But how do we go about doing that? There can be great flexibility and variety in the content and outward form of our praise. We can worship God through raising or clapping our hands, bowing, kneeling, and good deeds and actions. In this outline we will focus on the most common and natural outward expression of praise—singing (Ps. 71:22-23; 92:1-4; 95:1-3).
The Music of PraiseSeveral passages of Scripture help us govern our singing of praise to God. From these we can deduce a number of guidelines.
The Guidelines for Singing
Singing is a powerful medium and should be used for God's glory. Believers have always understood this.
- It has been a constant expression used by God's people (Ps. 92:1-4; 105:1-2; Is. 42:10-12). God's people have always been a singing people.
- Its power and use is illustrated throughout Scripture. It can be used to mark the joy and value we place on our relationship to God (Ps. 96; 100:2;101:1;105:1-2); to capsulize our praise to God for His blessings and attributes (1 Chron. 16:7-36; Psalms); and to remind us of our deliverance--Ex. 15:1-21. It can be used to bring defeat and deliverance from our enemies (2 Chron. 20:20-23; Acts 16:25-40; 1 Sam. 16:14-23). It can also be used to summarize teaching—Deut. 32:1-47.
I think we would all agree that for good or bad, music has had a powerful effect on each of us.
- It's a powerful communication vehicle and medium, used to capsulize and promote new beliefs and causes, and to protest social ills, abuses, discrimination. In many cases in history, music has been inseparable from the causes people have promoted. Advertisements employ it to influence buying habits. Used to reinforce and promote fanciful sentiments, sins and themes (e.g., materialism, sexual promiscuity, hedonism, and beliefs like "you only live once, so grab all you can get," or "happiness is all that matters."), music has been and is still being used in our lives. Worship and testimony songs can convict, inspire, and remind us who our God is and what He has done. On the other hand, secular music over a period of time can weaken our morals, and affect our thinking about relationships. It can also dissipate Christian joy.
- Psalms. What does it mean to sing a psalm today? A psalm is sung to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument, e.g., book of Psalms. Luther defined a psalm in the following way: "a psalm is a song of praise or a laudatory poem such as the poets composed, sung in the past to the accompaniment of stringed music." Most would agree they are Old Testament psalms, or psalm-like songs, set to music with instrumental accompaniment.
It is thrilling to realize that many of the songs we sing in worship services were written and sung by Moses, King David, and many other Old Testament psalmists. Taking the time to trace the origins of the psalms we sing to Scripture will add great faith and confidence to your singing. Sometimes only a line or thought comes from a passage, and other times the message of the song comes verbatim from the Scripture—Romans 10:17.
I strongly encourage you who are creative and musical to continue to use the Psalms as one of your main seedbeds for writing new psalms and worship expressions for our personal and corporate worship. How will that help you?
- It will help you keep your theology accurate.
- When you take your words straight from the Psalms, it will help others to retain large portions of Scripture in their memory.
- The Psalms will also give you patterns for writing songs. Observe the genius of their composition carefully. It is a school for song composition.
- The Psalms can be sung or read antiphonally and responsively. The first line gives praise to God, and the second reiterates the element of praise. It was probably sung by a second choir, or as a response from the congregation (See Psalms 24; 118; 136; 145 and Neh. 12:27-43).
- Hymns. Likewise, these are not easily defined. They are songs about God, are addressed to Him and centering on His acts and attributes. They can be in first person ("I worship and adore You..."); second person ("We praise You, we worship You..") or third person ("Our God is still a safe stronghold").
Let's take a quick survey of hymns recorded in Scripture. The Old Testament hymns found in 2 Chronicles 5:11-14 and Psalms 115-118 are thought to be the hymns sung at the end of the Last Supper—Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26. Attempts have been made to identify some of the New Testament hymns which may have been included in the Scripture, or were used as hymns after they were recorded in the Bible.
- N.T. hymns called the "canticles" (Luke 1:46-55, 68-79; 2:24, 29-32. Modeled after 1 Samuel 2.)
- Doxologies (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16; Rev. 4:8, 11; 5:9-13; 7:12). Many were used in church services.
- Sections that may have been set to music or recited liturgically (Rom. 8:31-39; Eph. 1:3-24; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:11-13; Titus 3:4-7; Rev. 19:1,16; Col. 1:15-20).
The hymns handed down to us were devoted to a retelling of the events of our salvation, with most focusing on Jesus. Knowing these songs will give a sense of identification with the early church, and help us to capsulize the great truths about Christ. We need to stay acquainted with many of the hymns of the past, rich in theology and reflection upon God. Because they can be sung privately or corporately, a good hymn or chorus book can enrich your devotional life immensely. Jim Elliott said, "Enjoyed the truth of singing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs this morning. Found my prayer list so unstimulating to real prayer that I laid it aside and took the InterVarsity Hymnal and sang along with such heartwarming songs as seemed to fit my need. This is as decidedly a means of grace as anything given by God to His people; but how little we use it."
