Recently, Donald Miller, probably best known as the author of Blue Like Jazz, wrote a blog post called “I Don’t Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere.” It came as I was working on a chapter for my book True Worshipers. A chapter called “True Worshipers Sing.”
I was surprised by the categorical nature of Don’s title and even more concerned after reading the post. Don seemed more committed to being honest (brutally honest, at one point) and telling us about his learning style than helping us see more clearly what God might think about our singing.
I’ve read some thoughtful responses to Don’s post from Mike Cosper, Denny Burk (Part 1 and Part 2) and Jonathan Leeman. Among other things, they helpfully address the formative practice of liturgy, the relationship between our faith and the gathered church, and the importance of the sacraments and relational accountability.
In this post, I simply want to explore some thoughts from Scripture about singing. If Don’s post is any indicator, and I think it is, a lot of us may not be that clear on why God wants us to sing. And no, I’m not writing this out of concern for my job security …
I’ve been a musician for 50 years, so singing makes sense to me. But I know there are plenty of nonmusical Christians in the world. People who don’t like to sing. People who sound terrible when they sing. People who have been told they can’t sing. People who don’t “get” singing. And people like Don, who aren’t able to “connect with God” when they sing. Should they be encouraged to sing?
I could tell you what I think based on my experience, but I’d rather take you to God’s Word.
Singing in the Bible
There are almost 50 direct commands to sing in Scripture, as well as 400 references to singing. Two of those passages (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16) instruct us to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God and to one another. These aren’t suggestions, preferences or good ideas. They’re commands. Which means God intends for us to obey them.
Since not everyone is a musician, how do these apply to us? Why does God want us to sing?
1. Singing is more a matter of our hearts than our voices.
Years ago, Ronald Allen wrote in his book Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel:
“When a nonsinger becomes a Christian, he or she becomes a singer. Not all are blessed with a finely tuned ear and a well-modulated voice; so the sound may not be superb—it may even be out of tune and off key. Remember: Worship is a state of heart; musical sound is a state of art. Let’s not confuse them.”
We sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts (Eph. 5:19). The sounds we make affect those around us, for better or worse. But God hears what no one else can. It’s the song of the Redeemed for their great Redeemer. It’s a song we didn’t originate and can’t improve upon. It’s true that those who led the singing at the temple were trained and skilled in music for the Lord (1 Chron. 25:7). But there’s no indication either in the early church or in Revelation’s depiction of heaven that anyone gets a pass when it comes to singing praises to God. Even if we can’t sing a note, we can still sing in our hearts.