah 3:17, speaking of the Father, reads: “He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” Hebrews 2:12 quotes Psalm 22, where the Son of God sings the Father’s praise in the midst of the congregation. In Ephesians 5:18-19 we’re told that being filled with the Holy Spirit inspires songs in the heart of each believer. That’s one reason why we often sense God’s presence in a more pronounced way when we gather to sing His praises. The Holy Spirit is in our midst inspiring our songs!
Finally, praising God together in song is a foretaste of the eternal glory yet to come.
Revelation gives us a breathtaking picture of the singing around the throne by the heavenly creatures, the 24 elders, countless angels and the redeemed. The author of Hebrews tells us that when we meet together, we’re already participating in that massive throng:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. (Hebrews 12:22-23)
So the next time you meet to worship God with your church, remember that you’re doing more than warming up for the sermon or looking for an emotional high. Remember that you’re joining in with all the hosts of heaven who are magnifying the Lamb who was slain.
We sing because Jesus Christ has given us a reason to sing. We sing together because through His once and for all sacrifice, Jesus has joined us together as a people. And we will sing forever because God’s praise resounds in eternity.
I want to get as much practice in this life as I can. Don’t you?
Copyright 2007 Bob Kauflin. All rights reserved.