Since the beginig of time, God has surrounded himself with singing. He taught the morning starts to sing at creation (Job 38:7) and leades the thousands of angels who constantly sing around his throne. Yet nothing pleases him more than the singing of individuals whose hearts are tuned to him.
Throughout my Christian life, people have often asked me, “Can you teach me how to sing?” and “How do you learn how to sing?” Here is a spiritual singing lesson–not a lesson in singing the right notes or for understanding four part harmony, but a lesson on what the Bible teaches about our singing.
I Can Sing
A lot of people come into the kingdom of God eitehr seeing themselves as a singer or a nonsinger, eitehr as having the talent or not. While I believe that some people are more naturally gifted than others, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that we are all to be singers. Psalm 96:1 says to “sing to the Lord, all the earth.” It says “all the earth,” not just a few select individuals. Paul exhorts us to “sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). He does not say to sing if that is your gift or if you have studied music. It is a command for all Christians. It may be something that we have to learn how to do, just like we have to learn to study the Bible or share our faith. It may take some time, it may take some work, it may even take a little money, but it’s something we all ahve to work on. Even the most talented singers who become Christians have to learn how God wants them to sing. What used to be a performance medium for them must now become part of a relationship. But God has promised all of us that we “can do everything through him who gives [us] strength” (Philippians 4:13). This includes singing!
Spirit and the Mind
God does give us specific instructions on how to sing, Paul says, “I will pray with the spirit, but I will also pray with my mind. I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind” (1 Corinthians 14:15). In our movement we need to maintain the important balance between the youthfulness of the “Spirit” with the maturity of the “mind.”
When we sing a song like “O Lord, Prepare Me,” we love the feel of the song, and we are moved by the spirit of the music, but often we do not realize the meaning of what we are singing. In this song we are praying directly to God and saying, in essence, “Give me your hardest trial, your toughest situation, because I want to be pure and holy, tried and true; I want to be a living sanctuary for you.” The song contrasts the concept of the sancturay in the Old Testament with that of the New Testament. The sanctuary of the Old Law was the physical building where God’s spirit actually lived. Today, thanks to Jesus Christ, our bodies are to be the living temple of God. We are pleading our own bodies to be a holy temple in which God can live. These deeper concepts require more than just a casual reading of the text, but the decipline to focus on what they mean.
On the other hand, sometimes we know what the words mean. Our minds are in gear, but the Spirit is lacking. We sing a song like “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” and the last thing we see on our faces is joy! The conviction and power needed to preach the song are missing.
The biggest danger is when we become very comfortable with a song and sing without the Spirit or our mind. We mindlessly repeat phrases that mean nothing to us. We honor him with our lips, but our hearts are far from him (Mark 7:6). These words need to mean something to us personally, or we should not be singing them. We must sing with the Spirit and our minds.
Our singing is always communication. We are either singing to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, our brothers and sisters or to people who are not yet Christians. Ephesians 5:19 says “speak to one another” in our singing. When we come to a worship service, we are literally taking refuge from a battle. Satan has been waging a war for our souls all week, and we are pulling together to encourage each other. When we sing, “Don’t You Want to Go to That Land,” we are taking to each other’s spiritual pulse. We are asking, “Are you still with us?” and “Don’t you want to go with us?” and “I’m on my way; I’m bound!” We are speaking to one anoter in our singing. Whe we sing “Rise Up, O Men of God,” we are calling each other to arms: “We need your help! Rise up and make the church great.” We are spurring one another on (Hebrews 10:24), preparing each other to go back into battle.
We need to think more about speaking the songs than singing them. Somehow when we add a melody to words, what used to be a prayer is now “just a song.” The music is mainly a vehicle to express the text. Each song that we sing is important and is not to be take lightly. When Moses was teaching the Israelites a song, he told the people that the song was “not just idle words;…they are your life.” (Deuteronomy 32:47). We need to communicate each word of every song.
Psalms, Hyms and Spiritual Songs
In both Ephesians and Philippians, God speaks through Paul, saying that we are to sing “psalms, hyms and spiritual songs.” This may, at first, look like three words for the same thing, but Paul is indicating three distinct forms of songs: “psalms” are taken directly from Scripture; “hymns” are based on the Scripture and expounded on the deepr insights of the subject; and “spiritual songs” are those that come from our hearts, our emotions. We need to love all three types of songs, not just the kinds that appeal to us musically.
For many of us our taste in music is very personal. Some of us might like classical music and hate heavy metal, while others might think that rap music is the only true form of musical expression. Paul isn’t offering this as a musical choice. He is telling us to sing all three types–psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs–because each type ministers to a certain area of our hearts. They are essential to our spiritual health. While the emotional quality of the spiritual songs may appeal to some of us on a surface level, we also need the depth found in a hymn. On the other hand, those of us who are very comfortable with the hymns need the spontaneity and outward focus that a spiritual song can give. We all need the psalms to help us learn and memorize Scripture. We need a balance of all three.
A New Song
Psalm 40:3 syas that “He [God] put a new song in my mouth.” I belive that God has given every Christian a unique song to sing, literally, a new sing to sing. It might be personal, sung only to God, or it might be a song that thousands of disciples will sing around the world. Its purpose might be to deepen another person’s faith or to cause thousands more to become Christains. God is the author of creativity and has placed many songs in our hearts that are waiting to be written down. In Deuteronomy 32, God gave Moses a new sing. He told Moses to “write it down.” Moses did so that every day. God used Moses as an instrument to write it down and to teach the Israelites. He said that the song would serve as a witness for him. Long after the had forgotten everything that Moses had taught them and has actually turned away from God, this song would remind them of what God had done for them. As disciples, I believe that we often have songs that God gives to us, and we do not do anything with them. Sometimes I think that God tries to speak through us, but we do not take time to stop and listen to the song God has for us. The challenge is for us to listen and “write it down.”
We need to take the songs of the kingdom seriously. Jesus sang with his disciples (Matthew 26:30); he even recited the first verse of a song while he was on the cross (Matthew 27:45/Psalm 22) and wants us to sing with him as his moder-day disciples. God wants us to restore Biblical singing in our own relationship with him. Then, when anyone walks into our fellowship and hears the beauty and conviction of our singing, they cannot help but fall down on their knees and proclaim, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthinans 14:25).