As your worship leader, one of my goals is to help our church have a robust understanding of the role and purpose of corporate worship has knowing and loving Jesus. Worship is not just singing in the same way that marriage is not just sex; however just as you can’t have a healthy marriage without marital intimacy, we cannot have healthy, robust worship of Jesus without singing regularly to Him from the heart.
Of course, my opinions on this topic do not matter, so let me read you a familiar passage from Ephesians 5. I have three exhortations from this passage, one of which I will give this morning and the others I will either give at a later time or post them on the Cities website.
After explaining how Christians are no longer lost in darkness but are children of the Light, Paul instructs the church at Ephesus to,
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 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, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5.15-21).
Notice how Paul instructs the Ephesians to address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. My hunch is that most of us think of our singing on Sunday mornings simply as a dedicated time to express ourselves before God. Some of us may even gauge the effectiveness of the songs based on if we got “goosies” or were so into the singing that everything and everyone else in the room seemed to disappear for those focused 15 minutes when it was just “me and Jesus.” Before being critical, I want to acknowledge that there’s a right impulse here. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Certainly, in our singing we should express ourselves to our Heavenly Father and delight in all that He is to us through Jesus, His Son!
But, this is not all there is to our times of singing together. Remember, Jesus said that the great commandment also includes that “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The command Paul gives in Ephesians 5, to address one another with songs, can be directly traced back to Jesus’s great commandment to love our neighbors.
When you raise your voice with the rest of the congregation, two main things are happening:
- You are uniting yourself to the rest of the redeemed people of God by celebrating His grace to us and crying out for more of Him.
- You are exhorting everyone around you to remember the precious truths of the Gospel of Jesus. Furthermore, in your heartfelt singing you are not just telling those around you what to think and remember, but how they ought to feel as well.
###What does this look like for us?
To the first point, a simple search of the usage of the word “sing” in the Scriptures shows that the Bible is filled with instances of the people of Israel and the New Testament Church collectively singing songs of God’s deliverance. In fact, according to Psalm 98 all of creation sings a unified song declaring the holiness, righteousness, and goodness of God. If the mighty angels around God’s throne are united in perpetually singing the worthiness of Jesus, the Lamb who was slain for the sin of mankind; how much more should we, the redeemed, be unified in declaring our praise and humble gratitude? By raising your voice and singing with conviction this morning you express your solidarity with the universal Church, the Bride of Christ. You are joining with with the billions of believers who’ve come before you, who stand by you today, and who will come after you in exulting in the timeless truth of salvation in Jesus’s Name.
Secondly, while one of my primary responsibilities in serving our congregation is to pick Scripturally rich and musically pleasing songs, often times I am not the most effective leader of the songs I’ve picked – and this is by God’s good design. In other words, the most prominent leaders may be on stage - the vocalists and instrumentalists - but I assure you that you and those around you are often the most powerful leaders of the songs we sing on any given Sunday morning. Again, those on stage may be the most prominent leaders, but often those in the congregation are the most powerful leaders. Think about this: being a member of Cities Church means you are part of a Community Group and a Life Group, which means that all of you know people in our church who are hurting, who have experienced great loss, or who are struggling to fight the good fight of faith. For me, there have been Sunday mornings where I have been nearly brought to tears when I’ve seen a brother from my Life Group passionately singing “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us” when I know that for the past few months he has been wrestling with doubts about God’s love. It is an absolutely astounding grace to hear brothers and sisters who have lost parents, children, or loved ones declare, even through tears, “It is well with my soul!”
Church, these are the great evidences that Jesus is real, that the Gospel is true, and that the Spirit of God is at work in us! You and your participation by singing through struggles, singing through apathy, and singing through pain is a powerful testimony and exhortation to all those around you that “when all around your soul gives way, He then is all your hope and stay! On Christ, the solid Rock, you stand; All other ground is sinking sand!”
It’s not “fake” to sing when you don’t feel like it or are spiritually weak. In fact, singing is one of the most Biblical things you can do when spiritual gloom hangs over your soul. The depressed Psalmist speaks to his soul and says,
“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42.5-6)
And watch, if you will raise the sword of song and go to battle for faith in Jesus, our strong God will take your weakness and makes His power known both by strengthening your soul and edifying your brothers and sisters this morning.
Prayer of Confession
Father, if only we had ears to hear the roars of the seas, the clapping of the rivers, and the joyous songs of the hills that are forever declaring your praise! We are surrounded by symphonies that declare Your glory, and this morning we ask that you would tune our ears by affecting our hearts so that we could better join in the song of Your marvelous grace.
For some of us, we refuse to lift our voice because of pride – the pride of caring too much what others think to risk being seen as undignified, or pride that lies to us and says that Your command to sing in the assembly is silly and can be disregarded. For this, we repent and we ask for hearts of humility.
For others of us, we will not join Your church in her song because of our unbelief or our hurts; yet Your Word tells us that You have intended for corporate singing to be a balm to our heartache and soothing for our weary souls. We repent for rejecting Your gracious gift and ask for Your Spirit to give us faith to sing.
For all of us, we are guilty of preferring our own voices to the voices of our brothers and sisters. We tend towards selfishness and not towards brotherly love. Father, we repent and ask that you would make us a church that doesn’t merely sing at the same time, but a people who sing together, and we pray that the unity we experience in our song would be a catalyst for our unity in serving you and loving you together.
As we’ve already sung, we are prone to wander and to leave You, our first true love. Father, we know that if we regard sin in our own hearts, our prayers are ineffectual, so we offer You our hearts as we silently confess our individual sins now. . . .