“Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” - James 5:13
Singing is a gift. It’s not a talent enjoyed by a select few, but a gift given to every believer. Today, we have a wealth of song texts comprised of psalms and hymns that exist for our spiritual benefit. This collection of songs is a rich inheritance of thought and emotion to which every believer can relate. But simply hearing a song is not sufficient. You must sing, even if you feel like you’re not musically gifted, and here’s why:
Singing helps us know what to say, even when we have no words of our own.
Sometimes we experience thoughts and feelings so strongly that we simply can't express them with our own words. In these moments, when life renders us speechless, singing gives us a ‘spiritual vocabulary’ to express the depth of biblical emotions like joy, thankfulness, hope, sorrow, and repentance. God, through means of psalms and biblical hymns, has already given you the words to say.
Singing helps us to say what we know is true, even when our heart is struggling to yield to God.
Perhaps you do know the truth, but you’re having a hard time submitting to it. There have been many times that I’ve told my wife, “I know my thinking and emotions are wrong, but I can’t seem to shake them off.” Even when I’ve tried to pray, I've found myself struggling to express the truth or resorting to fixing my problems instead of yielding to God. But psalms and hymns are like prayers already written out for us. They help us to say what we should say, even if we don’t really want to say it. In other words, singing the truth can help our rebellious hearts submit to God.
"Sometimes we sing because we believe; other times we sing so that we believe." - Kevin Moses
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Singing in the context of the local church.
Corporate singing simply maximizes the benefits listed above. Imagine a believer who has recently lost a child or spouse. How much more of an impact will a song like It Is Well have on God’s people with that individual courageously singing in their midst? Or perhaps that suffering believer can’t muster the strength to sing It Is Well because their pain is too great. In times like these, the congregation sings for them (saying the words they can’t presently say) and to them (encouraging them with the truth). See Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:18-19.
Furthermore, God views churches as a whole, and not as a collection of individuals. For example, in the first three chapters of Revelation, God addresses seven churches or groups of believers. Although there may have been individuals in the church of Ephesus who had not “abandoned their first love,” God rebuked the entire church (Rev 2:4). This suggests a corporate accountability to God. What does that have to do with congregational singing? Congregational singing grants the congregation a ‘corporate voice’ to properly express worship and praise, as well as repentance and sorrow to God.
Keep in mind that congregational singing exists on a vertical and horizontal plane. The vertical plain involves our response to God. The horizontal plane involves mutual encouragement between believers.
Encouragement for everyone:
1. Sing along with every song you hear both privately and publicly. You might just find the words you didn’t know how to express.
2. Sing even when you don’t feel like engaging in worship. That may seem hypocritical, but it’s probably the best thing for you because singing the truth can help lead you to repentance and faith.
3. Heartily participate in your church’s congregational singing. By doing so, your spiritual life will be strengthened, as well as the life of the church.
Encouragement for worship leaders:
1. Choose songs with a wide range of biblical emotion and thought. Focusing on one group of emotions, like joy and thankfulness, may limit the church from expressing the necessary responses of repentance and sorrow.
2. Although “service flow” is an important consideration, it should not be the primary governing factor of song choice. Generally speaking, service orders flow from upbeat, positive songs to more meditative songs. But if your theme is about repentance, you may want to start with the more meditative and then move to songs with a positive message of hope in God’s forgiveness.