Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Ephesians 5:18-19 NIV
December 1984, I traveled with many young people I had known from my church youth group to Urbana Illinois for a college missions conference called “Urbana ‘84”. At that time Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a college campus ministry, put this mission conference on every 3 years. Several famous Christian speakers including Billy Graham, Elizabeth Elliott and Luis Palau attended. We students listened to these inspirational speakers, visited the exhibit hall and had one on one conversations with representatives of many different mission organizations. The idea behind Urbana ’84 was to get the 18,000 college students who attended, fired up and involved in the various opportunities for spreading the gospel throughout the world.
I attended a state university, so this was a unique opportunity for me to spend a week among other fellow Christian college students. My mind was expanded to think of the various ways we can all be involved in missions.
For me, the greatest impact was in our corporate singing. Most of us would arrive 30 minutes early at the large arena (holding 17,000 people), just so we could ensure we could get a seat and so we could participate in the corporate worship. This conference was so big not everyone could fit in each session; (1000 people had to watch on TV in overflow rooms). The singing, the blending of harmonies, the a cappella voices of 17,000 people singing “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” is an experience I will never forget and probably will never experience again this side of heaven.
The corporate singing was the highlight of this conference for me. Something a bit intangible happens when we sing together. It can happen with 5 people, 20, 100 or 17,000. But when we worship and sing together, we, “Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly as [we] teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as [we] sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in [our] hearts to God,” Colossians 3:16. As we experience God’s presence, we are involved in teaching and learning God’s truth together when we sing together.
I encourage you to join in corporate worship this Sunday. Don’t focus on hitting the correct note; instead, worship God together with others, declare His goodness, praise Him for what He has done, and express your faith in His ability to work in our lives in the future.
The first audio amplifier was unveiled in 1912 by a Yale PhD physics and electricity scientist, Lee de Forest. Since then, the modern world has become increasingly accustomed to overamplification – not only of sound – but practically all media. A restricted group of superstars, with awe-inspiring talents, accompanied by spectacular shows, have dominated our visual and listening bandwidths for over a century. Today it’s difficult to imagine a world without such things as full-room screens, stunningly complex audio systems, and sophisticated, portable, entertainment devices.
In 2003, the LA Times published this lament by performing arts critic Lewis Segal:
…when we do encounter live music, we expect it to match what we accept as the norm: the presence, detail and intensity of recordings. We’ve come to prefer processed music to the real thing.
With all this musical mega-talent at our fingertips, can ordinary Christians with substandard singing voices like mine glorify God satisfactorily?
If you’re fond of statistics, the word translated “sing” appears 400+ times in scripture and 50 of them are commands to sing to God. What attitude should those of us without musical gifts have when we sing? I conjecture that even in our imperfect state, God designed us to sing and intended our singing to have remarkable benefits in our relationship with him. Do we need a four-octave, pitch-perfect voice to obey these commands? Quick answer: No.
Does God ask us to do something he doesn’t do?
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 ESV
Let’s go further…did Jesus sing? Scripture records remarkably few examples:
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Matthew 26:30 NIV
…he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” Hebrews 2:11-12 ESV
The movie The Greatest Story Ever Told was released in 1965 with Max Von Sydow playing the role of Jesus – what a sad face – and that image is Von Sydow displaying his most cheerful look in the movie. It’s doubtful anyone watching the majority of movies portraying Jesus’ life would envision Jesus singing anything. The exception is Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who depicted a singing Jesus in their 1971 musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Did that musical change the perception of Jesus to one of a frequent singer? Questionable. Portrayals of Jesus singing are perplexingly rare.
So if you’re an ungifted singer like me, don’t lose heart, Jesus didn’t major in music. Your obedience to the singing commands will be accepted by our gracious God.
You can also anticipate an eternity to glorify him with singing.
And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 ESV
Today memorize or review a familiar scripture or vital theological theme set to a simple tune. Here are some resources: Psalms set to music and other scriptures set to music. And also remember you have two other reliable avenues of obedience – singing during congregational worship and this verse for those who are truly unable to sing:
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Psalms 100:1 ESV
About 15 years ago one of our family members accompanied a coworker from another country to receive treatment at Denver’s National Jewish Health Sleep Center. The coworker hadn’t been able to sleep for over a year. As a result, he had developed severe disorientation leading to mental health issues. Besides the insomnia this man experienced, the Sleep Center treats at least six other major sleep conditions (including ones such as narcolepsy/sudden sleep) that have negative impact on health.
Researchers have determined that 7 to 9 hours of daily sleep is required for all adult humans. How each one of us gets that sleep varies. (I take naps when my night gets cut short.) Some of you have first hand experience with sleep disorders that have caused chaos or diminished energy either in your life or the lives of loved ones. Regular sleep and proper rest are a blessing from God.
Here’s the first mention of sleep in scripture:
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib. (Genesis 2:21-22)
God’s work while Adam was in this unconscious state made Adam’s life complete. What a benefit! Here’s another insight from Solomon elaborating on God’s purpose in hard wiring humans to need sleep:
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
The ability to sleep peacefully comes from deep trust and dependence upon the One True God who genuinely cares for us. After we have done what He has called us to do – no more and no less – we can, like every other human who has ever lived, relinquish control as he manages the world in our absence.
So tonight (maybe sooner) just before you drift off, thank the Lord for his gift of sleep. Then consciously leave your cares with him for that 7 to 9 hours.