Engaging the Gospel : Why singing is good for God’s people.
You may not be aware that there are more than 50 direct commands to sing and over 400 references to singing in the bible. From Moses’ song in Exodus 15 after God redeemed his people, to John’s vision in Revelation 14 of the 144 000 singing a new song.
Singing God’s praise is everywhere in the bible because it’s good for us. But why is it good for us?
Singing God’s praise will train our hearts to truly engage with our salvation.
Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45 NIV) Jesus taught that we always live out what we believe to be true.
Augustine, an early church philosopher and theologian argued that our desires and emotions play more of a role in decision making than do our mind and will. It has later been summarized by, “What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.” (Thomas Cranmer) So the Christian life is not merely a battle of the intellect, but of our affections as well.
Consequently, we need to train our minds and affections with the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.One means God has provided us in doing so is singing. Singing and music is very powerful and perfectly suited to train us to engage the Gospel with the appropriate emotions. This is one of the reasons God commands us to sing praises to him.
Even though we have received the promised Holy Spirit we are not perfect (that is still to come); our hearts still struggle to “believe”. We need our emotions to be stirred; our hearts to see and experience the truths of the gospel so that we change from the inside out. However, this does not imply that emotion replaces understanding, but that they work together. Paul says, “For it is with your heart you believe and are justified” (Romans 10:10 NIV) The bible refers to the heart as our entire inner being including our thoughts, feelings and decisions; what we think, feel and decide will have a profound impact on our lives. As Proverbs 4:23 explains,
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”
Most of us would recognize emotionless situations as “robotic” or less than human, because our emotions are a part of our God-given makeup. God has wired us to feel what we are most concerned about. A lack of feeling often shows a lack of concern.
Emotional maturity is not the absence of emotion but an appropriate emotional response. Emotions are not abstract, they are always linked to the things we care about. For example, take a moment to consider what causes you to become emotional. You will immediately realise that those are the things that are most important to you; what you care about the most; that have your heart’s affections. If I constantly spoke of my wife without any indication of affection, you would quickly conclude that I had little concern for her.
As God’s children his concerns should be our ultimate concerns because the Gospel addresses humanity’s most important concerns, God’s glory; our sin; his kindness and the offer of eternal life. But sadly our hearts are slow to “see” the reality of these truths and so we don’t always emotionally experience these truths deeply.
Our desire should be for an emotionally mature response, not an emotionless response to the salvation. We should rightly feel awe in response to God’s holiness; grief for the sins we have committed and joy in knowing that we have been saved from those sins. An emotionless response is dangerous because it can train our hearts to think that Gospel truths are not real concerns. If we are created to feel what is most important to us, then to engage our salvation without feeling will train us to believe that the Gospel is not important.
Singing together about God’s majesty, his holiness and the crucifixion helps us feel the truths of the Gospel. When we sing about the gospel with the appropriate emotions, it shapes our hearts to feel the realities of our salvation and cements those realities deep within us, so that we bring good out of the good stored up in our hearts, to use the words of Jesus.
We desperately need our hearts to be changed and that is exactly what God is doing by his Spirit through his Word. That’s why he wants us to sing about the “message of Christ”, as Paul puts it in Colossians 3. He wants us to fasten our emotions to that great story of the Gospel, which is a powerful thing to do. As we sing Gospel truths with gratitude to God, it trains our hearts to be concerned about God’s ultimate concerns, things that matter most. Singing God’s praise will train our hearts to truly engage with our salvation and change us from the inside out
In the words of Jonathan Edwards, God wants “to stir up the pure minds of the saints, and quicken their affections, by bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance, and setting them before them in their proper colours” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections)
The greatness of salvation is too great for mere speaking alone!
Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Psalm 95:1 (NIV)