Why Do We Sing?
I’ve found that the role of prayer is better understood than the role of singing. Why do we sing? Prayer can help us understand why we sing. Like prayer, singing is both a means and an end.
As a means, singing is a spiritual discipline. Spiritual disciplines are intentional activities where we seek to commune with and be transformed by God. Our singing is an intentional activity of this sort. Prayer is also like this. We sense our need for intimacy with God and so we pray. Time spent in disciplined prayer is meant to yield longed-for divine grace and communion. Singing in church should be thought of the same way. It is not magic. Neither singing nor praying lead necessarily to experiences of the true, good, and beautiful God. But when entered into intentionally for the sake of being with God, singing in church, like praying, is an invitation for God to draw near and move. And usually he does just that. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you,” the brother of Jesus wrote. Singing in church intentionally as a means to draw near to God is crucial for the good of our church. For our own sakes, we must use singing as a spiritual discipline, presenting ourselves to God, seeking to taste and see that he is good. As such, singing is a means. Singing is also more.
Part, if not our whole end, is to enjoy God. Once we have sought God through the practice of singing, and once we have tasted his goodness afresh, singing becomes part of our joy in him. Again, singing is like prayer. When we have been blessed by God, we give thanks and praise to God in prayer. Likewise with singing. In fact, singing in church is a way to pray. We sing prayers of thanks and praise to express in fitting words the joy we have found in God. And this joy is centered in the gospel—the good news that Jesus has dealt decisively with our guilt and shame on the cross, that Jesus has inaugurated a new kingdom where all will be made right, and that we are welcomed into this place of forgiveness and shalom. When we experience the gospel on Sunday mornings, we are inclined to sing. C.S. Lewis once noted, “Praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” Therefore our end — our joy — is made complete in our song.
Wherever we are with God when the bell rings Sunday morn, may we practice the discipline of singing together; may God move in our hearts; may we experience the gospel; and may our singing become our heartfelt ode to joy.
Grace and Peace,