“Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth” —Isaiah 42:10 and Psalm 96:1
A couple of days ago the following devotion showed up in Our Daily Bread titled, “The Singing Revolution,” by Bill Crowder, Vice President of ministry content at ODB Ministries. It makes for a good “follow-up” post to my last blog post on this blog titled, “Singing in the Rain.” Here is what he wrote:
Today’s Scripture & Insight: Psalm 42:1–5
What does it take to ignite a revolution? Guns? Bombs? Guerrilla warfare? In late-1980s Estonia, it took songs. After the people had lived under the burden of Soviet occupation for decades, a movement began with the singing of a series of patriotic songs. These songs birthed the “Singing Revolution,” which played a key role in restoring Estonian independence in 1991. [Information on the Singing Revolution is available at this link].
“This was a non-violent revolution that overthrew a very violent occupation,” says a website describing the movement. “But singing had always been a major unifying force for Estonians while they endured fifty years of Soviet rule.”
Music can also play a significant part in helping us through our own hard times. I wonder if that’s why we so readily identify with the psalms. It was in a dark night of the soul that the psalmist sang, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5). It was in a season of deep disillusionment that Asaph, the worship leader, reminded himself, “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (73:1).
In our own challenging times, may we join the psalmists with a singing revolution for our hearts. Such a revolution overwhelms the personal tyranny of despair and confusion with faith-fueled confidence in God’s great love and faithfulness. (Quote source here.)
Singing in Church Matters
When I was a kid, singing hymns was not an option. The Baptist church we attended had hymns so thoroughly woven into our common life together. From the age of five, I was required to attend adult church services, clad in suit and tie, three times a week. And every service began with at least three, sometimes four hymns. And on Sunday nights, half the service consisted of people picking their favorite hymns. As a child, you really don’t understand what’s happening when you are singing hymns. I mean sure, you understand “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” But others are hard to get your head around. What’s an Ebenezer, for instance?
But in my adulthood I’ve come to treasure, so deeply, the way our singing together burrowed God’s truth into the deepest recesses of my heart. And now, those words I sang as a seven-year old on a hot summer night in Chicago or around campfires in northern Minnesota or in Vacation Bible school now speak to me, every day. In fact, I can hardly finish singing a hymn without my lips quivering and my heart full of emotion. When I hear “Jesus keep me near the cross, there a precious fountain, free to all a healing stream, flows from Calvary’s Mountain,” I’m transporting to that dining hall at camp where I first committed my life to Christ. When I’m struggling to see God’s goodness in a difficult season, Fanny Crosby’s words, “Summer, winter, springtime and harvest, sun, moon and stars in their courses above, join with all nature in manifold witness, to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.” When I’m enduring a trial, I always go back to the lyric, “When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds, within the vale.”
Our singing matters, which is why the Bible is full of rich examples and powerful instruction to the people of God to not only recite and read and study God’s truth but to sing it, over and over again, to each other. The Old Testament contains a rich treasure of hymns in the Psalms and in the New Testament, contains the hymns we read in Colossians and Philippians, contained in letters written by Paul to the church while both church and he were under duress and the great hymns of praise in Revelation, a vision of that great eternal worship in the New Jerusalem.
Singing, then, is not an accessory to our worship every week. Singing is not filler in a service. Congregational singing is essential to our life with Christ. To the Ephesians, Paul urged them, based on their identity as the new and redeemed people of God, to “sing to yourselves songs, hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your hearts to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). There are really three important spiritual benefits to congregational singing.
1. Congregational singing teaches our hearts.
Humans are created in such a way that repetition and rhythms help cement ideas in our minds. This is why certain song lyrics bring you back to moments in your life or can stir the soul so powerfully. This is why hard facts are often set to music. Educators use song to teach math and science and history. And so it is with our singing. You don’t always have to feel good when you are singing congregationally. Sometimes life is so hard you can barely mouth the words. But something is happening when you sing rich truths about God. It burrows these truths deep into your soul so they can be retrieved when the Spirit knows you need them. God has done this for me so often in the last several years, when I’ve encountered difficult and trying seasons or seasons of doubt and discouragement A lyric, a line, a hymn just brings back the heart prone to wander.
2. Congregational singing helps us disciple others.
When we sing we are not just singing to ourselves, but we are joining with our new family, the body of Christ, to each and declare to others the truth. And we are declaring to the world what we believe so strongly. Our singing is a witness. This is why our music shouldn’t be so watered down that it is immediately understandable to those who don’t know Christ. There should be a kind of gospel language that is both different and appealing to those God is pursuing through the Spirit of God. I’ve attended college football games with friends and have watched the unique rituals each school engages in as part of this shared communal bond. As an outsider, their rituals are foreign to me and yet I’m not offended. I’m intrigued. Similarly when I’m at Wrigley Field with tens of thousands of Cub fans, singing “Go, Cubs, Go” after a thrilling win, I get goose bumps. There is something human about it all. And so much for our corporate worship practices. This is why I’m often brought to tears singing a familiar hymn in church. We share something. When we sing about this glorious gospel, we are teaching ourselves, we are teaching our fellow believers and we are witnessing to outsiders.
