Well worn boots, once shined with boot black and spit, pounded through the mud. Heavy packs on backs, hunger gnawing in bellies and exhaustion reaching to the marrow of their bones.
Southern sky scattered with cotton clouds while the slaves picked the bolls and rained sweat.
Hebrews on a journey across desert sand. A scattered people drawn by history and redemption to the temple mount for feast-days. Significant steps, taken together, in the direction of the house of God.
Three disparate scenes and people groups. To this collection might we add this?
Christians singing in church on Sunday morning?
Let’s talk about the weird practice of singing at Sunday services.
In western culture, getting together to watch a band perform is fun. Watch a tale unfold in opera or a chorale singing Beethoven and you’re cultured and refined.
But getting together with a bunch of people on Sundays to sing is strange.
We Christians say mystic phrases like, “Worship was great today. I could really feel God’s presence.” We wonder at the guy in the row in front of us that keeps hands in pockets and mouth shut during praise and worship time. We wonder at his pride, at his walk with the Lord, at the taught muscles that refuse to engage. We wonder, “What’s wrong with him that he can’t sing?”
And visitors might look at us and wonder, too: Did they all drink the kool-aid this morning?
There is a divide and a misunderstanding. Corporate singing is an undeniably off-putting practice of the church. It’s part of our liturgy that “outsiders” and visitors can’t comprehend. Sure, the music is entertaining. But why lift your hands and sing so loudly?
Singing together is an element of worship, which means to revere, adore, praise or extol. This fact alone sets us apart as a demographic. Do we really worship? The only thing that comes close to driving this sort of abandoned behavior may be a great basketball game or a superstar sighting.
So Christians, why do we worship with singing? I believe we worship in song for many personal reasons, but there are three main reasons Christians sing.
We are singing soldiers
Paul and Barnabas sat on hard, rock floor, their ankles trapped in stocks. They freed a little nobody, a slave girl, from demon possession. For this crime, they were beaten severe and thrown into the inner cell of the prison. They had fought a battle and it appeared lost the skirmish.
So they sang. Soldiers for the name of Christ, prisoners of war, singing hymns to God, while the other captives listened. (Acts 16:25)
When we are going into conflict or feeling defeated by the struggles in our lives, do we sing? Do we sing to God in the earshot of others? Do our lives and words become an anthem to his greatness and faithfulness in our lives?
We are singing slaves
In Psalm 137, we read: There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could they? They were a broken people, enslaved by a nation that God raised up in order to chastise the nation that bore His name. But they knew they must sing. Not because their captors forced them to hum and harmonize, but because of this:
“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you , O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my Highest joy.”
What is our highest joy? If Jesus our savior is indeed our ultimate joy, then what circumstances can keep us from singing?
Job loss followed by months of searching and unemployment running out…?
Daughters flinging off Christianity for the sort-lived admiration of the world, of guys and fun…?
Husbands emotionally absent?
All these can enslave our souls. We look around at this place we don’t want to dwell within and say, “how can I sing?”
But if our highest joy is Christ, the question changes to: how can I not sing?
We are singing sojourners.
The Hebrew people honored the traditions of their feast-days corporately at the Temple. Relatives cast far and wide across the Middle East set the compass of their hearts towards the city of God. They lived in Midian or Damascus or Egypt…but God, Jehovah, was home.
Psalms 120-134 are the psalms of the pilgrims, sojourners’ songs. They focus on the faithfulness of God, the dependency of his character, the beauty of his presence. They kept the traveller from looking down at the dust, feeling the exhaustion of the trip, the expense and time and futility of traveling yet again to meet God. These songs gave them a higher purpose, a higher goal than even Jerusalem. These songs gave them holy hope in the journey.
O friends. Are we caught up so completely in this life, these responsibilities, these goals and distractions and our own efforts that we lose sight of home? Do we forget to press onward and travel light and pursue heaven?
Worship may seem weird. But I say, if you are a soldier, a slave or a sojourner: Sing On!
Sing Loud! Sing Often! Sing!
Sing the lost home. Sing songs of love to the world and woo them. Sing songs of praise to God who leads us, frees us and brings us home.