Like many others, over the last number of days I’ve been reliving great memories as I’ve listened to the incredible discography of Aretha Franklin. Her voice was unparalleled in music history. With a career that spanned decades, she sang for Pavarotti, presidents and popes, was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the consummate diva, and daughter of a Baptist minister.
The Queen of Soul needed no introduction and she loved to sing. It was who she was and her talent was what we, the masses, knew most about her. She said once, “Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.”
Similarly, we are given the same charge to sing with whatever gifting God has given. Psalm 96:1 tells us to “Sing to the Lord a new song; Sing to the Lord, all the earth.”
What Aretha expressed is what Psalm 96 commands of all creation; we are called to… SING! There’s no deep spiritual meaning to the Hebrew translation here; the word ‘sing’ means…“sing!” You were created to sing. You are created and commanded to sing. Our singing is more than just poetry in conjunction with melody and rhythm, it is an act of worship (it’s just one aspect of worship, but make no mistake, all singing is worship). We are constantly worshipping and whether we’re singing a 6th century hymn in church or the latest radio hit in the car, our hearts and affections are giving honor to someone or something.
Psalm 96 tells us that we are to sing TO THE LORD, but it also tells us WHAT we are to sing. It says to sing “a new song.” Does this mean every Sunday, when we gather for the corporate worship of the Church, we can only sing brand new songs? That’s ludicrous! Can you imagine how frustrating that would be for the congregation? for the musicians? for the music minister who has to find brand new songs every single week?
Rather, think of it this way. Aretha was able to capture the essence of a song like no other, whether it was one she wrote or someone else. I heard one music critic say that “she could cover a song by any artist and make it completely her own, but no one can cover an Aretha song and make it their own.” Aretha could make us hear a song we’ve heard before 100 times, and make it a completely new experience.
To sing a new song does not mean we cannot use the same songs or words we have used before, but rather these songs and words should spring from hearts that have been struck fresh again and again by the greatness of our God and the salvation He has provided. Have you ever been singing a song you’ve sung hundreds of times before, but all of the sudden a lyric jumps off the screen or hymn page? This happens to me almost every week! To sing a new song means that our singing springs from hearts that are afresh with the wonder and glory of it all.
We sing new songs of praise, why? Because our hearts cannot get over what Christ has done for us. Does your heart overflow with the good news of what He has done? It should. You need to sing because you’re overwhelmed and compelled to do so, and because you you can’t get over it. The new song that the Psalmist refers to is the song which breaks through the restraints of whatever your present circumstances are and voices confidence in the sovereign work of God.
The first verse concludes by commanding, “Sing to the Lord all the earth!”
Everyone is supposed to get in on this. No exceptions. Even creation! We see this idea expanded later in the psalm, when the Psalmist writes “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy” (vv.11-12). The call goes out to all the earth to acknowledge the greatness and majesty of the Lord.
If we do not sing, we disobey God and miss out on the rich blessing derived from this activity. Do not hold back because you lack musical training, or because your husband says you are tone-deaf, or because it does not seem like a “manly” thing to do. If Moses, David, and even Jesus Christ sang, it is a manly thing to do, a God-fearing thing to do, and a Christian thing to do. Living according to earthly fear, irrespective of its source, is not living biblically. Pastors should set the example for their congregations by participating in singing, and by doing so with vigor and joy. God desires your praise through song, too, not by speech alone… Layperson, next Sunday be sure to join in song with the host of heaven and your earthly brethren as best you can. If anyone criticizes you for singing as part of the congregation in gathered worship, you can be sure that Scripture does not support their comment. 1
The “Queen of Soul” has passed into the eternal state of her soul, and I pray she was redeemed through the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ, the righteous Judge and King of all souls. I have great R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Aretha’s musical contributions, but may we understand our great calling as believers to contribute to the proclamation of the Gospel through our song. As the next verse of Psalm 96 commands,
“Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day”
- Jones, Paul S. Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2006. ↩