Sunday, 21 July 2013

Why should we sing?

A significant part of the inspiration for this talk comes from Bob Kauflin’s reflections, Why do we Sing? (Sovereign Grace Ministries).

There are over 500 favourable references in the bible to singing.

The longest book of the bible is a book of poems which were set to music.
After Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, Moses doesn’t preach a sermon but he sings a song (Exodus 15)
In Numbers 21:14, the people sing to make a spring give water
In Deuteronomy 31, Moses is commanded to give the people a song to remind them of how God has saved them.
After the defeat of the Canaanites by Deborah, the people sing a song (Judges 5)
When David is delivered from Saul, he sings a song (2 Samuel 22)
The people assigned Levite musicians to sing God’s praises day and night at the Temple as part of Temple worship (1 Chr 9:33; 15:19-22)

In the NT there are more than 20 references to music:
Jesus and his disciples sing a hymn after the last supper
Paul and Silas sing when they are in prison in Philippi – even though they have been stripped and beaten (Acts 16)
And the book of Revelation speaks of a song ‘with such power, such persuasive beauty, that it is eventually taken up by all creation’ (Rev 5)

So why should we sing in worship?

1. We sing as an act of obedience to God.
There are over 50 direct commands to sing to God.
Psalm 47:6 is pretty emphatic: ‘Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises’.

You don’t like singing!
Other people don’t like you singing!
Tough!

The command is to sing. It is not to simply always listen to others when they sing – the command is that there are times when you need to join in with the song. So when we join together to worship, there is time to listen to music, but the command is to make the song that the church is singing your own song.

One of the consistent grumbles that I get about St Mary’s is that people say the choir is great, but the congregation don’t sing.
You might say, ‘It is embarrassing. Everybody turns round and looks at me’. Or you might say, ‘I can’t sing’.

Forgive me for saying this, but if you are able to open your mouth and speak, then if you don’t sing to God, you are being disobedient. Or to put it another way, if you find singing difficult – or maybe you don’t like the particular tune to the hymn – still sing, but sing as a sacrifice of obedience.

Whenever we start to sing, ‘And can it be’, my heart sinks. It is such a long hymn. Sometimes I sulk and refuse to sing – it is funny how childish I become when it gets to music: I don’t like it – so I’m not going to sing, or I don’t like it so I’m going to throw the rattle out of the pram. But when I do eventually start to sing – the song becomes part of me, and takes over. The song that is out there, becomes the song that is in here.

2. We sing to proclaim the praises and the works of God
We have just heard that amazing anthem from Martin Shaw: ‘With a voice of singing declare this and let it be heard – Alleluia’


With a voice of singing
Declare ye this, and let it be heard, Alleluia.
Utter it even unto the ends of the earth.
The Lord hath delivered his people, Alleluia.
O be joyful in God, all ye lands,
O sing praises to the honour of his name,
Make his praise to be glorious.


For Christians, our song is of a God who is the creator, sustainer and lover of all things. He is all holy, all beautiful, all powerful, all just and merciful, and all loving. 

Christian singing is a declaring of the praises of God. It is also a declaring of the great things that God has done.

And again, Shaw gets this.
‘Utter it to the ends of earth – the Lord hath delivered his people – Alleluia.’

We were looking at St Peter’s this morning at Psalm 98. ‘Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him’.

The Psalmist is probably thinking about the great acts of deliverance in the Old Testament: the exodus, and the return from exile. But as Christians, we particularly remember and declare the greatest act of deliverance that God has done for us: his act of saving us from sin and from death – through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ.

So we sing to proclaim the glory of God and we sing to declare what he has done.

The big question is not whether you have a voice, but whether you have a song. 

3. We sing to God, if we have the Spirit of God, because we want to

God sings. All three members of the Trinity sing:
The Father:  Zephaniah 3:17.. ‘He will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing’
Hebrews 2:12 quotes Psalm 22 where the SG sings the Father’s praise in the midst of the congregation
Eph 5:18-19 – being filled with the Spirit inspires songs in the heart of each believer.

And we have been created in the image of God – so we have been made to sing.
So we are told in Psalm 135:5, ‘Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant’ (Ps 135:3)

But more than that:

There is a connection between the Holy Spirit and singing.
Ephesians 5:18f ‘Instead be filled with the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord’
Colossians 3:16 speaks of ‘through psalms, hymns and songs in the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts’.

When a person, through the Spirit, begins to become alive to God, we begin to realise what God has done for us:

He has delivered us. He has given us forgiveness, a purpose and direction for living, peace in our heart, strength to carry on, an unshakeable hope for the future. He has, in the words of Psalm 40:3, ‘put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God’.

