Why should we sing?

I don’t go looking for posts about congregational singing, but a couple of blogs I follow comment on or link to blog posts on the topic fairly often.

The prevailing consensus is that congregational singing is declining. I have not noticed that myself, but apparently others have.

Naturally, people want to find the problem and fix it. A number of possible reasons for this decline have been proposed.

Some say that the congregation doesn’t sing as well since the advent of worship teams. Some blame this on the atmosphere seeming more like a concert than a church service. Others point blame at the number of instruments on stage, the loudness of the music, the singing of new songs that no one knows, the difficulty of some of those songs for a congregation to sing. Some have blamed the professionalism or the commitment to excellence of the musicians, because that makes us “average Joes” feel like we don’t measure up. Sadly, many churches are eliminating performed music (what we use to call “special music”) for these reasons. The most recent article I saw said the problem started way back even before the worship team advent, when churches had choirs that “drowned out” the congregation.

My own experience is limited, of course. We’ve only visited one church where I truly felt like the stage and musicians were set up for a concert rather than congregational singing. This church had a choir and a worship team, multicolored lighting, a stage covered with instruments. I don’t think any of that would have been insurmountable, though. The one main problem was that the songleader or worship leader never told us as a congregation when to join in or invited us to sing along. As we looked around to see whether others were singing, we noticed that some were and some were not. So we didn’t know quite what to do.

Most of my church experiences have involved one songleader on stage with a choir behind him, sometimes with musicians on stage or nearby, sometimes not. The choir helps keep the pace and provide the melody for those who might not know a song. I have never been in a church where the choir “drowned out” the congregational singing.

I have been in two churches where the songleader was an actual professional in the sense of having a PhD not just in music, but in voice. In both of those churches, the singing was robust. No one seemed to be intimidated by the professionalism of the leader and others in the choir and church. Ordinary, untrained people sang special music as well as the trained ones. So I don’t think professionalism in and of itself is a factor, or at least it shouldn’t be.

There is one factor, however, that overrides any problems with congregational singing: the fact that the Bible tells us we’re supposed to sing.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Psalm 100:1-2, ESV

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. Ephesians 5:18b-19, ESV

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. Colossians 3:16, ESV

We shouldn’t use these verses as clubs to beat people over the head with their responsibility, but we should encourage each other to obey God in this respect. Some have tried to encourage thinking about the songs we sing by almost preaching a small sermon between songs, sharing long Puritan readings, etc. There might be a time for that kind of thing, but usually I find that, rather than encouraging singing, it takes away from it. People get weary mentally and their minds wander (or even physically, if they’re made to stand through all of that).

I’ve long wanted to do a study of music in the Bible. I notice that in many of the psalms, singing is associated with thanksgiving. The passages above speak of singing as an outgrowth of being filled with the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Could it be that poor congregational singing is a symptom of a lack in these areas, rather than a problem in itself?

One of my soapbox issues is that our responsibility to do right before God should not depend on other people or circumstances. I can’t stand before God and blame other people for my sin. They are responsible for their influence, and they’ll have to answer for their failures and temptations. But God has promised each of His children that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). That is true not just for avoiding sin and resisting temptation, but also for doing right. I should do the right thing whether the circumstances are conducive or not, whether anyone else is doing so or not.

Sure, it’s good to study what helps and hinders good congregational singing. But we as a congregation need to realize that whether the song is too old or too new, too high or too low, too fast or too slow, too soft or too loud, whether there is one musician or many, whether others sing better or worse or not at all, we need to sing as unto the Lord. He is worthy of our praise. Let’s overlook the petty hindrances to our comfort level and think about His greatness and goodness and all He has done for us. It will be hard to hold back from singing then!

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him.
Psalm 28:7, NKJV

The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
    are in the tents of the righteous.
Psalm 118:14-15a, ESV

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

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Happy Easter!

See, what a morning, gloriously bright,
With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem;
Folded the grave-clothes, tomb filled with light,
As the angels announce, “Christ is risen!”
See God’s salvation plan,
Wrought in love, borne in pain, paid in sacrifice,
Fulfilled in Christ, the Man,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

See Mary weeping, “Where is He laid?”
As in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb;
Hears a voice speaking, calling her name;
It’s the Master, the Lord raised to life again!
The voice that spans the years,
Speaking life, stirring hope, bringing peace to us,
Will sound till He appears,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty.
Honor and blessing, glory and praise
To the King crowned with pow’r and authority!
And we are raised with Him,
Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with Him,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

– Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

See the Destined Day Arise

I shared this hymn a couple of years ago, but it is on my mind this season as we particularly remember in gratefulness Christ’s death on the cross for us. This hymn was originally written by Venantius Fortunatus in 569 and was paraphrased or translated by Richard Mant in 1837. The original lyrics are here. In the past few years it has been reworded a bit and a chorus added by Matt Merker.

See the destined day arise! See a willing sacrifice!
Jesus, to redeem our loss, hangs upon the shameful cross;
Jesus, who but You could bear wrath so great and justice fair?
Every pang and bitter throe, finishing your life of woe?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Lamb of God for sinners slain!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ, we praise your name!

Who but Christ had dared to drain, steeped in gall, the cup of pain,
And with tender body bear thorns, and nails, and piercing spear?
Slain for us, the water flowed, mingled from your side with blood;
Sign to all attesting eyes of the finished sacrifice.

