This is the second in a multi-part series on corporate worship here at Creekside. The first can be found here.
Not long ago I heard Alistair Begg speak at Western Seminary and he opened his remarks talking about how American men don’t sing. He told of how in Great Britain men sing. They sing at soccer matches, they sing in the pubs, and when they come to faith they sing in the church. He then says, “American men are just a bunch of change jinglers… and so the singing is hopeless.” If you want to hear his remarks, the video below should jump in at the 5:25 mark where you can here them.
Whether we like it or not, worship and singing are inseparably connected in the Bible. While worship is so much more than singing, it is impossible to escape the reality that singing is part of worship—and we are to give ourselves to it. Here are several reasons why we worship—and why we should worship in song.
First, we worship because it is our nature to worship. I think it has been rightly said, that the question isn’t whether we will worship, but who or what we will worship. C.S. Lewis makes this important observation about worship.
A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell. But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces. If we do not, that only shows that what we are trying to love is not yet God—though it may be the nearest approximation to God which our thought and fantasy can attain.
When Lewis mentions the “responsive love proper to creatures” he is speaking of how we, as those created by God, are to love the one that created us. As we grow in our knowledge of who he is, our worship will grow with it as a spontaneous response to him. We are created to know and love God, and the love of the created to the creator, if he’s properly known, is worship.
Second, we worship in song because we are commanded to sing. Psalm 47:5-8 is one of many passages in the Bible that call us to it. We sing because it is our duty to sing.
Psalm 47:5–8 (NASB95)
5 God has ascended with a shout, The Lord, with the sound of a trumpet. 6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises. 7 For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with a skillful psalm. 8 God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.
Yet, duty is not enough. If our worship is only driven out of duty, it is not true worship it is religion. We need to move beyond simple duty, to something deeper. That brings us to our third reason to sing.
We sing because we are redeemed. When the people of God were delivered from slavery in Egypt, and the waters of the Red Sea closed behind them, they spontaneously responded in song with Moses leading them.
Exodus 15:1–4 (NASB95)
1 Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and said, “I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. 2 “The Lord is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will extol Him. 3 “The Lord is a warrior; The Lord is His name. 4 “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; And the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea.
The response of the heart was to sing to God. Not a sappy, sentimental song, but one in which God was declared as a warrior, one in which he is acknowledged as both our strength and our song. One in which he is praised for becoming our salvation. A song that we should still sing today.
It is of critical importance that we let our singing be a response of a heart rejoicing in who God is and what he has accomplished for us. If we sing only out of duty, or if we sing because of how it makes us feel, we fall short of worship. John Piper, in his excellent message on worship, speaks about the inadequacy of worship out of only duty:
Suppose a husband asks his wife if he must kiss her good night. Her answer is, “You must, but not that kind of must.” What she means is this: “unless a spontaneous affection for my person motivates you, your overtures are stripped of all moral value.”
Yes, worship is a must. But not THAT kind of must. Not the kind that says, “I don’t want to, but if I must, I will.” That will not do in kissing, and it will not do in worshiping. (They are very closely related!) There is no value in a kiss or an act of worship that does not come from the heart
We sing as one people. We are not only called to sing, but we are called to sing together. The corporate worship of the people of God reflects the creativity, diversity, and unity of the kingdom. In the book of Revelation we see the church, from “every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues”, praising God by crying out “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9-10). All nations are unified in the worship of Jesus.
Ironically, one of the few things that God ordained to be a unified expression of the people of God to him is often one of the most divisive issues in churches. We let our style preferences overshadow the real reason why we worship—to gather as one body, with one voice, praising the one that rescued us and made us one people. In light of the tremendous creativity God demonstrates in the creation of diverse personalities, cultures, and even styles of music, I suspect that he probably is able to enjoy a broader range of musical styles than we probably give him credit for. That is one of the reasons why we don’t make a big deal about particular styles of music at Creekside—we believe that “everything that has breath” (Psalm 150) should praise the Lord.
We sing from desperation: There is nothing that can unite our intellect and our affections quite like music. I hate to admit it, but often, I need to sing, together with God’s people, to have my heart re-kindled in worship to him. As we struggle in life we at times sing songs in the spirit of Psalm 42, almost arguing with ourselves, instructing ourselves. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence” (Psalm 42:5). I often gather with the people of God, with a cold heart, doing so in duty and desperation, but also with faith and anticipation. I join in song, with fellow desperate saints in hopes that I would be instructed by “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” so that I can once again, sing “with thankfulness in my heart to God”, (Col. 3:16) giving him the worship that he deserves—a worship that isn’t in words only, but from a heart that has been redeemed.
One day, we will join with the people of God from all ages, from all nations, from all languages, and with a deeper and purer knowledge than ever before, see the redeeming work of God. In the meantime, let us be a people who sing with joy, anticipation and connection with the creative and redemptive work of God.