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CREATED TO ... SING!
We are a singing people because it is how God has created us. It's what we do.
And when we do, we're simply joining in with what the rest of creation is doing.
DESIGNED TO SING
We are all singers. We may not all be very good singers, but we are all created to be singers nonetheless.
The psalmist sings, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps. 139:13–14). We have three young daughters, and it has surprised us with each of them how early they could sing. Simple melodies with mumbled words grew into phrases like "O sing happylujah," or a bizarre mixture of "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty" and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." To sing is written into our human DNA; it is part of God's design. Our desire to make musical instruments to accompany our singing is as old as our desire to fashion tools to aid us in our daily work (Gen. 4:21–22). Throughout Scripture and through history, we see God's people using this gift of song to praise Him, the Giver of it.
Your ability to sing is fearfully and wonderfully made. Around the twelve-week mark, the vocal cords of a baby growing in the womb are in place and have been shown to work long before the baby is born. We may sound different, but each of us has the same vocal apparatus (you, us, Bono, Pavarotti, Sinatra) — breath flowing up from our lungs, vibrating through vocal cords in our throat, and pushing sound out through the articulators of our mouths, tongues, and lips. Singing is not merely a happy by-product of God's real intent of making us creatures who can speak. It is something we're designed to be able to do.
But not only that, God designed our psyche for singing. When singing praise to God, so much more than just the vocal box is engaged. God has created our minds to judge pitch and lyric; to think through the concepts we sing; to engage the intellect, imagination, and memory; and to remember what is set to a tune (we are confident that, right now, 99 percent of this book's readers can remember more lyrics set to music than can recite Scripture by rote). God has formed our hearts to be moved with depth of feeling and a whole range of emotion as the melody-carried truths of who God is and whose we are sink in.
WHAT IF I "CAN'T SING"?
Sometimes we meet people who say, "I can't sing" — as in, "The sound that comes out of my mouth when I try to sing is not what I was hoping for."
Perhaps this is you, and you can recall an awkward conversation as a child when you were asked to mouth the words, rather than sing them; or when it was suggested that being a member of your school or church choir might not be the best fit for your gifts.
But if you can speak, you can physically sing. The truth is that God designed you to sing and gave you everything you need to sing, as well as He wants you to. He's far less concerned with your tunefulness than your integrity. Christian singing begins with the heart, not on the lips (Eph. 5:19).
Because they are very little and are at different stages of learning to sing, when our daughters sing together, the older is more confident than the middle one, who is in turn more fluent than the youngest. This may change as they all get older, but the point is this — to their parents' ears, each voice is not only as important as the others but is as treasured as the others. Your heavenly Father cares whether and what you sing, but He does not mind how well you sing. While we may have choirs within our churches made up of voices who have expertise and ability, the congregation of a church is the ultimate choir, and it is without auditions — everyone can be in it and should be in it.
The true beauty of such a congregational choir is that our voices and our hearts are knit together in praise. It is exhilarating to be part of a body of believers singing truth together. We recently met with a missionary to China who was home on furlough in America. After the singing, he said how wonderful it was to be able to sing freely with other believers again, for the part of China he lived in imposed heavy restrictions on such a thing. "Oh, how my heart misses the singing," he said. Your voice may not be of professional standard, but it is of confessional standard.
It is worth adding, though, that the more we practice something, the better we become at it — and we seek to improve in what we truly value. "As with almost everything worthwhile in life, there is rarely just one day to do it." To learn to walk takes time, and we first must learn to press down on our feet. To learn to speak takes time, and we must first open our mouths and make sounds. To praise God in tuneful song takes time, and we grow better at singing by singing. And once we've reached our peak, if it is still some way short of the tuneful heights, a sense of humor is a useful ally. Some people do have a special gift of singing absolutely every note slightly off pitch (which is, ironically, very hard to do). Since we sing to encourage and praise, not to impress and earn praise, we can smile about that and sing anyway.
One of our band members, Zach White, recently told us of the inspiration his dad has been to him and his siblings when it comes to singing in church. Mr. White is always the most passionate singer in the congregation, despite only having three notes he can actually sing (all lower than his namesake, Barry), and none of them in tune. But it never holds him back. He has grasped what congregational singing is, and is not, about.
Kristyn's vocal coach for the last fourteen years, Kim Wood Sandusky, has several decades of experience in training professional singers across genres. She points out that "we are all singers. Some of us have talents that allow us to sing with beautiful tones and good pitch, while others have talents to sing with their soul. What a beautiful sound we all make as singers to our heavenly Father's ears."
