Surprisingly, one of the more difficult tasks of wedding planning was finding an appropriate song for my dance with my mom. I searched various genres, listened to dozens of titles, and even sought out suggestions from wedding websites. In spite of loving lots of the music, the words just weren’t right. With just days to spare, the perfect lyric came to mind and we called the DJ to request Jerry Herman’s “My Best Girl.”
As I reflect on that effort to find the perfect expression of a relationship in song, I cannot help but wonder if the church gives that much thought to its singing. Are we careful to select songs that exalt the name of the Lord and encourage his saints, or do we offer up empty phrases as we sing to one another and to the Lord? The issue is not one of style, but of substance. It is not as much how, but what we sing that matters. Whether our singing consists of the most contemporary hits led by a band or is comprised of classic hymns conducted acappella, we should give serious thought to the content of our singing for three reasons: (1) singing evidences the filling of the Spirit: (2) singing edifies the faith of others: and (3) singing expresses thanksgiving to God in all things.
1. Singing evidences the filling of the Spirit.
When Paul and Silas found themselves in a Philippian jail on account of their ministry to an enslaved, demon-possessed girl, they passed the time with prayer and the singing of hymns to God. Their circumstances were not pleasant. Their prospects were not clear. But because of their relationship with God, they were able to transcend their temporary circumstances and worship the Lord.
Surely this experience was in mind as Paul instructed the Ephesian church concerning personal conduct, calling believers to reject drunkenness and embrace the filling of the Spirit. One of the evidences of being Spirit-filled is singing. Paul did not expect the believers to sing the dirges and drinking songs of their culture, but to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).
Our calling as believers is not just to sing, but to sing the truths of God and our testimonies of faith in him. That kind of singing is the fruit that points to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We experience mountains and valleys in our walks with Christ. There are times when worship comes easily and seasons when it is incredibly taxing. Yet, when we sing of the worth and work of God despite our circumstances, we demonstrate our dependence upon the Spirit, who resides in us by faith.
2. Singing edifies the faith of others.
“It was good to see your mother praising Jesus on Sunday.” Those words are from a text from a dear friend sent to me on the Monday before my father’s funeral. Worshiping on that Sunday as we began our journey through the valley of the shadow was not easy, but as I preached to my own congregation, my mom and siblings filled my parents’ pew at their church and worshiped the Lord. Their songs lifted from broken hearts in praise to God encouraged the faith of those around them.
What we sing matters because God uses it to edify his church. In his instructions regarding singing, Paul talked about the dual focus of our praise. As we sing, we exalt the Lord our God, ascribing to him the glory and praise that are due to Him alone. Yet, even as we are lifting high the name of our God, we are edifying the saints gathered in worship with us. It is in singing that all the church has the chance to address or preach to one another the truth of the gospel. That’s why the content of our singing must be solid.
If the faith we sing is not the faith of Scripture, we are seeking to build others up with something that will not nourish in famine or encourage in persecution. But when some dear sister who has long-endured suffering sings to those of us just beginning a battle words like,
“I need no other argument, I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died and that He died for me,”
our souls are strengthened and our faith is renewed in a manner we could have never achieved on our own.
3. Singing expresses thanksgiving to God in all things.
The apocalypse given by Jesus and recorded by John is filled with fantastic scenes of what is presently occurring in the presence of the triune Lord and of what will come at the end of days. Even as the reader seeks to make sense of it all, he cannot help but come away convinced that God is worthy of worship. At every juncture, God’s creation cries out to Him in praise for who He is and for what He has done. These scenes of heavenly worship help us to put our earthly worship into perspective. While God uses our singing to accomplish other purposes, the most important function of our singing is the expression of thanksgiving to God.
Gratitude was at the heart of Paul’s instruction about singing to the Ephesian and Colossian believers. It is in singing that the Christian expresses gratitude for provision in seasons of want, for protection in situations of danger, for peace in storms of anxiety. It is in singing the Christian is able to wed divine truth and personal testimony to give thanks to God in all situations and for all things. This is why Paul commanded the Christian to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our need to give thanks in all situations and for all things is often greater than our desire or ability to offer such thanks to God, yet when we rely upon the truth of God’s Word to form our songs, we are able to thank him no matter our circumstances.
As you prepare to worship with the church this Lord’s Day, I hope you will do more than seek music that you enjoy. I pray that, out of the overflow of your relationship with God, you will seek out music that evidences the Spirit’s presence in your life, edifies the faith of others, and expresses gratitude to God in all things.