“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” Psalm 95:1
Singing has been a defining characteristic of Christian worship since the beginning. Christians did not start this in a vacuum; they inherited the rich singing tradition of Israel found in the book of Psalms.
The books of Psalms give us songs for every aspect of life: songs to sing in worship, songs to sing in private, songs to sing in joy, and–particularly applicable to us today–songs to sing in sorrow. Israel did not stop singing when things got rough; in fact, based on the sheer number of laments in the Psalms (44%, the most represented genre in the Psalms) they sang more.
Even Jesus sang during his earthly ministry. At the Last Supper, the most important meal Jesus ever had with His disciples, He sang. The scriptures tell us that after the meal, after He had shared the whole purpose of his mission, Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn before leaving (Matthew 26:30). In this shared meal that became the foundation for all Christian worship, they sang. Jesus sets the pattern for our worship.
The apostle Paul even encourages believers to sing. In the letter to Colossians he states: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). And again in his letter to the Ephesians: “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, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:18–21).
In these two passages, Paul associates singing with being filled with the Spirit. For Paul, singing is more than just something that the church does. Singing is not only a way to praise God, but also a way to teach about God and open the worshipper to God’s Spirit.
Singing is more than just something we do. God made us to sing, and our bodies show this. Singing shows increased production of oxytocin. While typically associated with sexual arousal, pregnancy, birth, and lactation, several studies in the past decade have shown this hormone also has positive effects on social interactions and plays a role in group cohesion.
Singing is also not something that just humans do. God also sings! The prophet Zephaniah declares: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). God reciprocates our singing. We sing our songs to Him, and He in turn sings to us.
Singing is not just something we do in worship. It is integral to our worship, integral to who we are as human beings, and integral to our relationship with God. As we continue to live in this world affected by COVID-19, do not let us lose singing. Not in our communities, not in our congregations, not in our lives. Even if we have to sing along in our homes, in community with other believers who are singing alone in their own homes, always looks for an opportunity to sing, and encourage others to sing as well.
Guthrie, Steven R. “The Wisdom of Song.” In Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology, edited by Jeremy S. Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie, 382–407. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2011.
Norton, Kay. Singing and Wellbeing: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Proof. New York, NY: Routledge, 2016.
O’Connor, Michael. “The Singing of Jesus.” In Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology, edited by Jeremy S. Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie, 434–53. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2011.
Theorell, Töres. “The Effects and Benefits of Singing Individually and in a Group.” In The Oxford Handbook of Singing, edited by Graham Welch, David M. Howard, and John Nix, First edition., 919–33. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.