A note of correction: Hymns are not more sacred or better because they are old and use good King James English. Nor are they bad for the same reason. A rich storehouse of hymns have come down to us from the church; but there are also exciting new expressions of hymnology that many sing but don't recognize as hymns, because they are not in a book. Remember, hymns are songs about God which are addressed to Him. Many of the songs we call choruses today are hymns in the purest and truest sense.
What makes a good hymn?
Has personal appeal
Articulates praise to God
Celebrates God's activity in history and climaxes in Christ's life and work
Should be faith building
Is doctrinally sound and faithful to Scripture
Has clarity and singability
Is timeless—unrelated to passing fads
Should encourage people to be more like Jesus
- Spiritual Songs. There are two distinct kinds:
The first and most common form of spiritual songs tells of our experience and testimony, the words addressed to others for mutual encouragement and challenge (Eph. 5:14; 1 Cor. 13; 2 Tim. 2: 11-13; 1 Cor. 12:3b). They are also songs of gratitude.
These songs are directed to others and not to God, and revolve around the person and work of Jesus, His salvation, and His present activity. Therefore, not all the songs in the hymnal are hymns, only the ones directed to God. Sing these often throughout the day. They will release praise in and encourage you.
The second form of spiritual songs is the type improvised from the heart in spontaneous praise, or they may be songs directed by the Spirit. This spontaneous variety can be centered on a testimony or, like a hymn, directed to God in worship and prayer.
"These made-up songs from the heart don't need to be written down; they are for the moment." Worship, p. 159.(Read 1 Cor. 14:13-19; 23-28 for a caution on this topic.) Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs have great potential for blessing, and also great potential for abuse. We've seen what will keep our singing uplifted, but what will keep our songs a blessing?
"Filled with the Spirit, such spiritual songs come readily to our lips... spiritual singing... is singing with the help of the Holy Spirit." Created to Praise, p. 38. Spiritual songs are prompted by the Holy Spirit and may, according to 1 Cor. 14:15, be spontaneous words in English or sung in other tongues.
The Guidelines of Music Composition and Performance
How do we make sure the music we sing will have the effect of bringing praise and thanksgiving to God? How can we prepare and deliver psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs so they will be a blessing? We must keep the following guidelines in mind:
A song can be a blessing if it springs from and is saturated by the Word (Col. 3:16-17). When the words of our praise music are saturated by the Word, the song will take on the character and impact of the Word itself.
- Like a sword, it will penetrate the hearts of those participating in worship—Heb. 4:12-13. No thoughts or attitudes will be hidden from its impact.
- The songs will testify of Christ—John 5:39; Acts 10:43; 18:28; 1 Cor. 15:3.
- The songs will defeat the enemy—Eph. 6:17; 2 Chron. 20:20-23. (Note: The song sung in the 2 Chronicles passage was from Ps. 136!)
- The songs will teach, rebuke, correct, train—2 Tim. 3:11.
- The songs will be pure, true, and illuminating; bring conviction; and produce faith in Christ—Ps. 119:130,160; 19:7; John 20:31.
Do you see the power songs can have if saturated by the Word? To assure us of these kind of songs, the Bible must not only be the source of the above songs, but must also be that which is used to evaluate all songs.
Songs need to be evaluated by the Word (Col. 3:16).
Let's be discriminating and discerning listeners.
- Let's avoid "Jesus-is-my-girlfriend"songs ... the kind in which you can substitute "Mandy" or "Barbara Ann" for "Jesus" and the rest of the song makes perfect sense. "I wait for you each night... "; "He makes me giggle,", etc.
- Let's boycott "Jesus-is-my-sunshine" ditties, tunes and jingles that are 99% fluff and 1% substance. Jesus never promised sunshine and roses. He talks of a cross, costly discipleship, and joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. Lyrics like those mentioned don't reflect the truth in the Word.
- Let's also evaluate, however, the "great hymns of the church" that may also suffer from content starvation. Just because they are old doesn't make them great, e.g., "In the Garden."
The motivation for all singing must be gratitude for what God has done (Col. 3:16b-17; Ps. 101:1; 98:1). The primary motivation for our songs must come from the heart—Matt. 12:34. There is a marked difference in the impact of an individual's and congregation's praise when the participants are thankful and grateful for what God has done, e.g., 2 Pet. 1:3.
The Person empowering and in charge of our singing must be the Holy Spirit—Eph. 5:18-20. Remember, the source of all praise according to Eph. 5:18-20 is the filling (control) of the Spirit. If He is not in control and empowering the singers, then the old nature will be in control. Notice the contrast between these options in Romans 8:5-8.
The singing must be done in love (1 Cor. 13:1-7). What difference does love make in the music and its participants? First Corinthians 13:1-7 tells the whole story of the character of loving music.
Encouragement: When you are alone, open up the Psalms, and by making up your own melodies, sing them back to God. Don't be embarrassed. You might start with Psalms 145 and 100.
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- The Praise Parade
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