Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.
We are given direct orders in the Bible, including commands, decrees, laws, commandments, admonishments, edicts, statutes, adjurations, and mandates. Things we are to follow so we can be walking truly with our God. The most common mandate in the Bible is to love God and to love each other.
But throughout the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, we are told to do things and told not to do other things. The first two verses of Psalm 100 begin with these commandments: Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.
In fact, every line of Psalm 100 contains commandments – something we are being told to do: Know that the Lord is God. Know that it is he who made us; know that we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Know that the Lord is good and his love endures forever; know that his faithfulness continues through all generations. We are being commanded to know, do, and adhere to these things.
The one that I want to spend time on this week is the third commandment of Psalm 100: come before Him with joyful songs. Yes, we are commanded to sing! Not just invited but commanded. Colossians 3:16 tells us: 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.
Ephesians 5:18-19 says: And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart….
When we sing, we are doing what God asks of us. Being a singer, this is not a challenge. To me, it’s kind of like the love your neighbor commandment. We aren’t commanded to love the neighbors that are nice to us, who look like us, who dress and think like us. We are to love each other even when it is hard.
The same is true with singing to God. When we sing, we are obeying God. When we sing, I’ve heard it said we pray twice: once with the lyrics, and again as our souls hear the Word of God resonating in our awareness.
When we sing as a congregation, we raise each other up. When we hear a room full of people sing, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me,” we are lifted. When we have a song on our heart, it is difficult for darkness to enter. When we sing, we are spiritually strengthened. To sing, “This is the day, this is the day, that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made,” is empowering.
When we sing, we are walking down God’s pathway to joy. The book of Psalms is a book of songs to God. Psalm 15:11 reads: “Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.” Psalm 9:2 reads: “I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.”
Sometimes singing brings us to joy; at other times joy brings us to singing. Our opening Bible verse says as much: Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. But persistently in Scripture, joy and singing are cojoined. This is because when we sing we glorify God. All the aforementioned reasons to sing bring glory to God.
The Bible never says, let those who can sing, sing, as if it were a spiritual gift. Singing is not a gift of Spirit. The Bible never says, let those who have beautiful voices sing, as if natural talent were required to praise God. The Bible just says “Sing!” Over and over, dozens of times, we are commanded to sing: sing to the Lord, sing praises, sing joyfully, sing a new song. Come into God’s presence with singing.
The command to sing may be repeated more frequently than any command in the Bible except the one to love. We are told to sing more often than we are told to witness or teach or baptize or even to bring offerings. Of course, we know we are commanded often to pray. But we are also commanded repeatedly to sing.
Besides that, congregational singing is an important spiritual practice. Hymn writer Brian Wren says, “Congregational song does important things that speech alone cannot do.” When we sing together, we are participants rather than observers as we take an active part. We become givers as well as receivers. When we sing, we not only attend church, but we experience church.
Music reaches parts of the brain, and especially our soul, that words alone cannot. Hymns and spiritual songs tap into something deeper than all the talk about God. Singing prepares our soul for the next part of its journey. The book of Revelation makes it clear that when we get to heaven, we will all be singing. Revelation 5:11-13 says that in the heavenly realm – in the realm where the kingdom of God has come – the angels and living creatures and elders all sing, “myriads of myriads, thousands of thousands, and they sing with one voice.” Then John hears “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and all that is in the sea and all that is in it, and they were singing.” What an image: the entire Universe, all creatures great and small, every being singing! Congregational singing is not just a command; it is our destiny.
Now I know that this is a touching subject for some of you. You have decided that you don’t like to sing, that you can’t sing in tune, or you don’t like the sound of your singing voice. I understand what you are saying, and maybe that is all true. But do you really think God cares? Or that anyone around you is going to complain about your sincere attempt to praise Christ? We should reiterate that this church is a perfection-free zone—musically, morally, spiritually, every way you can think of. No one needs to be afraid to join us.
But singing can also be seen as a metaphor, so there are numerous ways to ‘sing praise to God.’ Not only with the voice, but with every beat of our heart, every breath we draw, we sing the song of life. All the forces in and around us, all the energies that flow through us, every cell and atom of our bodies are joined in this song of life, like a majestic, heavenly, healing chorus. We sing a song of life and feel renewed, strengthened, and restored. I COR. 14:15 shares this: I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the mind also.
We sing God’s praises when we greet people with a sincere smile or when we take the time to perform even the smallest of service for someone else. We sing God’s praises when we offer words of encouragement. We sing to God when we show our appreciation for the people who bless our lives, and when we do anything that brightens the life or lightens the load of another.
We sing God’s glory when we willingly and joyously share the gifts God has given us with the people around us. Psalm 69:30 says, “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.”
Singing is a characteristic of life in the body of Christ and is not only for musicians. It is not only for the sanctuary, but for wherever God’s people gather. The leading Reformed theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth, wrote: “The Christian church sings. It is not a choral society. Its singing is not a concert. But from the inner, material necessity it sings. Singing is the highest form of human expression.”
It is my prayer that as we live our life, we sing to God, offering songs of praise and thanksgiving. I pray we offer up songs of love and faithfulness to Christ. Although our song may not come from phonation, it will come from the depths of our hearts and souls. May it be a joyful sound, for as Psalm 66:1–2 commands: “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: sing forth the honor of his name: make his praise glorious.”