There are those of us who may have vocal constrictions that come through health struggles or have been there since birth. If you cannot speak but sing by signing with your hands or through whatever means God has given you, you bless the community of believers as we join with one heart and one voice until the day all tongues will sing to Him. We are so grateful for the work of signers who enable the whole congregation to so meaningfully engage in the lyrics we sing.
SINGING IN HIS IMAGE
Since God is a creator who enjoys beauty, it follows that we, as those creatures uniquely made in His image (Gen. 1:26–28), will do so too. What God made has beauty as well as functionality: "The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground — trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food" (Gen. 2:9, our italics).
We have been created to enjoy beauty and enjoy creativity. You don't have to go to an art museum to understand this — but simply as far as the special occasion dinner date with your spouse, where you don't want the food just to be passable but irresistible to the eyes and the palate; and you don't just want a roof to keep the rain out, but a beautiful and meaningful place to make a memory of it. We can tell the difference between an orchestra tuning up and them then playing a coherent piece of music — suddenly, there is a "rightness" in how the notes sit together. We know that sense of throwing back your head or raising your hands to sing a great hymn with every ounce of your being and the feeling of losing interest in a mediocre one. This is why for a songwriter, it's worth striving day after day for months (or years) to compose that one melodic idea that is fresh, compelling, and might touch another person's soul.
We are designed to benefit from beauty in creativity. Have you ever wondered why we sing our national anthems and don't just recite their lyrics, or why as children we learn our alphabet in rhyming songs rather than simply as a series of monotone spoken sounds? It's because God made us to be powerfully engaged in our senses and memories by music. Songs have the power to prompt a memory or transport us back to some other time and place. Our sense of imagination is another aspect of the dignity we have been given as human beings by God. It should not be belittled but embraced and nurtured, especially by the artistic endeavors of every local church. They reach the inner corridors of our soul in a way that other things cannot. This is part of why we tend to have such heated conversations about what we like in church music — because it moves us so deeply. We are designed as beauty-appreciators. It matters to us.
We have also been made to like making things ourselves. J. R. R. Tolkien wrote that "we are not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker." We show our God-inspired creative spirit when we make music — not just in the songs themselves, but in the many different creative ways we arrange and express the songs together. Whether it is the rhythmic vibrancy of sung worship led by the African Children's Choir, or the pristine beauty of a chorale echoing within the ancient walls of a European cathedral, or the blended accents in the increasing number of international churches in cities around the world, we seek to create beauty because that's how we're designed.
And as we create, we communicate — just as God does through His creation:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. (Ps. 19:1–2)
Echoing through our congregational singing is the communication the divine Author has written into this world. Melodies matter. Words matter. Our songs always say something. We have been created to use language, to reflect and meditate on His words, to remember over and over again His voice. Singing together organizes notes and words in beautiful ways to shine God's dazzling truths into the relativistic grays of our culture.
Equally wonderfully, we are designed not only to be able to create songs about God but to God. It is an incredible thing that we, the created ones, have been given a way to communicate with the One who made us. We sing knowing that our Lord's ears are open and listening as we lift our voices to Him with intelligent, sincere, and joy-filled words and notes. Our singing is not like prayer — it is prayer. And the great sixth-century church father St. Augustine is reputed to have said that we pray twice when we sing.
As we sing to God and about God together with the people of God, we reflect the truth that we were designed for community, both with God and with each other. It was never good for man to be alone, and singing together engenders and expresses that we are family. When we sing, we show the community that reflects our Creator, our triune God. When His Church sings together, voice upon voice like arms linked across a room, and indeed across all the gathering places of His followers around the globe, across history, we are doing what we were designed to enjoy — using our God-given voices to sing praises together to the One who gave us those voices. It expresses what unites us, and it reminds us of our interdependence.
SINGING WITH CREATION
Creation sings the Father's song. When we sing as God's people, it brings us into line with the whole of the rest of creation:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn — shout for joy before the Lord, the King. Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity. (Ps. 98:4–9)
"What is the chief end of man?" asks the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The answer: "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever." To praise Him is the original desire sewn into every fiber of our God-designed humanity and into every aspect of our God-designed world. When we sing God's praise, we join with the tune of the cosmos. Just pause. Isn't this incredible?
In C. S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew, the great lion Aslan creates Narnia by singing it into existence. The character and timbre of the song are seen in the shapes and colors of all that springs up out of the nothingness. Lewis delights to point out that the song could not be separated from the Singer and that when your eyes saw the Singer He eclipsed everything else.