When we sing, we bring out the breath that is deep within us. It comes out through the mouth and, I am told, the deeper the origin of the breath, the richer the singing. But it is not just the singing that needs to come from down here. It is also the song:  so that what comes out of our mouth in our singing – reflects the true song that is deep within us.

4. We sing because singing helps us to remember

You will remember the words of songs long after you have forgotten most things. Those of you in the choir will forget my words within even a few minutes – but you will remember Shaw’s words because you have sung them - possibly even to your dying day.

Martin Luther was the man who reintroduced congregational singing into the churches. Before him, the singing had been left exclusively to choirs.

He brought it back as an act of obedience to the Word of God. He also brought it back as a way of teaching the truths of God to his congregations. As people sung the hymns, so some of the deep truths of the Christian faith sunk deep into their lives.
One of his opponents said that his followers were ‘singing themselves into his doctrines’. John and Charles Wesley followed exactly the same principal.

Can I urge you, in your own quiet times, when you put aside time daily to be with God – sing. Sing the anthem, use a hymn book or a song book. If you really can’t sing, sing along with an iPod or mp3.

5. We sing because it helps us to reflect on the words – especially if the mood of the music echoes the mood of the words.

Just try this when you get home. Say to yourself the words of ‘Amazing Grace’. Then sing it. My guess is that you will find that you think much deeper about the words when you sing them.

When we sing it gives us time to think it over.
It is why the Psalms were set to music.

6. We sing because it helps us to discover, express and move on our emotions.
I find it fascinating that in the film The Kings Speech, Bertie could not speak the words, but he could sing the words. It was as if the music and the rhythm was releasing him and going deeper than the surface emotions which were causing him to stammer.

The bible knows many different kinds of songs which speak to us when we are in different places – no doubt set to many different kinds of music. There are the songs of lament and grief, of anger, of despair and hope, of thanksgiving and praise, of love: the whole range of emotions is there in the Psalms.

John Piper wrote, ‘The reason we sing is because there are depths and heights and intensities and kinds of emotions that will not be satisfactorily expressed by mere prosaic forms, or even poetic readings. There are realities that demand to break out of prose into poetry and some demand that poetry be stretched into son.’

Songs can take us emotionally from one place to a different place. They allow us to grow. One of my tutors used to say that authentically Christian music was music which recognised the reality of chaos, disorder and harmony – but also the reality of God’s final order and harmony. Ultimately singing in worship should take us from sorrow and brokenness to joy in God.

7. We sing in anticipation of heaven
The song of Revelation 5 is a song that the whole of creation will join in with.

So we sing now, and glimpse joy now, in anticipation of the song of heaven and the eternal joy of heaven.

Randy Alcorn in his Edge of Eternity tries to imagine a little of what heaven might be like, taking the bible as his source book. So I finish with some of his words.  

We rejoined our comrades in the great camp of [heaven], embracing and shedding tears and slapping each other on the back. Then warriors around me turned toward the masses of untold millions gathered in [heaven]. The army began to sing, perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million.

I added my voice to theirs and sang the unchained praises of the King. Only for a moment did I hear my own voice, amazed to detect the increased intensity of the whole. One voice, even mine, made a measurable difference. But from then on I was lost in the choir, hardly hearing my voice and not needing to.

As we sang to the gathered throngs of [heaven], the sheer power of their voices, our voices, overwhelmed me.

Then suddenly the multitudes before us sang back to us, and our voices were drowned by theirs. We who a moment earlier seemed the largest choir ever assembled now proved to be only the small worship ensemble that led the full choir of untold millions, now lost to themselves. We sang together in full voice, “To him who made the galaxies, who became the Lamb, who stretched out on the tree, who crossed the chasm, who returned the Lion! Forever!”

The song’s harmonies reached out and grabbed my body and my soul. I became the music’s willing captive.

The galaxies and nebulae sang with us the royal song. It echoed off a trillion planets and reverberated in a quadrillion places in every nook and cranny of the universe. The song generated the light of a billion burning supernovae. It blotted out all lesser lights and brought a startling clarity to the way things really were. It didn’t blind, it illuminated, and I saw as never before.

Our voices broke into thirty-two distinct parts, and instinctively I knew which of them I was made to sing. “We sing for joy at the work of your hands…we stand in awe of you.” It felt indescribably wonderful to be lost in something so much greater than myself.

There was no audience, I thought for a moment, for audience and orchestra and choir all blended into one great symphony, one grand cantata of rhapsodic melodies and powerful sustaining harmonies.

No, wait, there was an audience. An audience so vast and all-encompassing that
for a moment I’d been no more aware of it than a fish is aware of water.

I looked at the great throne, and upon it sat the King…the Audience of One.

When we completed our song, the One on the throne stood and raised his great arms and clapped his scarred hands together in thunderous applause, shaking ground and sky, jarring every corner of the cosmos. His applause went on and on, unstopping and unstoppable.

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