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The Power of Song

The people of God are a singing people. According to the Apostle Paul, singing should characterize the Assembly of God’s people. The Word of God dwells richly with us when, as we gather for worship, we instruct one another through psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). The book of Psalms is the Bible’s songbook. Of course, it is not unusual to find Christians today who are not aware of the fact that the Psalms are actually songs that were written for the corporate worship of God’s people. They know the Psalms are poetry because their poetic structure is difficult to miss. But the Psalms are more than mere poetry. They are the heart cries of God’s people, filled with passion and expectation. Consider the subject matter. Psalms reflect the progress of our spiritual experience. They often move from sorrow to joy, lamentation to rejoicing, confusion to epiphany, and despair to hope. They cover the full gamut of the human experience. And few forms of expression are as well suited to this wide range of emotion as singing. It is a powerful form of release that, at its best, engages the whole man. There are surely pitfalls to avoid. For example, when a person sings, he can easily get lost in mindless emotion. At the other extreme, a person can be so clinically analytical when singing that he misses the heartfelt dynamics of the song. But singing has the potential to communicate a message while moving a person to experience emotions appropriate to that message. In other words, in today’s terms, it has the power to engage and unite both head and heart in a powerful and effective way.

Given the dynamic potential of song, it should not be difficult to see why singing is so important in worship. Think about the various ways songs are used. If you want to commit something to memory, just set it to music. Have you ever sung the alphabet in your head while looking up a word in the dictionary? Have you ever sung the Bible Song when looking for that obscure minor prophet in the Old Testament? Songs can be powerful. Retailers use them to promote their products. How many times have you found jingles involuntarily replaying in your head? Such a use of song is nothing new. In the 4th century, Arius popularized his heresy by reducing it to simple statements and setting them to catchy melodies. Before long, his false doctrine was spreading through the streets in the form of little ditties. Throughout history, songs have been used to teach children the basics of education: The ABC song, counting songs, and from my generation, “School House Rock.” To this day, I owe my understanding of conjunctions and prepositions and the difference between a law and a bill to the creative composers whose songs graced the airways on Saturday mornings.

Songs have the unique ability to solidify and unite a people. Schools use anthems and fight songs to engender loyalty and motivate their students. Nations use anthems to stir patriotism in the hearts of its citizens. Who can forget the eve of 9-11 when Congress assembled on the steps of the Capitol and sang God Bless America? The military uses song to lift the morale of its soldiers, strengthen their resolve and remind them of their purpose. And, of course, we use song to tell the human story. Whether it is Yankee Doodle or the Piano Man, sometimes the only knowledge we have of some people is through the ballads that immortalize them in song. This is the power of that medium. My point is simple. God not only gave us His revelation, sometimes He gave it in song. Such are the Psalms.

Now, as I noted earlier, the Psalms are honest songs. They often deal with the nitty-gritty of a life lived in a fallen world. They do not sugar coat situations or sweep problems under the rug. They offer a full representation of the experience of God’s people. However, they are always governed by the theology of God’s revelation. In other words, while the Psalms provide an outlet for the very real experiences of sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure, despair and hope, the Psalms never permit those emotions to run amuck. They never allow emotions to take over. And they never leave us drowning in desperation. There is always resolution in the Psalms, if not in this life, then in the hope of the life to come.

The Psalms utilize the power of song to tell the story of God’s people as we worship the One who sovereignly directs all things in accordance with His will. We need to remember that, for God’s people, singing is not a matter of personal preference, it is a command of Scripture. It is an essential element of our corporate worship. This has nothing to do with how well you sing. As someone pointed out, the command of Scripture is not to sing beautifully, or on pitch. The command is to make a joyful noise! And everyone is capable of obeying that command. God’s people are meant to be a singing people. Let us rejoice and exalt His name together!

- Stan McGehee Jr