3. Congregational singing offers praise and worship to the Lord.
“Singing with your hearts to the Lord,” Paul urges. We are offering back praise to the One who is worthy. In the new covenant, we don’t bring animals to the altar, but we bring ourselves as a sacrifice of praise, rejoicing in our reconciliation to God through Christ. This is why it is imperative for us to always sing in church, regardless of our voice sounds or if it makes us uncomfortable to sing with others. God is not interested in the quality of our voices. Some of us are extraordinarily gifted, gifted enough to be on stage leading with excellence. But most people in the congregation are not great singers, but their heartfelt worship comes to God as a sweet and special music, the sounds of his children abandoning themselves in praise to him. So, next time you are in church, don’t stand there and stare. Sing, praise, let God move in you. The one who gave himself for us is worth embracing the awkwardness of worship.
When you do this—faithfully attending church and singing with brothers and sisters in Christ over a lifetime—you will see how much God uses this to sanctify your heart and draw you into intimacy with him. You will experience a grace greater than your sin. (Quote source here.)\
And as if that’s not enough reason to sing, singing also has many physical benefits. In an article published on May 19, 2016, titled, “6 Reasons to Sing Your Heart Out for Health,” by Emily Lockhart, a personal trainer and contributor on ActiveBeat.com, she writes:
Do you sing your heart out whenever a favorite song comes on the radio? Or do you reserve belting out a ditty to the shower or confines of your car? According to Chorus America, a U.S. advocacy, research, and leadership group that promotes signing in choruses, singing has some little known harmonious health benefits. So let’s “do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do” over these six singing health perks…
1. Singing Soothes Asthma Symptoms
If you sing, really sing, from your belly, you’re already well aware that singing is a lot easier if you breathe properly. Well, a 2014 review published by the National Institutes of Health touts the many benefits of music therapy, particularly for asthma patients.
The NIH study reveals that the slower, purposeful breaths taken while belting out a tune helps to lessen the symptoms of mild asthma and improve overall lung function.
2. Sing for Better Heart Health
Some might say you put your whole heart into karaoke night, however, it turns out that singing actually has rocking (in a good way) affects on your cardiovascular health. Much akin to yoga, a Swedish study found that singing improves heart function essentially by forcing us to take larger, slower, more purposeful breaths.
The 2013 study, published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology, found that choral singers had slower respiration, which in turn improved their heart rate variability (HRV) and had a biologically soothing effect on overall heart function.
3. Sing to Snore Less
Do your nightly snores, sputters, and sleep apnea have the dog (and your spouse) howling for respite? Luckily, you may find some sleepy solace (for you, your spouse, and the family pet) if you take up singing.
According to a 2008 snoring study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine those who sing, snore far less. The study monitored the snoring of a group of choral singers and compared them to non-song birds. The study concluded that singers had stronger airway muscles, which drastically reduced the music in the tune of zzzzzzzzzzzz (aka: sawing logs) during sleep.
4. Sing a Tune to Boost Immunity
Even though we are not Disney princesses who sing to cure all of our troubles. Wouldn’t that be nice? However, in real life, research published in the journal, eCancer Medical Science, claims that singing can improve immune function and the body’s ability to lower stress and fight off disease.
The UK study took samples of saliva samples from cancer patients and detected increased cytokines (immune system molecules) and decreased cortisol (stress hormone) in patients who’d recently sang a tune or two. The researchers consider this positive preliminary proof that singing can strengthen immunity.
5. The Bond of Song
Personally speaking, I have to really like someone in order to break into song in front of them. However, a study published by the Royal Society of Open Science claims that singing creates tight social bonds between individuals.
Study researchers claim it’s all thanks to the “ice breaker effect”, a bond that was common among new-established singing choir and band members. The findings note that in new-formed non singing groups (i.e., book clubs, writing clubs, and quilting clubs, etc.) the bonds were not as strong.
6. Singing in Praise of Positivity
You might believe you need a pretty high opinion of yourself to sing in front of a group of people. However, this National Institutes of Health study from 2004 claims that the more you sing, the more improved your positivity and self image will become.
The study monitored a group of amateur choral singers and found that the very act of singing reduced cortisol (stress hormone) while improving overall mood and emotional states (by measuring S-IgA) levels in saliva samples. Overall, the singers enjoyed positive boosts to their emotional and immune health. (Quote source here.)
His praise . . .
From the ends . . .
Of the earth . . . .
YouTube Video: “Amazing Grace” sung by Judy Collins and choir:
YouTube Video: “How Great Thou Art” sung by Carrie Underwood with Vince Gill: