Deuteronomy 6:4–6 says, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.”
The Jewish people consider the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4–9) central to their religion and worship. The text implied the importance of doctrine (“The LORD our God is one Lord”) and duty (“thou shalt…which I command thee this day”). Yet strategically placed at the center of doctrine and duty is this matter of our devotion, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” While doctrine engages the mind and duty engages the hands, neither of them engages the will or the heart. Certainly, truth will inform our actions and our affectionate response, but simply depositing truth passively into the minds of believers will not always result in good behavior or proper affections. The will and the emotions must be engaged in the process.
How do we engage the emotions and affections of the congregation? How do we allow them to express from the heart all that God is and all He has done for them? I believe the biblically proven method for accomplishing both is singing. While we cannot fully equate worship with singing, singing does play a major role in worship.
It’s important to remember that worship was designed as a response to God’s truth at work in our lives. Think about it. Giving, praying, singing, and serving—all are done as a passionate response to God’s grace in our lives. We do not worship to “reach” God; we worship because God has reached down to us.
Singing is a biblical command. We are commanded to sing in the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 16:21, Psalm 30:4, Psalm 33:1–4) as well as in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:18–19, Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 13:15). The Bible not only commands that we sing, it even describes how we ought to sing. Consider these three words as aspects of singing that pleases God.
Had the Bible been written in our day, it might have read: “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall continually be in my headphones.” Or maybe, “And he hath put a new song in my iPod.” If the second verse were written as such, I often tease that the end of the verse would remain true, “many shall see it, and fear…” That is not what the Bible says!
And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.—Psalm 40:3
I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.—Psalm 34:1, 3
God desires that each of us, regardless of our level of ability, be participants in singing His praises.
This point almost goes without saying. If you have any doubt that our singing ought to be passionate, you need only to read through the book of Psalms. A great God deserves great praise, not a half-hearted mumble. God deserves our attention in singing. Do we mean what we sing? Do we think about how the song reflects God’s grace in our lives? We emphasize specific prayer, but why don’t we care when our singing becomes vain repetition? We must sing with passion.
The Bible describes our singing as skillful. We could certainly apply this in concepts of practice, planning, and professionalism, but these concepts dichotomize the layperson from the musician. We begin to think, “Practice is for the pianists, ensembles and choir.” But preparation is also a responsibility of the congregation. The Levites certainly prepared for worship, but don’t forget that the worshipers traveling to the temple would also prepare by reciting their history with God as they ascended the temple mount.
How do you prepare for corporate worship? For most of us, it involves busily dressing the kids, getting the family out the door, saving our seats, and setting up our classes. After the whirlwind, we find ourselves seated in the auditorium singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” What if Sunday mornings were more solemn in our homes? What if, on the way to church, we reminisced with our children about all the wonderful things God had done the past week? If we’re honest, we all could improve the way we prepare for singing to our God.
Yes, we are commanded to sing. Yes, we have great truth to sing about, but let us not forget to engage our hearts in singing. It is not merely our duty to sing God’s praises; it’s a wonderful privilege.