Singing God’s Praises
(Especially when You Can’t Carry A Tune in A Bucket)!
Every culture has valued music. Music has been used both to lift people’s hearts in worship and to steel their nerves as they march into battle. Archeologists find not only pottery in their excavations of ancient civilizations but also tools and musical instruments.
My friends who have studied and traveled in Ghana West Africa talked about the worship wars there. Older people in the church balked when their kids and grandkids wanted to incorporate the native instruments of Ghana into worship. These parents and grandparents said that Christian worship was done ONLY with an organ; the missionaries brought pump organs in, therefore those early African Christians thought that the only appropriate instrument for praising God was the organ. But their youngsters had other ideas, and they brought in the Nnawuta, Sεperεwa, Donno, Torowa and Prεpεnsua.
And why not? Because all instruments and all manner of song is appropriate to praise God. Doesn’t the Psalmist declare that all people employ all instruments to praise God:
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Music has been vital in every culture. Nowadays, we’ve made music another form of competition with TV shows like The Voice and American Idol. Superstars are born there. But the world has seen superstars before. In ancient Mesopotamia, Sumerian texts speak of “Shulgi” (two thousand years before Christ) who was not only a king and writer of laws, but also a creator of instruments and a composer of hymns (p. 168, The New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, vol 4, “Music”). Israelite kings David and Solomon were also known for their music, and David, additionally, for his dancing before the LORD.
Today we dedicate our new hymnals. According to our mail scale in the church office, our new hymnal weighs almost exactly what our old one weighed, but it has over 400 more hymns in it. Some are old favorites, some are new to us.
These hymns were chosen in a typically Presbyterian fashion: not only by a committee, but by several committees. Again, in a good Presbyterian fashion, votes were taken. To move a song forward, a 2/3 vote was required for approval.
I’m thrilled with the prospect of singing some new songs. I’m even more thrilled that many of my old favorites are here, including the original versification of “Be Thou My Vision.” Our Montreaters will recognize more of “their” songs in this hymnal. And, no, “Onward, Christian Soldiers” didn’t make the cut in this hymnal, either.
Win some, lose some.
Today is also Reformation Sunday. It is the day that we remember the protestant reformation beginning with the likes of Martin Luther (some of whose hymns are in our hymnal). A tenant of the reformed tradition is Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda . . . “Once reformed, always being reformed,” which is to say because church structure and practice are so influenced by sin, the church is always open to the Spirit as the Spirit shapes and reshapes us towards a more authentic faith and life according to the Word of God. (God’s Word does not change, but with the nudge of God’s Holy Spirit our practices and understanding do change.)
When it comes to singing the faith, part of the duty of the church is to claim both old and new language in its hymnody in order that all generations can praise God together. That has been the goal of every hymn writer—from Luther and Calvin to Brian Wren and Fanny Crosby and all the rest. The young Isaac Watts was so tired of his parents’ dead old hymns that he borrowed the joyous, singable tunes he learned from neighborhood bars. Some of those tunes are in this book.
That brings me to today’s scripture passage. We, who are chosen and loved by God, are called to love one another.
This is easier to say than it is to do. And Paul understands this. Relationships are difficult. Period. In verse eleven he talks about how we are united despite our differences. He says this because he knows we are a fractious people—he knows that we often allow differences of race and opinion divide us. In the midst of division, Paul is preaching unity.
In verse 13 he mentions the need for forgiveness not because it’s a nice theological concept, but because it’s such a dire need in relationships. Paul knows how broken the world is and how fragile relationships are, and how essential forgiveness is in every relationship. So, forgive one another as the LORD has forgiven you.
Paul is urging us to put on, or “clothe” yourselves with compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience. These are the very aspects of human relations that are often lacking. When is the last time you’ve been lowly or meek? Our culture doesn’t think highly of lowliness; our culture rewards swagger and pride and muscle.
Exercise forbearance. Deal as patiently as you can with difficult people and situations.
These are features of healthy relationships. Do these things. Stay focused in Christ.
But Paul has one more, rather curious, piece of advice: Sing together. Sing to God psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts.
The positive psychological effects of singing are well known. Singing builds confidence. The act of singing releases endorphins, the brain’s “feel good” chemicals. Singing also strengthens the immune system by increasing production of A – proteins in the immune system which function as antibodies, and hydrocortisone, an anti-stress hormone. Researchers at the University of Manchester have discovered that the sacculus, a little organ in the inner ear, responds to frequencies commonly found in music, and is connected to the part of the brain responsible for registering pleasure. People who sing—either in the choir, in a congregation, or in a shower—rate their satisfaction with life higher than others [source: MacLean]. A 1998 study found that after nursing-home residents took part in a singing program for a month, there were significant decreases in both anxiety and depression [source: ISPS]. Singing is an aerobic activity, meaning it gets more oxygen into the blood for better circulation, which tends to promote a good mood. When you sing more, you worry less, because you’re concentrating on the song, not woes. Learning is also part of the process—learning new songs, new harmonies, new methods of keeping tempo. Learning has long been known to keep brains active and fend off depression. Singing brings down barriers between people. When we sing we are part of the group. We don’t feel so alone. And we aren’t.
Sing the faith, Paul is saying. And he’s not talking good psychology, but good theology. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts. When we sing songs of God’s love, our lives will be more deeply in tune with that love.
And, no. We don’t need to sing well to sing. Paul means for all of us to sing, even those of us who can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Singing well is not part of the equation. But singing faithfully is. Paul knew that singing praises to God would help build the body of Christ on earth.
When in our music God is glorified
And adoration leaves no room for pride,
It is as though the whole creation cried
Colossians 3:11-17 11 Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scyth’ian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, 13 forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I was born and raised in the sight of water in Hampton, Virginia. I was baptized and nurtured in the Presbyterian church. There was never a time when weekly worship attendance, the giving of ...