Holy Jesus, grant us grace in that sacrifice to place
All our trust for life renewed, pardoned sin, and promised good.
Grant us grace to sing your praise, ‘round your throne through endless days,
Ever with the sons of light: “Blessing, honor, glory, might!”

O God Beyond All Praising

I usually set an album on my phone to play as I fall asleep, and lately it’s been Beyond All Praising by the BJU Singers and Orchestra. The title comes from the last song, “O God Beyond All Praising.” This song is one of a few that leads me to almost instant worship, both the words and the majestic melody. A bit about the history of the hymn is here. A second verse written later is included here.

O God beyond all praising,
We worship you today
And sing the love amazing
That songs cannot repay;
For we can only wonder
At every gift you send,
At blessings without number
And mercies without end:
We lift our hearts before you
And wait upon your word,
We honour and adore you,
Our great and mighty Lord.

Then hear, O gracious Saviour,
Accept the love we bring,
That we who know your favour
May serve you as our king;
And whether our tomorrows
Be filled with good or ill,
We’II triumph through our sorrows
And rise to bless you still:
To marvel at your beauty
And glory in your ways,
And make a joyful duty
Our sacrifice of praise.

~ Michael Perry (1942 – 1996)

The same song sung by the Herbster family, in which the words are a little easier to understand:

Lord of the Small Things

I have listened to the CD this song is on before, but heard it this morning for the first time in a long time, and it spoke to my heart:

Praise to the Lord of the small broken things,
who sees the poor sparrow that cannot take wing.
who loves the lame child and the wretch in the street
who comforts their sorrows and washes their feet.

Praise to the Lord of the faint and afraid
who girds them with courage and lends them His aid,
He pours out his spirit on vessels so weak,
that the timid can serve and the silent can speak.

Praise to the Lord of the frail and the ill
who heals their afflictions or carries them till,
they leave this tired frame and to paradise fly.
to never be sick and never to die.

Praise him, O praise Him all ye who live
who’ve been given so much and can so little give
our frail lisping praise God will never despise-
He sees His dear children through mercy-filled eyes.

Words: Johanna Anderson

Music: Dan Forrest

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

I Need Thee, Precious Jesus

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
For I am full of sin;
My soul is dark and guilty,
My heart is dead within.
I need the cleansing fountain
Where I can always flee,
The blood of Christ most precious,
The sinner’s perfect plea.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
For I am very poor;
A stranger and a pilgrim,
I have no earthly store.
I need the love of Jesus
To cheer me on my way,
To guide my doubting footsteps,
To be my strength and stay.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
I need a friend like Thee,
A friend to soothe and pity,
A friend to care for me.
I need the heart of Jesus
To feel each anxious care,
To tell my every trouble,
And all my sorrows share.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
I need Thee, day by day,
To fill me with Thy fullness,
To lead me on my way;
I need Thy Holy Spirit,
To teach me what I am,
To show me more of Jesus,
To point me to the Lamb.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
And hope to see Thee soon,
Encircled with the rainbow
And seated on Thy throne.
There, with Thy blood bought children,
My joy shall ever be,
To sing Thy praises, Jesu,
To gaze, O Lord, on Thee.

~ Frederick Whitfield

Allelujah!

Happy-Easter-Resized-Blog

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!

The powers of death have done their worst;
But Christ their legions hath dispersed;
Let shouts of holy joy outburst: Alleluia!

The three sad days are quickly sped;
He rises glorious from the dead;
All glory to our risen Head! Alleluia!

He closed the yawning gates of hell;
The bars from heaven’s high portals fell;
Let hymns of praise His triumphs tell! Alleluia!

Lord, by the stripes which wounded Thee,
From death’s dread sting Thy servants free,
That we may live, and sing to Thee: Alleluia!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

~ Author of the words is unknown
Author of the music is
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

 

Save

Mine, mine was the transgression

3crosses2.gif

This is an old hymn that we don’t hear much any more, but it comes to mind when I think of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. I found a number of different translations and extra verses online (such as here), but this is close to the one I am familiar with.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
Was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
To thank thee, dearest Friend,
For this, thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Lord, make me thine forever,
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to Thee..

 -Bernard of Clairvaux

My Father’s Love

I have this song on a couple of CDs, and a lady in the church we used to attend in another state sang it occasionally. It always ministers to me, especially the last two lines of the refrain.

The world’s wealth and riches can be bought and sold.
But I possess a treasure far greater than gold;
‘Twas a gift passed down to me from heaven above,
‘Twas the gift of my Father’s love.

And my Father’s love is strong and true,
Always believing, always seeing me through.
So no matter what happens in His grand design,
I’ll be fine with my Father’s love.

Safe and secure now in His love alone,
I find here my place of worth as one of His own.
And I don’t need ev’rything this world wants to give,
‘Cause I live with my Father’s love.

And my Father’s love is strong and true,
Always believing, always seeing me through.
So no matter what happens in His grand design,
I’ll be fine with my Father’s love.

So, no matter what happens in His grand design,
I’ll be fine with my Father’s love,
with my Father’s love.
I have my Father’s love.

Text and music by Amy Susan Foster, Mike Harland and Niles Borop, recorded by the Soundforth Singers on their CD A Strong Tower and also by Sena Rice on Love Lifted Me. I don’t know who the folks are in this video, but the arrangement and accompaniment are much like the recordings I have.

Not What My Hands Have Done

Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace;
Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.
No other work but Yours, no other blood will do;
No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.

Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, And set my spirit free.

I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace; I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my joy and light.
’Tis He Who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives.

~ Horatius Bonar