One of the things God has designed uniquely into humans is the ability to sing. Animals don’t sing as humans do. The song of a bird or a whale is a means of communication, but for humans, singing is a spiritual activity. God designed singing to elevate, encourage, and teach. In worship, it creates a direct connection to fellow worshipers and to God.
Singing came early in human history, with the first Bible reference to music being about Jubal in Genesis 4:21. Some 25 Hebrew words refer to different aspects of singing. Some books of the Old Testament, such as Genesis 1, the Psalms, and much of Isaiah, are songs. Isaiah 52:8-9 is a song of joy at God’s blessings. Other songs are praises to God, such as Genesis 1 and Proverbs 8. We see Paul and Silas singing at midnight in a Roman prison in Acts 16:25. That must have impressed the other prisoners who listened.
Ephesians 5:19-20 tells Christians, “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” Colossians 3:16-17 adds, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God…”
God designed singing for use in worship. Christian worship singing is not a spectator sport, but human institutions have not always supported congregational singing. Five hundred years ago, the Catholic Church decided who could sing and who couldn’t. The effect was to move worship of God away from the common people. The Reformation changed the use of music in worship.
I remember several years ago watching a broadcast of a USO show on an aircraft carrier featuring Lee Greenwood. It was during the Persian Gulf War, and soldiers were very apprehensive about where they found themselves. Greenwood sang, “I’m Proud to Be an American.” As he sang it, the soldiers were standing politely and listening. Greenwood stopped the song and asked the soldiers to sing it with him. The effect was electrifying, with tears flowing and hands joining together as they lifted their voices together in the common cause to which they were called.
When did you last join a crowd singing the National Anthem? What effect can that have on the people at an athletic event compared to when a professional sings it? Music is a great gift, but like all of God’s blessings, we can misuse it. God designed singing to unite, teach, encourage, and elevate us in worship. It can bring us closer to each other and to God if we use it as God intended.
— John N. Clayton © 2023