Glorious worship is exuberant, never half-hearted. It is attractive, not off-putting. It is awesome, never sentimental. It is brilliant not careless. It points to God, not to the speakers. . . . There is nothing more evangelistic, nothing that will win the world more than glorious worship. (The Songs of Jesus, Tim Keller, May 22 Psalm devotion)
In 1925, just a year after winning an Olympic gold medal in the 400 meter race, the Scottish hero, Eric Liddell, shocked many by deciding to return to China, the place of his birth, as a missionary.
As he stood on the platform of Waverly Station in Edinburgh, crowds gathered to send him off. He was asked to give a few words. Instead, he chose to lead the crowd in a rendition of an old Isaac Watts hymn to communicate more memorably the reason he was leaving fame and ease to preach Christ in a distant land, and to fill his own heart with comfort and confidence:
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun Does its successive journeys run His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
We all sing of a hope that is for all people; a hope we must share. On the wall of a studio in the Moody Radio Headquarters there is a sign that reads, “Your song may be used to save a soul. Sing it prayerfully.” We remember reading it again and again as we performed songs for a 9/11 memorial radio program several years ago. But those lines are not true only for a soloist or on a special occasion. They are true for all our singing.
SINGING TOGETHER IS ALWAYS A WITNESS
Our churches are not just places where we are equipped and exhorted to witness to our neighbors who don’t know Christ. Our churches are places that themselves bear witness. As the British evangelist Rico Tice puts it:
It’s not only the individual Christian believer who is to let their light shine, a narrow beam of torchlight in the word; each local church is to be a lighthouse: a great, wide beam of gospel light, illuminating the surrounding darkness.24
When we sing, we witness to the people in our church who are yet to believe—to the unsaved spouse, the cynical teen, the intrigued friend. We witness to the outsider stepping through the door of a church and even, through the sound we make, to the outsider walking past the door of a church. The sight and sound of a congregation singing praise to God together is a radical witness in a culture that rejects God and embraces individualism. Our songs are the public manifesto of what we believe.
In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” The numbers He uses are no accident. In Old Testament Israel, you would need “two or three witnesses” in a court to testify on your behalf in a legal case (Deut. 19:15). Singing together bears compelling witness to the truth. It says to those watching on and listening in that, just as we sing the same melody together, we share the same faith, the Faith; not a self-made creed for a solo journey toward nowhere, but commitment to our one Lord of all, who transforms the life we live together and will bring us home to eternity.
We witness, too, in the effort we put into our singing. Many churches we have visited schedule times to practice their singing and learn new songs. People generally have ears to hear something that has been done well, and it helps soften a person’s heart to the truth.
An old African American spiritual includes this wonderful verse:
If you can’t preach like Peter ,If you can’t pray like Paul, You can tell the love of Jesus, And say “He died for all.” (“There Is a Balm in Gilead”)
You can sing it, too. You can sing of the only hope for this world, and show in the way you sing that you know it is the only hope for this world. Your singing is always a witness. The question is: Is it a good witness or not?
Keith Getty and Kristyn Getty, Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2017).
We have just released a new Bible Study on the importance of singing.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking. Answers are provided in the form of quotes from respected authors such as John Piper, Max Lucado and Beth Moore.
These lessons will save you time as well as provide deep insights from some of the great writers and thinkers from today and generations past. I also include quotes from the same commentaries that your pastor uses in sermon preparation.
Ultimately, the goal is to create conversations that change lives.