“I’m not a singer”
“Nobody wants to hear my tone-deaf voice”
“I’ve heard cats fighting that sound better than me when I sing.”
In my years of music ministry I’ve heard every excuse in the book as to why someone should not sing. Frankly, it’s often the excuses made that make me cringe, not the voices. As George Sweeting once said, “Excuses only satisfy the one who gives it”.
I don’t believe it honors God to infer that the very thing He created you to do, He messed up. Think about what you’re accusing God of, when you make excuses for not participating in the corporate singing of the church. You’re implying He made you an exception to exclude you from that Holy privilege. And I don’t think it’s an accident that the very last words of the entire Psalter commands, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6) If you have breath in your lungs… PRAISE THE LORD! No exceptions.
Why am I passionate about this, and think you should be too? Because singing within the body of Christ is a privilege not to be taken lightly. If the early church can sing in the catacombs, you can sing in the church. If Paul and Silas can sing in prison, you can sing with like-minded believers. If Jan Hus can sing praises to God while being burned alive at the stake, you can sing in your air-conditioned sanctuary.
I often remind our musicians at Grace Bible Church to reflect upon the lyric from the 1843 hymn by Christian Bateman “Come, Christians, Join to Sing.” In this hymn we’re reminded that God could have forced us to submission, He has that right. He could have made our acts of worship painful and awful, but instead, as Bateman writes “Praise is His gracious choice.” His benevolent, gracious love should fill us with awe and wonder. The very fact that He doesn’t strike us down, as Isaiah anticipated in Isaiah 6, is His gracious choice. Therefore, you and I really don’t have a choice in the matter, but to praise Him.
By why does God want us to sing? Because He delights to hear His children. But may I propose one other reason is because He desires us to disciple each other through our act of singing?
After three imperatives (commands) to sing, Psalm 96:2 elaborates and says what we’re supposed to sing about: “Proclaim good tidings of His salvation.” What do we proclaim? The gospel! Our singing should proclaim that a Holy God came to wretched sinners,He lived a perfect life, died on the cross to save us from our sins, and that He rose again to give eternal life to those who follow Him. Is there anything more inspiring to sing about? Surely nothing on the Billboard Top 100 can match that.
The gospel needs to be told, BUT, it also needs to be SUNG!
Paul writes in his letters to Ephesus and Colossae the same thing, to sing as an act of discipleship. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16). Then writing to the Church in Ephesus regarding their corporate worship he says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” (Eph 5:19).
Your singing teaches those around you what you believe to be true in a way that cannot be communicated in any other way. It’s one thing to make a statement, it’s another to sing it. There are things that are more clearly expressed through song rather than words. (Don’t believe me, try reciting the lyrics to Happy Birthday at a 6 year old’s party rather than sing it, and see how well that goes over.)
English preacher Leslie Weatherhead tells this story “I once attended, in the Royal Albert Hall, London, a magnificent rendering of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ by a choir of several hundred. The friend who accompanied me was a dear saint of God, then in his seventies. When the ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus rose to its stupendous heights, ‘King of kings, and Lord of lords,’ ‘And He shall reign forever and ever’ my friend could hardly contain himself. The tears were streaming from his clear, blue eyes and he whispered to me: ‘That was my Savior they were singing about.’ I shall never forget the meaning he put into that word ‘my.’”
Jonathan Edwards said,
“The duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite, and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.” 1
Our singing moves our affections, and it directs our affections. Gordon Fee says, “Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology.” Sing songs that you can live and die by, not just what’s popular. Why? Because we’re not just singers of songs, we are heralds of the Good News to each other. We edify, we teach and admonish one another. Col 3:16; Eph 5:19.
On a Sunday morning, I see people I know and they know me. I see the family deeply grieving a loss but still singing through tears, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” They’re heralding truth and ministering to me. When you’re sitting next to a father who has recently been laid off from his job, yet he’s singing through uncertainty, “Christ, the Sure and Steady Anchor, in the fury of the storm” He is proclaiming to you that come what may, my trust is rock solid in the finished work of my Lord Jesus. When the older saint joyful sings “I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able, to keep that which I’ve committed, unto Him against that day” that is a testimony the body of Christ.
Let your own soul be revived by your brothers and sisters singing. And understand this, that while you may not feel like singing, your neighbor may not feel like singing even more. You need to sing for the good of your neighbor. We’re building each other up. If you singing only for yourself, you’re incredibly short-sighted. Can I dare say it? Stop being so selfish. I’m begging you, on behalf of all your brothers and sisters in Christ, please, sing for me! I need to see and hear you singing.
In the latter part of the Psalm 96 David expresses and directs his affections for the good of his people, thereby demonstrating this glorious privilege it is to sing with the saints.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name;
Bring an offering and come into His courts.
Worship the Lord in holy attire;
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
- Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, Dover ed. (Vancouver, British Columbia: Dover Publications, 2013),44. ↩