Why Do Christians Sing?
Not because it is a command or because it is next in the order of service. It is something much deeper.
This post is a continuation of a series in Psalm 51.
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Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
— Psalm 51:14-15
MUSIC UNLOCKS THE HEART
David wasn't only a King. He was a musician/songwriter. We call his songs Psalms. These Psalms cover the waterfront of emotion, from lament and sorrow to thanksgiving and praise. He is not afraid to ask honest but unanswered questions in song. Sometimes, he expresses trust in the darkness. Fear, hope, peace, joy, sadness, grief, anxiety, faith, hope, and love. It is all there.
There is something about singing that allows what is deep within the heart to come out a bit more easily. Things we may not say out loud with normal speech flow supported by a tune. Maybe this is why there are so many “love songs.” On the other end of the emotional spectrum, the Delta Blues gave voice to sorrow and sadness.
Music helps unlock the heart.
David, the author of this song of renewal through repentance, was a musician, familiar with the power of melody and rhyme, and how lyrics not only express the heart but also shape it. This makes singing not only devotional and doxological but confessional, too. Like a systematic theological document such as the Westminster Confession of Faith lays out doctrinal affirmations in well-crafted propositional statements, the Psalms weave theological truth about God through personal testimony in poetic style. Using parallelism, chiasm, and rhyme, these truths may be more easily memorized and hidden in the heart for some than raw dogma (as true as the dogma is).
CONFESSIONAL AND DEVOTIONAL
The Psalms contain both types, confessional “about God” songs and devotional “to God” songs. Some songs are in the third person, “he.” These are the creedal, confessional songs about God. Other songs are more devotional, written in the first and second person, “I” and “you.”
Men and women who work as professional worship leaders in local churches understand this when they prepare songs for gathered Sunday morning worship. They will mix these styles of song together for a rich worship experience that not only allows the congregation to express their hearts to God but one that shapes their hearts with music. What we sing is spiritually formative.
Paul agrees. In Colossians 3:15-16, he writes concerning the formative nature of song.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
How does the word of Christ, or the gospel, dwell richly within the believer? According to the apostle, by teaching and singing, a dual-threat offense for growth in grace. We teach the cross and we sing the cross, wedding the propositional and the experiential, head and heart into a full-orbed life of worship to the one who has made peace possible through death.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16).
We look back upon what David saw dimly in the distance. The King of Kings shedding blood that covers the blood we have shed. This was David’s hope, wasn’t it? “Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me.”
BEHOLDING THE SACRIFICE
David was a guilty man. So am I and so are you. I may not have killed anyone with my hands, but I have with my heart. And murder requires death as the commensurate penalty.
When I behold Jesus sacrifice himself in my place for my crimes, what is the only logical response? What is the only doxological and devotional response? The unlocking of the heart, that it may express praise and thanksgiving in worship unleashed by song.
David knew that a volcanic eruption of heart would result if he could know he had been truly rescued from the condemnation his sin deserved. Oh, how he wants to sing. He can’t wait. He can taste it. So he writes with deep passion and expectation, “My tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”
This is why we sing.
Not because we have to. Not because it is next in the order of service. We sing because we can’t help it. We must. When the Lord unlocks the heart with an understanding of mercy applied to the soul, we can do no other than express what is deepest in the heart—a love song to Jesus in response to his love for us.
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