Music has always been a big part of my life. I was raised on the front pew, watching Mom play the organ and Dad lead the congregation from an old hymnal. Mom directed both the Children and Adult choirs, and as soon as we were able to stand and hold a microphone, my sister and I were singing solos on Sunday morning. Our family has a passion for singing. It’s in our blood.
I realize this may not be your experience, and you may not even like music, but you should know that GOD also has a passion for singing! The Bible contains over 400 references to singing, 50 direct commands to sing, and we’re told twice in the New Testament to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16)*. We were created in the image of God, and we learn in Zephaniah 3:17 that the Lord himself sings!
“The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
For this reason, it saddens me to see the decline of singing in our churches. The percentage of churches with a choir has dropped from 57% to only 34% since 1998**. Even in our congregations, more and more people seek to be entertained rather than participate. With the popularity of shows like American Idol and The Voice, Satan has deceived people into thinking that if they cannot sing perfectly, then they have no business singing. He plays on our pride and convinces us to be more concerned about what others think of our voice than what God thinks of our hearts.
In his lifetime Charles Wesley wrote over 6,500 hymns, some of which we still sing today. Many of these were composed as a prelude to his brother John’s sermons. Together they led the congregation in worship and adoration to our Heavenly Father. I think we would do well to revisit their instructions for singing, originally printed inside the front cover of the 1761 edition of Select Hymns.
Rules for Congregational Singing by John Wesley
- Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
- Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, than when you sing the songs of Satan.
- Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
- Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
- Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
I know what you’re thinking… sing lustily?! In the words of Inigo Montoya, I do no think that word means what you think it means.
I had to look that one up for myself. Lust = very strong sexual desire. Lustily = in a strong, healthy, vigorous way; heartily. It’s like they don’t even go together. Will the strange wonders of the English language never cease?
These rules were written at another time, to be sure, but don’t miss the depth of Rule #5. Have an eye to God in every word you sing and aim at pleasing Him more than yourself or anyone else. I like the way Bob Kauflin concludes his article on singing in worship:
“We sing, not for our own glory, preferences, or pleasure, but for the pleasure of the One who gave us a song in the first place. The great Redeemer has given us the song of the redeemed, so that in endlessly varied interpretations of that one glorious song, we might remember His words, respond fully to Him, and reflect His glory. God gave us singing to develop and deepen our relationship with Him until that day when we will wake to find ourselves singing directly to Him. And what a day, what a song that will be. I want to get as much practice as I can.”
Will you not join me?
* from What Happens When We Sing in Worship? by Bob Kauflin, Author, Director of Worship Development: Sovereign Grace Ministries ** from Nine Rapid Changes in Church Worship Services by Thom S. Rainer