…it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. Ps.147:1
Morning. And with my feet landing on the floor came a nudge to remember to SING, to bless the Lord, to keep my focus there…I needed the reminder.
I find it easy to obsess over issues that need ‘fixing’ or problems big and small, ranging from family to church to my unruly sinus! And when problems loom big God begins to seem small. I may at first feel indispensable (as though I were God!) but soon the troubles become insurmountable beyond anything I’m capable of throwing at them…and I find my focus is way off track. So it was a fitting reminder to remember to sing. God hasn’t moved away, hasn’t lost track of local affairs, hasn’t turned a blind eye. He still reigns. And is still more than worthy of my praise. He is still building His church. He is still accomplishing His purposes. He is still working for the good of those who love Him and are called for His purposes…can’t really do much singing without these realities overtaking the troubles!
OK, this is going to sound like I’m preaching what I don’t practice but since it was still early morning and the household was asleep, (and I could add other excuses…), I went to my quiet spot with a hymnbook and read hymns…
There’s within my heart a melody, Jesus whispers sweet and low,
Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still, In all of life’s ebb and flow.
Feasting on the riches of His grace, Resting ‘neath his sheltering wing,
Always looking on His smiling face, That is why I shout and sing.
[Admittedly, my style is a bit more subtle than this]
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing, Keeps me singing as I go.
And I opened to the Psalms and was reminded again of what singing attests to: “Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory…his marvelous works…For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.” (Ps.96)
Just reading psalms puts life in perspective pretty quickly… “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.” (Ps.96:10) Not much room left for dismay that things are spiraling out of control, maybe out of mine, but not out of His! I may not see what He’s doing, but I can rest assured He is at work.
But why sing. Isn’t reading good enough? I read an interesting article today by worship leader/songwriter, Bob Kauflin in which he discusses ‘What Happens When We Sing?’* One practical benefit of singing is that it helps us remember words! And then he pointed to Deuteronomy 31,32 in which God instructs Moses to write a song and teach it to the children of Israel. Why? Because in the days to come when they rebel against God and troubles come upon them the song will confront them as a witness to all God has done for them in the past, including this warning not to rebel! The song “will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring”. (31:21) Can you picture it? Like some oldies hit or catchy commercial, God’s words will come back to them when they need most to hear them. Wow. And these are no empty words, God says, ‘but your very life.”(32:47)
Kauflin goes on to make the point that we should sing words that God wants us to remember. It matters what we sing. He suggests that the words we sing impact us far more than we may realize. Another scholar has said, “Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology.”** Interesting. The importance of music as an expression of our faith is borne out in passages like Colossians 3:16. Singing becomes a spiritual overflow of the Word of Christ that we are imbibing: ‘singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God’. When I was a lot younger, I would strum chords on my guitar and invent songs with Scripture. My mother did the same at the piano and we were often ‘called’ to breakfast with her catchy tunes. Maybe it’s time to revive this practice? I’m thankful for all the talented songwriters who are doing this.
Consider Psalm 84: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!…” A quick You-Tube search brings up a wide variety of musical expressions of this psalm. There’s a smooth meditative soloist version with choral backup here, a mellow rendition of the whole psalm by a young male group, the “Sons of Korah”, here, and perhaps the most familiar—Matt Redmans, “Better is One Day in Your Courts”, here.
Or you can access an Anglican chant, a choir in the Canterbury Cathedral, or a Jewish reading/singing of the Psalm… there’s no want of opportunities to sing God’s Word. You can even create you own song. My selection of Psalm 84 as an example is not random. An article in a series on “Good Grief” came to my Inbox this week and seemed so appropriate in light of last week’s blog featuring a counter-cultural view of death. In this article by T.M.Moore, Psalm 84 was described as:
“… a song for the journey of life. Its purpose is to provide focus and bolstering for taking on the daily travails of our earthly existence. It teaches us how to turn all our sorrows to strength and joy by helping us keep our eyes on the Lord….
We are bound for an eternal dwelling place of glory, light, beauty, holiness, rejoicing, and wonder. That unseen destination is even now being prepared for us by our victorious Savior and King, and He will surely come again to receive us into His eternal glory. We must train our souls to long for that glory– to hope in the glory of God, then and there, so that we may live in it here and now as well (v. 2). The way to do this is to present ourselves each day as living sacrifices to God, like birds offered up on the altar for His pleasure (v. 3; cf. Rom. 12:1, 2). If we fill our journey with praise and thanksgiving, whatever we encounter along the way, we will be able to bear it up, because our true focus and joy lie beyond our temporal circumstances in the presence of the unchanging Lord of glory (vv. 4,5).In the midst of our trials, sufferings, disappointments, and losses, we do not compound our grief by separating from the Lord; instead, we seek Him earnestly in prayer and hide within Him as our Shield and Comfort (vv. 8, 9).” –T.M. Moore
This writer also talked about the value of putting good words to music so they can become companions on our life’s journey, to remind us of truth when we need it most. He in fact offered a version of Psalm 84 arranged to fit standard hymn meter and singable to tunes we already may know, such as “Brethren We have Met to Worship” (Tune: HOLY MANNA) or the one I prefer: Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken (Tune: AUSTRIA)
I reprint his singable version of Psalm 84 here:
Lord of hosts, how sweet Your dwelling;
How my soul longs for Your courts!
Let my soul with joy keep telling
Of Your grace forever more.
Like a bird upon the altar
Let my life to You belong.
Blest are they who never falter
As they praise Your grace with song!
Blest are they whose strength is founded
In Your strength, O Lord above.
All whose hearts in You are grounded
Journey in Your strength and love.
Though they weep with tears of sadness,
Grace shall all their way sustain.
In Your presence, filled with gladness,
They shall conquer all their pain.
Lord of hosts, my prayer receiving,
Hear me, help me by Your grace!
In Your courts I stand believing;
Turn to me Your glorious face!
Lord, our sun, our shield, our glory,
No good thing will You deny
To those who proclaim Your story,
And who on Your grace rely.
Just call up the tune and try it!
In the beginning of the world there was song—“When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7)
And in the end there will be the song of the redeemed: “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth”. (Rev.5:9,10)
What will fill these in-between years?
Today I heard the robins. They’re returning to these climes with familiar songs, reminding us that spring has indeed arrived despite the somber weather most days. They sing because they’re made to sing. What does a little rain matter? Perhaps I ought to take their cue.
P.S. I’ve been enjoying Laura Story’s music lately. She sings from a life story of hard things but a good God. This one echoes what I’m trying to say:
Bless the Lord, O my soul
All that’s in me bless Your name
Forget not Your power un-told
Not Your glory or Your fame
Have a listen here: “Bless the Lord” by Laura Story
From the archives… This is not the first time I’ve been prompted to sing…looking in the archives I smiled to recall this one, where I was forced to sing to keep the bears at bay: “Alive and Well”
*Piper, John and Justin Taylor, gen.ed. The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, Crossway,2009. pp.121-135.
**Gordon Fee, quoted p.126