Series: Spirit-filled, by Rosie Moore.
More than anything else in recent months, I have missed singing together in church.
Maybe it’s because music is a God-designed pathway to pray, to proclaim Christ to each other, and to praise the Lord. There is nothing quite like music to bridge the gap between our thoughts and our emotions. I am speaking here about Biblically-faithful, theologically rich, Gospel-centred music.
I’ll never again take for granted this simple joy. But I’ve also been amazed by the ingenious online efforts to bring music into our homes and hearts through playlists, videos and live-streamed services. Old hymns and Psalms are making a comeback too, even a little Bach and Handel’s Messiah!
So, why do believers have a compulsive need to sing the song of our Saviour? (Or, at least, to listen and appreciate it, if you’ve got a voice like mine!) Here are some thoughts:
Singing is Spirit-led
Ephesians 5 demonstrates a clear kinship between the Holy Spirit and music:
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 5:18-20).
Paul doesn’t say that heartfelt praise always comes easily to Spirit-filled believers. Or that we must sing only when the style, language and choice of song appeals to us. In some situations, it may be downright incongruous or uncomfortable to sing. But it is always a fitting way to worship God, and it is good for us too (Ps 147:1,7; Ps 149:1,5).
Think of Paul and Silas in a Philippian prison cell. They sang hymns to God while semi-naked, immobile, in pain and pitch darkness, bound in stocks, before an audience of hardened prisoners and a jailer (Acts 16:22-25).
One can hardly think of a more unsuitable setting to sing! Yet, they sang to express their deepest longings and needs to God. They sang to remind each other of their hope in Christ. And, as they sang, the truth in those hymns tutored and changed their own thoughts and feelings. Amazingly, their incongruous singing even led to the jailer’s conversion!
Singing is God-centred
And so, singing is not chiefly about us: Our feelings, our preferences, our comfort, our platform, our audience. It is a response to the Holy Spirit calling us to worship and thank God for everything, even our struggles (Eph 5:19-20). When we sing, we are addressing and encouraging each other. We’re building fellowship with other believers (Eph 5:19; Ps 95). And the spin-off of singing is nothing like the mindless, self-absorbed disorder and depression that are the by-product of drunkenness.
The by-product of singing
I’ve discovered that worship music has lifted many of us through the lockdown. It has helped us to pray and proclaim the truth to each other; to process our turmoil and see our problems through the lens of God’s covenant commitment to us. It has even helped some of us to fight sin and temptation. For many, it has switched our despair to hope and our doubts to joy in the living God (Ps 59:16).
The Psalms, which express a thousand years of human emotion, show how music is a God-given pathway to love God and enjoy him forever, regardless of our circumstances:
How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
Sing to the Lord with grateful praise;
make music to our God on the harp (Ps 147:1,7).
Singing embeds God’s word.
Singing evokes powerful responses that go beyond understanding facts. And so, music doesn’t just teach us theology, but also affects the way we think, and live, and feel. It’s why Paul tells the Colossian Christians:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).
But there’s an implicit warning here: if Gospel truth nestles into our mind and emotions through music, so too can narcissism and false gospels. It’s why we need to take great care to listen to worship music that is God-centred and faithful to the Bible.
At the risk of giving away my age, just meditate for a moment on the rich theology in these titles, and listen to them later on Youtube :“In Christ alone”, “Yet Not I But through Christ in me”, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, “All Creatures of our God and King”, “Be Thou my Vision”, “Crown Him”, “His Mercy is More”, “Is He Worthy?” “Christ our Hope in life and Death”, “It is well with my Soul”, “Jesus strong and Kind”, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”, “My Worth is Not in What I own”, “There is a Day”, “The Power of the Cross”, “The Lord is my Shepherd”, “We will Feast in the house of Zion”, “Bless the Lord O My Soul”, “Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah.”
Don’t you marvel at how the whole redemption story merges into two or three soulful stanzas of a hymn? How the gospel is carved into catchy poetry that’s easy to memorise? If we pay attention to lyrics as we sing, the ‘word of Christ’ becomes part of us, and will flow out of us when we are under great pressure and can hardly think or pray. It’s what I saw in my gran when she was 100 years old, and only wanted to hear us sing “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Singing builds up the church
We may not yet be gathering to sing in church buildings, but God’s people are still using music to minister to one another. Last week, in a Zoom Bible study, one of our ladies sang all the stanzas of “Turn your eyes upon Jesus!” Admittedly, she has an unusually lovely voice, but instantly our hearts were turned heavenward and the mood of our meeting changed.
In recent months, hundreds of voices have risen from Christ’s worldwide church, singing beautiful confessions of faith across the globe. One of my favourites, “The Blessing,” is resounding like a lockdown anthem from every continent. In “Amazing Grace from 50 countries”, Christians from fifty nations of the world announce the gospel, each in its own language and style. We cried as we watched our brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom were singing with their faces covered due to persecution.
But they sung with full hearts and one Spirit—the Holy Spirit! They sung with eyes and voices lifted in praise to Christ! And they reminded us that we are part of a kingdom much bigger than any of our nations, or even the world. And they called unbelievers to the Lord Jesus, just as God’s Old Testament people were called to be a light to the nations (Ps 105:1-2), “to sing praises to Him and tell of all his wondrous works.”
Singing is a preview of the ‘new song’.
Watching the songs of our brothers and sisters around the world reminds me of the three ‘new songs’ (an Old Testament reference to God’s victory), being sung in heaven (Rev 5:9-13; Rev 14:2-3; Rev 15:2-4).
Unlike the hymnbook of the Psalms, Revelation’s hymnbook is not about Israel’s deliverance from Egypt or a longing for the coming Messiah. No! The songs of Revelation celebrate the victory of Jesus, the Lamb of God, over sin, death and Satan. The ‘new song’ is about Christ’s rightful claim to rule the world.
The ‘new song’ is sung by all the people Christ has purchased, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, to reign with him on earth for all eternity (Rev 5:9-10). One day, everything and everyone will sing out, giving the triune God the praise and glory he deserves. It is the song of the Lord’s redeemed!
CS Lewis says, “We have joy whenever this world reminds us of the next.”
And so, every time we hear music that stirs joy or longing, we get a foretaste of the mighty chorus of redeemed people, joined by the voices of thousands upon thousands of angels, singing around the throne in heaven (Rev 5:11-12)! Every forgiven sinner will be there in person, singing their heart out to Christ, who is worthy of all blessing, honour and glory forever and ever. No audition is required for this choir, as Christ alone makes us eligible.
On that day, our hearts will finally be full. Our longings will finally be satisfied. Our glimpses will finally give way to full sight. We will not be able to stay silent! As Randy Alcorn writes in his book, Heaven, “the things we love are not merely the best this life has to offer—they are previews of the greater life to come”.
Before I get too excited, I will end with a short clip of the ‘new song’ to ignite your own prayer:
“They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb:
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3-4)
No wonder music gladdens a believer’s heart more than wine! Please make sure you are included in that heavenly choir singing the ‘new song’. You needn’t audition, but it’s only logical that you must love Jesus as your Saviour and King.
Further reading and listening:
Randy Alcorn, Heaven.
Nancy Guthrie, Seeing Jesus in the Psalms.