Photo by Jonathan Liedtke.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. (Psalm 65:8 NIV)
I remember when I first walked into a church worship service as an adult. I was 26 years old and the whole experience was very different and foreign to me. The most foreign aspect was seeing the people singing songs together. I felt awkward and embarrassed as this type of singing was way outside my comfort zone and a long way from what I believed to be "normal" singing.
Normal singing for me was joining in with the crowd and singing my football team’s theme song after a victory, singing along with my radio in the car, belting out my favourite tracks at a concert and watching and listening to gifted musicians and artists on TV shows. Standing in a church and singing songs I had never heard before with a group of amateur singers seemed very strange!
I think many people who don’t have a Christian frame of reference may feel similarly about the singing we do in our church services. Community singing other than organised choirs is now almost counter-cultural in our present day Australian context, so to non church-goers, singing together in church may seem a bit strange. However, this doesn’t mean that we should stop singing in our church services. In fact, my first experience of a worship service, despite it feeling very foreign, blew me away by the authenticity of the people singing around me. These people sang to a God and about a God I did not know. They sang songs about a holy God, a loving God, a merciful, faithful, compassionate and generous God. Not only that, but they sang to a God whom they had a relationship with - there seemed to be an intimacy between the singer and the God they were singing to. As I observed these people singing to their God it totally changed my perception of an impersonal, distant, irrelevant and wrathful God. I found something really attractive about the connection these people had with the God they were singing to. This experience of my first worship service started me on a journey that I am still on today - the journey to discover who this God is and how I can relate with him. My personal experience has taught me that while singing in worship services may seem a bit unusual to outsiders, it can also be something attractive that draws people into relationship with God.
The key of course is to be authentic in our worship gatherings and not simply go through the motions as if the singing we are doing doesn't really matter. Visitors to our churches may not join in our singing but be assured they are watching and listening and are likely to detect any sense of complacency or disconnection.
Some of you may know my Executive Assistant, Lyn Williams. Before coming to the BUV office, Lyn worked as a Music & Worship Pastor at one of our churches, so I asked her for some ideas on this topic. Lyn shared with me the following thought she had heard from the theologian N.T. Wright, that ‘all of creation is designed for the worship of God, but only humanity can articulate creations' praise’. To me this says that we not only have the privilege to connect with God in and through our worship gathering (which includes singing among other elements), but we have an obligation to express worship on behalf of creation! Worship, through singing is not an optional extra for us, it is one of God's gifts to help us connect with him, to honour him and magnify his name.
Here are a few more comments about singing in the worship gathering context (with a little help from Lyn):
- Singing connects our minds with our emotions.
- Singing in church has stood the test of time throughout history.
- It is a physical expression of our unity as the people of God.
- When we sing to God in our worship services, we also encourage one another in our faith.
- Singing in our worship services has a teaching role through the song lyrics (assuming the lyrics are biblically based). Statement of belief songs are especially helpful for congregations to sing, e.g. ‘In Christ alone’.
- The use of worship songs and hymns helps remind our congregations that Christ is the centre of our personal and church life.
- The combination of melody, rhyme, rhythm and repetition means we remember song lyrics long after we remember sermons!
We can all sing in a way that pleases God. In Psalm 150 the psalmist says “let everything that has breath praise the Lord”. This means, while we appreciate the gifted singers and song leaders we have in our churches, the good news is that the rest of us are not excluded from God's choir. In fact we don't even have to audition…there are not even any ‘blind auditions’ (a la “The Voice”) - we are all in!
Let me finish with a few questions and an invitation for you to reflect on. Do you have breath? Are you alive? Is your body warm? If you are reading this then I assume the answer is yes…so, welcome to God's choir - you are invited to join in with your brothers and sisters in Christ to sing about who God is. You are invited to sing about the God of love, mercy, faithfulness and justice. Sing about a generous God, a compassionate God and a personal God. Sing about the mighty works of God in the past. Sing about his faithfulness and love today. Sing about his promises for tomorrow.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!