We are created to sing because it leads us joyfully to the great Singer, Creator of the heavens and the earth. Paul Tripp writes, "God is the ultimate musician. His music transforms your life. The notes of redemption rearrange your heart and restore your life. His songs of forgiveness, grace, reconciliation, truth, hope, sovereignty, and love give you back your humanity and restore your identity."
Our singing should sound like Him, look like Him, and lead our hearts to Him. When the psalmist sings, "I lift my eyes up to the hills, where does my help come from?" (Ps. 121 niv 1984), his help does not come from those hills, but from He who made the hills. We do not worship the created art of singing; we worship Him. Don't sing primarily because you love singing, or keep quiet because you do not. Sing because you love who made you, and formed you, and enables you to sing:
We sing to Him, whose wisdom form'd the ear, our songs, let Him who gave us voices, hear; we joy in God, who is the Spring of mirth, who loves the harmony of Heav'n and Earth; our humble sonnets shall that praise rehearse, who is the music of the Universe. And whilst we sing, we consecrate our art, and offer up with ev'ry tongue a heart. (Nathaniel Ingelo, 1688)
1. Can you recall your earliest memory of singing? How did it make you feel?
2. What do you experience during congregational singing — feelings like joy, fear, self-consciousness, freedom, etc.?
3. What kind of "practice" might your church do to help members feel more confident, less self-aware, and more engaged in hymn singing?
COMMANDED TO ... SING!
We are a singing people because God has commanded us to sing.
It's what we do.
Kristyn remembers being in the kitchen with her mum as a teenager having a conversation with her about prayer. Growing up in a Christian home, she had been taught about, shown, and helped with praying. But on this day, she was dragging her feet over the idea of praying and was somewhat overcomplicating the process (something that, in future years, her husband would not find hard to believe!). After a little while, her mum, with her kind, strong eyes, very simply said, "At the end of the day, we are commanded by God to pray — so we must do it!"
The same is equally true of singing. We are commanded by God to sing — so we must do it. Not to sing is to disobey.
God's commands are not arbitrary — they are always for His people's good. Part of the glory of God's commands are that His law is the "perfect law that gives freedom" (James 1:25). Just as we are told to study the Scriptures, to pray, to give, to take communion, so we are commanded to sing with the saints because we need to sing. Our spiritual health depends on it.
It is of course not a clinical obedience, without warmth of conviction or joy of relationship (which we will talk about in the next chapter). But it is a matter of obedience. As the great hymn-writer John Newton once wrote,
Our pleasure and our duty, Though opposite before; Since we have seen his beauty, Are joined to part no more.
Christian singing is far more than doing our duty, but it is never less. We are commanded to, "Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints" (Ps. 149:1).
Repeatedly and throughout Scripture, we are commanded to be a singing people. There are more than four hundred references to singing in the Bible and at least fifty direct commands. We are not to disregard the command because we don't like the music or the personnel or are not in the mood. The command in Psalm 149:1 contains no caveats or conditions. It should go without saying that the leadership of a church should be facilitating congregational singing so that we can all honor the Lord in this together. We are told to sing — and the Scripture is not only concerned that we sing but also with where, what, and how we sing.
WHERE WE SING
The command is not to sing just into ourselves or by ourselves (like in the shower or in the car), but out loud as part of "the assembly of the saints" — that is, in the company of other believers, with your church. It is not a metaphorical or optional or seasonal suggestion, but a clear directive from our Lord and Savior to sing as a regular part of our worship life, primarily and especially with other believers. We are not to think of it as "just the singing" — something we can skip over or arrive late for — but something we are to take seriously, to value, to set aside time for.
Excerpted from "Sing!"
Copyright © 2017 Getty Music Songs, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
How to Use This Book xvii
Prelude: Sing! xix
Chapter 1 Created to … Sing! 1
Chapter 2 Commanded to … Sing! 13
Chapter 3 Compelled to … Sing! 21
Chapter 4 Sing!… with Heart and Mind 37
Chapter 5 Sing!… with Your Family 53
Chapter 6 Sing!… with the Local Church 71
Chapter 7 The Radical Witness When Congregations … Sing! 85
Postlude: Will You Sing? 97
Bonus Tracks 103
Track One: For Pastors and Elders 105
Track Two: Worship and Song Leaders 113
Track Three: Musicians, Choirs, and Production 123
Track Four: Songwriters and Creatives 133