Singing As a Means of Grace: Why Do We Sing?

Music, Worship

Thinking broadly – music is a form of expression, of communication.  For some reason, humanity has been designed to be affected by the mathematics of pitch and melody and harmony in such a way that meaning and emotion attaches to it.  Music has the ability to communicate to and from the heart, to capture and to express emotion, to inspire and stir emotion.  Something about music resonates not just in our hearing, but in our hearts.  And it becomes a form of communication.  Like speech – music has pitch, timbre, rhythm.

So when music gets attached to ‘words’, it has an exponential power to enhance meaning, to interpret words emotively in the moment.  Some people talk with their hands – using their hands to enhance the meaning and expressiveness of what they are saying.  So singing, you could say, is speaking with melody – to enhance meaning and expressiveness.

Poetry has some of the same effect.  Poetry communicates vividness and memorability – therefore making words more powerful, driving them into our heads and hearts so they become precious to us.

Music does that even more.  That’s why, in Deuteronomy 31:19-22, God himself commands Moses,

“Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel.  Put it in their mouths… And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring)… So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel.”

It wasn’t enough that God revealed the words to Moses to give to the people.  God wanted them to sing it – get it into their mouths and hearts so that they would remember it.

Singing has a way of locking things into your head.  Studies have shown that Alzheimers and dementia patients – when they can’t remember anything else – they still remember songs.  (So one day, when you have Alzheimers or dementia, what do you want to be able to have still in your head?)

Of course, all of this is reflective that God himself in a mystery reveals himself to be musical.  Zeph.3:17, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exalt over you with loud singing.”  In Heb.2:12, it tells us that Jesus himself sings to us about the greatness of God.  We sing because singing reflects the heart of God himself.  God speaks.  And sometimes when God is really expressive, God sings.

I used to sing in acapella groups.  Sometimes in a small acapella choir, you reach a certain chord and, if you’re perfectly in pitch, you can hear—not just the pitches people are actually singing—but other pitches: overtones.  And it’s literally like there’s somebody else singing with you!  Now there’s scientific reason for that.  But I believe there’s also theological reason for that!

We have so many reasons to sing.  At great moments of redemptive history, people don’t just talk – they sing.  They pour out their hearts in expressions of music.  It’s not without reason that at the center of the Bible we have a book of songs.  And the command to sing occurs more than 100x just in the Psalms.  The book of Revelation tells us we’re going to be singing in eternity.  Our singing here reflects the songs of heaven.

So that’s the big picture of why we sing.  In the next few posts, we’re going to explore 4 lessons from Colossians 3:16-17 about singing as a means of grace.

(By: Matt Foreman)

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