TEXT: Ephesians 5:18b-21; Isaiah 12:1-6
SERVICE VIDEO: youtu.be/VQ2oFRGEC5g
I’d like to begin by singing Happy Birthday with you to three people celebrating their birthday this weekend: Carlotta, Maria, and Myrna. What a great GSPC birthday weekend! Let’s sing…
Why do we sing?
Almost everyone will join in singing “Happy Birthday” to celebrate someone they love (or even someone they don’t know – have you ever done that at a restaurant?)!
We sing along with favorite songs on the radio (or music delivery system or your choice). Whether the words or the beat, music elicits a response from us. Even if we are embarrassed to sing publicly, most of you have probably belted one out in the car.
We sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and favorite Christmas songs, perhaps because they bring back memories or make us feel a part of something special.
Singing can express a wide range of emotions: there are happy songs, sad songs, angry songs, and much more.
Singing can communicate a message, sometimes more effectively than speech alone. The music helps anchor the message in our minds in different ways than spoken word alone. I marvel sometimes at the amount of lyrical content teenagers (of each generation) can recall. Ad agencies use this to great effect: do you know this one… “We are Farmers…. [bum ba bum bum, bum bum bum]!” Not much content there, but it’s hard not to join in and you definitely remember the company name!
Some people like make music; others like to listen to music. And while it varies greatly from culture to culture and generation to generation, music transcends cultures and is present in almost every one. It seems like something that God has created in humanity that is an integral part of who we are.
And so today we are going to look broadly at the reasons we sing in worship. Some overlap with the human and cultural reasons I’ve already described. But in addition to that, God is worthy of our praise and music, so there are some specific ways to bring music to bear when we worship. Some of what we’ll look at simply talks about praise, but almost any kind of praise you can do can also be done with music and singing. We are going to look at some of the biblical reasons that music and song are an important part of our worship service.
Our call to worship from Psalm 96 commands, “Sing to the Lord, all the earth!” So we are going to dig into scripture to understand a little better what that means.
Worthy of Praise (Isaiah 12)
Now I realize some people just love to sing for the sake of singing. But the primary reason we sing is not love of singing. The primary reason we sing is to praise God. And we praise God for two reasons: for who God is and for what God has done. We do that because God is WORTHY of praise. God’s being and character are so amazing and awe-inspiring that if we know or encounter God in even the smallest way it should elicit a praise-response from us in the same way that a breath-taking sunrise or expanse of mountains or ocean view brings about a “Wow!” In fact, God made those things! And that leads to what God has done… from creation to merciful redemption of humanity to new life in Christ, God’s works should also elicit “Wow” and “Thank you!” and many other expressions of praise.
Listen again to our call to worship with this in mind. Psalm 96 calls upon us to sing and praise God and gives these very reasons for doing so:
1 Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
3 Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
4 For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised…
Proclaim God’s glory and wonderful deeds… God’s greatness and salvation.
Isaiah 12 details some more of our reasons for singing, our reasons for praise:
v.1 – “I will give thanks… for although you were angry with me, your anger is turned away, and you comfort me.” – what God has done!
v.2 – “God is my salvation… my strength and song” – what God has done!
v.4 – “Make known God’s deeds among the peoples… His name is exalted.” – what God has done and who God is (exalted)!
v.5 – “Praise the Lord in song, for He has done excellent things…” – what God has done!
v.6 – “Great… and Holy” – who God is!
We sing in worship to give praise and thanks to God for who He is and what He has done, in the world and in our lives.
If those reasons aren’t compelling to you, look for ways to learn more about God. Read God’s story in the Bible – perhaps at its most foundational level it is the story of who God is and what God has done. Spending time in God’s Word to understand the story is like taking time to look at the beautiful sunrise or mountain expanse; it provides opportunity to see and experience the “Wow!” of God’s character and works. (Those parts of creation also do that, so take time to notice them, too!)
God has also provided another means for us to grow in knowledge, experience, and praise. All who have trusted in Jesus Christ have God’s Holy Spirit living within them. And Ephesians 5 describes how that Holy Spirit leads us to praise.
Known through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5)
In a chapter focused on the behavior of believers, Paul writes in verse 18 of being “filled with the Spirit.” Just like being over-filled with wine leads to unwanted behavior, he offers this contrasting description of being filled with the Spirit leading to wanted and positive behaviors of praise:
18 … be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father…
Something about having God’s Holy Spirit in us and overflowing leads to music and praise. I appreciate that it’s not just external singing, but he writes of “making melody with your heart to the Lord.” Our posture of praise and music emanates from the deepest part of who we are rather than just going through the motions. That’s something to ponder when we are singing in church. Am I just getting through it phrase by phrase and verse by verse or is what I’m expressing coming out of my heart? It’s a difference that any of us (including those of us up front) can wrestle with on any given day.
One reason the Holy Spirit can lead us to praise is that the Spirit bears witness to who God is and what God has done. That is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit as counselor and comforter. The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and makes God known to us. So our prayer life and openness to the Spirit also brings us into closer experience and relationship with God, just as the scriptures do. But the Spirit won’t take over; we have to listen and yield to what is sometimes the quiet whisper of the Spirit.
What if you believe you can’t sing or don’t like to sing? Nothing in the scriptures today speaks of only the musically gifted praising God. Our singing is not ultimately about how we sound, though it is helpful for those leading to be able to keep us together and singing the same tune. If you are someone who thinks you cannot sing, I’d offer two thoughts. First, everyone at any level of singing ability can improve. Some people say, “I’m monotone” but that is an extremely rare medical condition. And if you can tell the difference in the first half [spoken low] and the second half of this sentence [spoken high pitched] you can hear different pitches. I’ve also not heard anyone here speak in monotone, so I know you all have the ability. From there, anyone can improve and we (Eric or I) would be glad to help you out!
Secondly, it’s from the heart, remember? Even if you decide to sing quietly or hum along or mouth the words, I encourage you to participate! Don’t sit out the singing! The point is not for you to have the next choir solo, but to engage in praise from your heart. Clap your hands (I encourage that!); stomp your feet (watch out for your neighbors toes); raise your hands; sing as much as you are willing and keep stretching yourself.
The reason we sing in worship is because God is worthy – God is worth it! And God invites your participation! Amen.
Some Music Used
- Goodness of God
- Creation Sings the Father’s Song
- Good to Me
- Let Us Break Bread Together (Rick Bean, jazz piano)
- You Are Holy (Prince of Peace)
- That’s Why We Praise Him
- Holy, Holy, Holy
- Is He Worthy – Revelation Song