Why Must We Sing?
Worship encompasses the whole of life, from what we say to what we do and desire, as well as the numerous activities that occur in the corporate gathering of God’s people. Here I want us to think primarily about worship as the verbal proclamation in song of the greatness and glory of God’s name. Continue reading . . .
Worship encompasses the whole of life, from what we say to what we do and desire, as well as the numerous activities that occur in the corporate gathering of God’s people. Here I want us to think primarily about worship as the verbal proclamation in song of the greatness and glory of God’s name.
I think this is largely what the author of Hebrews has in mind when he speaks of the “sacrifice of praise” as expressed in “the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15).
The reference to the “fruit of lips” in v. 15 must be contrasted with what Jesus said when he denounced the hypocritical and vain worship of the Pharisees – “This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me” (Matt. 15:8). Needless to say, that is not what our author means when he talks about praising God with our “lips”. There is a world of difference between the labor of your lips and the “fruit” of your lips. The “fruit” of lips is what we say or sing that flows from a heart mesmerized by the mercy of God, a spirit that is saturated with the splendor of God, and affections set on fire by the magnificence of God.
Just think of it: according to Jesus you can “worship” God by singing and shouting and dancing and loud declarations of loyalty and love and it all be vanity! If the “heart” is not engaged, worship is a sham. You can be orthodox and honored among men, as the religious leaders in that day certainly were, fervent and faithful in your vocalized praise of God, quite “pious” by all outward indications, at the same time your “heart” is distant and cold and lifeless.
It’s important to note that he does refer to the “lips” and not just to our hearts or affections. In other words, God wants us to “sing” and “speak” and “shout” his praises. This is what Paul had in mind in Colossians 3:16 –
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).
Although one can surely worship without singing, we can’t ignore the emphasis in Scripture on this expression of praise and joy in God. The singing of our praise is everywhere in Scripture (see, for example, Exodus 15:1,20-21; Judges 5:2-5; 1 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 47:6-7; 66:2,4; 69:30-31; 96:1-2; 105:2; 1 Corinthians 14:15; James 5:13). No fewer than 85x in the Old Testament alone God’s people are exhorted to sing their praises to God.
But why singing? Why not just speak your praise to God? In my book, The Singing God, I tried to answer this question as follows:
“Singing enables the soul to express deeply felt emotions that mere speaking cannot. Singing channels our spiritual energy in a way that nothing else can. Singing evokes an intensity of mind and spirit. It opens the door to ideas, feelings, and affections that otherwise might have remained forever imprisoned in the depths of one’s heart.
Singing gives focus and clarity to what words alone often make fuzzy. It lifts our hearts to new heights of contemplation. It stirs our hope to unprecedented levels of expectancy and delight. Singing sensitizes. It softens the soul to hear God’s voice and quickens the will to obey.
I can only speak for myself, but when I’m happy I sing. When my joy increases it cries for an outlet. So I sing. When I’m touched with a renewed sense of forgiveness, I sing. When God’s grace shines yet again on my darkened path, I sing. When I’m lonely and long for the intimacy of God’s presence, I sing. When I need respite from the chaos of a world run amok, I sing.
Nothing else can do for me what music does. It bathes otherwise arid ideas in refreshing waters. It empowers my wandering mind to concentrate with energetic intensity. It stirs my heart to tell the Lord just how much I love Him, again and again and again, without the slightest tinge of repetitive boredom” (22).
Note also that the singing that both Paul and the author of Hebrews have in mind is neither random nor aimless. It is “to God” (Heb. 13:15)! He is the focus of our faith, the object of our praise, the audience of One to whom we lift our hearts in wonder and awe. I suspect this is one reason certain people are uncomfortable with singing. It requires of them vulnerability, openness, and honesty as they direct their most heartfelt adoration, hopes, and desires “to God.” They are fearful of the depth of commitment and devotion that singing “to God” entails. But sing “to God” we must.
“My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God!”