Why do we spend time singing when we worship on Sundays? Should I sing when I don't feel like it? What's the point? What's the benefit?
There are almost fifty exhortations to sing in Scripture, as well as four hundred references to singing. Two of those passages (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16) instruct us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God and to one another. These aren’t suggestions, preferences, or good ideas. They’re commands. Which means God intends for us to obey them.
Since everyone isn’t a musician, how do these apply to us? Why does God want us to sing?
1. Singing is more a matter of our hearts than our voices.
Years ago Ronald Allen wrote in his book Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel:
“When a non-singer becomes a Christian, he or she becomes a singer. Not all are blessed with a finely tuned ear and a well modulated voice; so the sound may not be superb-it may even be out-of-tune and off-key. Remember: worship is a state of heart; musical sound is a state of art. Let’s not confuse them.”
We sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts (Eph. 5:19). The sounds we make affect those around us, for better or worse. But God hears what no one else can. It’s the song of the Redeemed for our great Redeemer. It’s a song we didn’t originate and can’t improve upon. It’s true that those who led the singing at the temple were trained and skilled in music for the Lord (1 Chron. 25:7). But there’s no indication either in the early church or in Revelation’s depiction of heaven that anyone gets a pass when it comes to singing praises to God. Even if we can’t sing a note, we can still sing in our hearts.
2. Singing helps us remember words.
Throughout Scripture, God reminds his people of their tendency to forget his promises, commands, and warnings. In Deut. 31, as Israel is about to enter the promised land, God tells Moses that his people will turn to idols after they enter Canaan. He then instructs Moses to teach the Israelites a song, so that, “when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring)” (Deut. 31:21). We sing to remember God’s word, and most of all, the word of Christ, or the gospel (Col. 3:16). Science has confirmed that we remember words, patterns, and categories more easily when words are set to music. It’s why hardly anyone can quote a John Wesley sermon, yet most people know the words to Charles Wesley’s “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”
3. Singing expresses and engages our emotions.
In every culture, music is a language of emotion that helps express what we feel. So David writes, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed” (Ps. 71:23). The words of his redeemed soul overflow into song. It’s why musicals are so popular, why we sing our country’s national anthem, and why every revival since the Reformation has been accompanied by an outpouring of new songs. As John Piper said in asermon,
“The reason we sing is because there are depths and heights and intensities and kinds of emotion that will not be satisfactorily expressed by mere prosaic forms, or even poetic readings. There are realities that demand to break out of prose into poetry and some demand that poetry be stretched into song.”
At the same time, music engages our emotions. In Mt. 11:17 Jesus implies that music can lead us to either dance or mourn. It can draw out a variety of feelings including romance, peace, joy, fear, playfulness, sadness, or awe. Singing can help us feel the truth more deeply.
4. Singing reflects the nature of God.
The Father sings over his redeemed people (Zephaniah 3:17). Jesus sings with us in the midst of the congregation (Heb. 2:12). One of the fruits of being filled with the Spirit is singing (Eph. 5:18-19). We worship a triune God who sings, and he wants us to be like him.
5. Singing together reflects and deepens our unity in the gospel.
Being together in the same room is one way we can express our unity. But singing together draws attention to that bond as we sing the same words at the same time. In fact, Paul uses a musical analogy when he wants to encourage gospel-driven unity: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14).