Lately, I’ve been taken with the verses of Scripture that specifically mention “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Colossians 3:16 tells us that we should “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (emphasis added) while Ephesians 5:18-20 tells us
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As a worship leader, these are important verses to me because they are the only time in the New Testament that singing worship songs together is mentioned. There are two things that particularly draw my attention. In Ephesians, we are told to address each other with songs, and in Colossians we are told to teach and admonish in all wisdom and the (implied) means of doing so is through songs. As a singer all my life, the first one is easy. As a worship leader for most of my life, the second one is a challenge.
Growing up I would always, and I truly mean always, break into song spontaneously. I had music in my head all the time, whether it originated from my memory or from my mom’s Celine Dion CDs didn’t matter. I grew up watching great animated movies that were filled with music: The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid (although I confess I still haven’t seen that movie), Mulan, etc. My friends and I started talking to each other in movie quotes, but my more musically inclined friends and I started singing to each other in movie quotes. It was a way of expressing ourselves as well as relating to each other through our common interest in musicals. Even to this day my mind makes a million references to whatever music has been pouring into my earholes (these days, it’s Hamilton the musical). If you’ve ever spent time around high school students (especially those in choir or theatre), or music majors in college, you’ll have heard what I’m referring to. We sing. All the time.
Flipping the Script
Singing has absolutely always been a part of my life. In high school, my friends joked that there was never a day that I would walk out of the doors to our table and not be singing a song. Making music is a gift, and God, in His great love, has graciously gifted everyone with an instrument: their voice. Anyone that has passed through the threshold from Elementary School to Middle School will deny this reality, but everyone who has a voice can sing. To be fair, there are differing degrees of quality and ability, but the truth still remains. The Scriptures say, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). I often subconsciously add “with their voices.” If we were to invert the way Psalm 150 was written, this mental addition would make quite a bit of sense.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
5 Praise Him with sounding cymbals;
praise Him with loud clashing cymbals!
4 Praise Him with tambourine and dance;
praise Him with strings and pipe!
3 Praise Him with trumpet sound;
praise Him with lute and harp!
2 Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
1 Praise God in His sanctuary;
praise Him in His mighty heavens!
Religous Experiences and the Great Irony
When people go to concerts, if the shows are particularly good, they often describe their time at the show as a “religious experience.” I remember having a “religious experience” simply by watching Coldplay’s “Live 2012” documentary on Netflix one evening in my dorm room. I was singing along with the songs, was highly engaged with the concert experience, and even (as much as I hate to admit this) cheered and teared up during parts of the show, even though the documentary recorded footage from all over Europe and I was watching it a year or two after-the-fact. Ironically, in congregations I’ve lead worship at where no one sings, no one ever describes their time in those services as “religious experiences” even though they were, to their very core, religious experiences. I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons why people did not have great experiences at those services, but perhaps one of these reasons is because they did not engage with what was happening. I think that “religious experiences” are times when people experience an extremely heightened awareness of connection: when they understand that everyone is there for the same reason (a cause, a concert, a dinner, a worship service), when everyone is fully engaged with that reason, and when there is trust between the leaders and the crowd. It’s not the production, it’s the people.
A Final Exhortation
Week in and week out, we have the opportunity to “address each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” in a way that would create an extremely heightened awareness of connection with those around us if we only fully engaged! Sing out, sing loud, and be not ashamed of the voice God gave you. Clap your hands and be not ashamed of the hands God gave you, for even “the trees of the field shall all clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). Dance, and be not ashamed of the way your body looks, for your dance is for the pleasure of the Lord only. Engage yourself fully with the living God, be connected to His people who worship with you in the room and throughout the millennia, future and past. Know that the words you sing are not only encouragement , but have the ability to “teach and admonish” each other. Singing during a worship service is a two-way street. It ministers to and engages those leading and to those beside you even as it ministers to and engages yourself. By singing, by clapping, by dancing, you fully engage in a worship service, and you do you part in making worship services “religious experiences” in ways that transcend any secular concert you could ever go to.