From earliest Bible times, the Lord has always wanted His people to worship Him in song. But have you ever wondered why this is so – or even why He gave us the ability to sing in the first place? Let’s step right back for a while and see if we can find some fundamental answers.
The singing creator
In C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, chronologically the first of the Narnia stories, this is how Aslan’s creation of his mythical world is described.
In the darkness, something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing… it seemed to come from all directions at once… Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard…
This is Narnia’s creation story, the Genesis 1 of Lewis’ world. Just as Narnia came into being by the voice of Aslan, the powerful lion, so too the earth, the universe and all they contain came into being by the voice of the Triune God (Genesis 1:1–2). Indeed, as Lewis detected, the rhythms and refrains of Genesis 1 suggest poetical and musical dimensions to the creation – that God is singing the universe into being!
The singing creation
And then in Job, quite probably the most ancient book in the Bible, we read that, as the universe is sung into being, it immediately responds in kind. When they were created, ‘the morning stars sang together and all the angels sang for joy…’ (Job 38:7).
Unsurprisingly, the universe was created to sing. But now, because of the consequences of human sin, it largely groans instead (Romans 8:22). Nonetheless, the created universe waits in hope for the salvation of the sons of God to be fully revealed at Christ’s return (Romans 8:19–21). Then, how it will sing once more — never again to be silenced! Psalms 96 and 98 provide an exuberant flavour of the joy to come.
The singing church
And what about us? We may be the cause of all the misery, but we are also the crown of God’s creation. It is glorious to read how the singing God rejoices over the prospect of our redemption.
On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing’ (Zephaniah 3:16-17).
And we are made in His image, made to sing as well. And, because we are the first-fruits of the new creation, we need to be leading the way. If anything or anybody should be singing in this fallen world, it ought to be the church of Jesus Christ! That’s why in the same chapter we are also told:
Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm’ (Zephaniah 3:14-15).
Did you know there are over a hundred commands to praise God in music and song in the Book of Psalms alone? In fact, not being able or willing to sing God’s praises is seen as a sign of being away from the Lord and his place of blessing. Taunted by their captors to sing some joyful songs of Zion, the exiled children of Israel replied, ‘How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?’ (Psalm 137:1–4).
New Testament believers have no such problem, having been wonderfully and safely restored to God’s Kingdom. It is a shocking thing, therefore, if our congregational singing is yet found to be dull and listless. I am firmly on the side of Isaac Watts when he wrote:
Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne.
Let those refuse to sing,
Who never knew our God;
But children of the heavenly King
May speak their joys abroad.
Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground
To fairer worlds on high.
We sing because we are made in the image of a singing God – and we have a lot to sing about!
Writing songs in the image of God
But do you think God sings material written by others? Or that he only performs ‘cover versions’? Of course not! He is the greatest of all composers, the ultimate singer-songwriter! The Lord has written hundreds of songs for His people to sing. The Psalms, of course, are the supreme collection: David confesses, ‘He put a new song in my mouth’ (Psalm 40:3). And there are many others of God’s songs scattered throughout Scripture. God gave His people songs to mark great events: the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, dedicating the Temple, crowning the King, returning from exile. All such songs were written that Israel might remember and rejoice at these great moments in her redemptive history.
Neither are we are confined to these, nor to the fragments of ancient Christian songs recorded in the New Testament. As God’s image bearers, we too are called to write songs celebrating the high points of our redemption – so that we might continue to remember and rejoice.
We should also remind ourselves that both Old and New Testaments reveal that God primarily wrote songs to be sung congregationally, as the body expressed its God-given unity. The Temple was constantly full of music and song (Psalms 68:24–26; 149; 150). Surely this is meant to be carried over into the heart of the corporate worship of the New Testament Church (1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16).
That last verse cited, in Colossians, particularly reminds us that all our sung worship is to be steeped in the Word of God. The greatest Christian hymns and songs, those that endure, are written by those believers among whom the Word of Christ dwells richly.
Singing to the glory of God
Just a word or two to close on motivation. We are commanded to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). That means we are never to compose or ‘perform’ purely for our own benefit or enjoyment. If we do, then our music can easily become decadent, self-indulgent and offensive to God (Amos 5:21-24; 6:4-7).
Composing, singing and playing for God’s glory means we will also aim to produce our very best for Him. Though it is clearly the state of our hearts that matters most, it is worth noting that the musicians in the Temple were highly trained and skilful (see 1 Chronicles 15:22; 25:6-7; Psalm 33:3).
In any case, whatever the extent of our musical gifts, let us exercise them here and now to the full, because the Book of Revelation tells us that in glory we will certainly be singing our hearts out to Jesus for all eternity.
And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth’ (Revelation 5:9-10).