Last week a few high-profile followers of Jesus put forth their thoughts on whether we should “go to church”. Donald Miller began the conversation with I Don’t Worship God by Singing… and his follow-up Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often. Ed Stetzer posted his thoughts on Miller’s ideas: Should I Stay, or Should I Go Now. Carlos Whittaker responded to both with To GO to Church or BE the Church. These are all worth a read, and the comments are (mostly) civil and also worth at least a skimming.
The original post by Miller, in short says that he doesn’t connect with God by singing and being in a large group. That for him, worshiping God is better done in nature instead of listening and singing since his learning style is kinesthetic.
Even before these posts showed up in my reader, I had been thinking about these aspects of worship, because I have a similar way of deeply connecting with God – in nature, reading the Word, by myself. Last week we talked about the large group aspect. Today the topic is singing.
Last week’s closing paragraph:
Even severe introverts who want to run screaming from a room filled with lots of people cannot deny the power that emanates from a large gathering, especially when each individual is engaged in the moment doing the same thing as every other person in the group. In the 1980s I remember a news report in a secular paper on the Promise Keepers’ gathering at a the local stadium. Thousands of men singing Amazing Grace could be heard for blocks. Their unity demonstrated by singing together was noticed and noted.
Throughout the Bible we are exhorted to worship God by singing.
In the Old Testament:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
. burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
. with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
. shout for joy before the Lord, the King. Psalm 98:4-6
And the New:
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16
There are many other ways to worship God mentioned in the Bible (raising hands, playing instruments, shouting, among many others). However, like last week’s post, it’s not an either/or, but both/and. Some of us may prefer raising our hands to praise God, and we are also instructed, not exempt, from also singing His praises.
It’s clear that in the Bible God asks us to worship him by singing. But we haven’t answered the original question: Why singing?
Since I don’t know what was in God’s mind when He inspired the writers of Scripture, I can’t say for certain. But thinking about the qualities of singing may give us some hints.
1. Almost everyone has a voice to sing God’s praises.* We can all participate. Some are more skilled than others, but everyone has at least one note! This isn’t true of many activities. I can’t ride a unicycle, though I know several people who can. I am not strong enough to split wood with an ax. Though I tried while on a cheer leading team in high school, I have never been able to do a cartwheel. But everyone can sing.
2. There isn’t any special equipment required. No fancy amps or expensive instruments or specialized training needed. Singing crosses every line – socio-economic, race, gender, background, and nationality.
3. Since our voices are always with us, singing can happen anywhere – an impromptu offering or a carefully planned program. Voices are convenient and portable, always on stand-by for whenever someone wants to praise God.
4. Everyone can join in. Individuals, a handful of people, and large groups can participate in singing God’s praises. One person can sing on the side of a mountain, and thousands can sing in a cathedral. Singing is individual and corporate at the same time. There are very few other activities where this is true. I can sing a song at home by myself, and I can sing the same song as an individual in a large gathering, and my small contribution magnifies the corporate singing like the PK gathering mentioned above.
We’ve all been involved in a game with a set number of players when someone wants to join in. Three people can’t play chess. The third person either has to wait for the game to be over to play (and then one of the original players has to sit out), or she has to find someone else to play with. Singing doesn’t exclude.
5. Each person can be present– in the moment– with every other person. When a large group sings together, everyone is essentially doing the same thing and unified as God is worshiped. Every person is engaged and needed.
6. Singing covers the gamut of emotion and intention. The tenderest lament can be whispered and the grandest proclamation can be declared in song. While emotions don’t determine our relationship with God, they help us connect with Him as we worship, and music can be a vehicle to help give them (literally!) a voice.
Several years ago we hosted a group of Christian men from a closed country in our home. After dinner, they asked if they could lead us in worship– they had learned a couple of songs in English just for us. They lead us straight to the throne of God in a matter of seconds and we stayed there the entire time we sang. In America we sing; these men SANG! Every atom in their bodies praised Jesus, and I’m sure anyone walking by outside on the sidewalk could hear us singing.
The men didn’t pause in order to decide whether or not they would best connect with God by singing. They just sang from deep within their souls. Their worship spilled over on us, carrying us with them as we all forgot ourselves and became lost in the presence of God.
God desires is that we sing to Him en masse.
He has asked us for this.
Why would we withhold it from Him?
READY FOR SUNDAY
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Genesis 22:15-18
Abraham did not withhold his only son – his special gift from God.
As worship leaders what do we hold onto? Our renown? Our voice? Our preferences?
Throughout Scripture God’s blessing is pronounced on those who surrender it all. How can we expect the blessing without the sacrifice?
Lord, I withhold nothing.
*I have several deaf/mute friends who use their hands instead of their voices to sing.