Why Christians Sing
When Christians sing, they do not do it first and foremost because they like to sing, are great at singing, or wish to improve their singing ability; they do it because God has given singing to the church as an expression of worship. From Moses at the Red Sea to last Sunday at your local church, God's people sing. Although this singing does not constitute the whole of Christian worship, it surely plays a part and should not be taken lightly.
It seems that an irreverent attitude regarding singing has become the norm in many churches today. The focus has become the experience of worship and has turned away from the truth in worship. Self-expression is the goal of worship nowadays for many Christians, and the effects of it are detrimental to both faith and worship. "Worship God however you like," is often heard. However, only a certain way is accepted. It is those who are the most expressive that are seen to be worshipping God authentically. They are the ones who are spiritual, not the ones who worship with little to no expression. So, it is not as the one leading the singing wishes, but it is the grandest expression of the individual which will be recognized as true worship. You may worship God however you like, but only a certain type of worship will be recognized as true worship.
The Need to Sing Truth
What I have just described, though it may be the popular sentiment, is actually against the kind of worship God wants of us. We cannot worship God however we want; such is anti-biblical. God has set parameters for our worship so that it will be true worship and not some form of worship we have come up with. God is God, and therefore he determines what worship is and what it is not.
If worship is merely self-expression, the implications are damning. Who, then, determines what true worship is? The individual, of course. Think about that for a moment. If I determine what God wants from me, I have become the authority over God in regards to worship; I have become as God, and He must bow to me. So then, if my worship is my self-expression (worship God however I like), it is really self-worship. I could, then, be in a place where the focus is worshipping God, looking as if I am part of it, all the while worshipping myself.
We need a standard for worship that comes from outside ourselves. If we are to worship God properly, the instructions for worship cannot come from us. Thankfully, there are two principles for worship given to us by God Himself. Because of Christ, we now worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
When Jesus said that we would worship God "in spirit," He meant that it would not be a physical worship but a spiritual worship. This is not to be twisted into the meaning that it is some individualistic, mystical form of worship. Rather, it means that worship must come from the heart. The heart (the spirit) of the worshipper must be pleasing to God. We must come with a heart that hates our sin (Psalm 51:17). We must give ourselves wholly for the service of God (Romans 12:1). We must keep the commands of God (1 John 3:24). All these come from God as a gift to us by His grace through the Holy Spirit for His worship.
The second rule is that we worship in truth. Truth is something not defined by us but is revealed in the Word of God. Therefore, all our worship, singing included, must be saturated with the Scriptures. Indeed, it must be a Scriptural worship. What we sing is more important than how we sing it. However, if the way we sing it distracts us from what we are singing, it is unprofitable and should not be pursued.
God values truth to be central in the songs we sing. There is a vast difference in singing songs that exalt God by singing about His attributes and works, and songs about God that are so vague, they could be sung to a lover. There is a vast difference in singing songs of hope and joy in the work of Christ and the eternal life He gives, and singing songs about how Jesus makes us feel. You see, sometimes the songs we sing may seem like they are close to the truth, but in reality are not as beneficial for us, nor as biblical as they ought to be.
We only have to look at the Psalms. David, or any of the other psalmists for that matter, do not just sing of their feelings, but counter their depression with truth and build their joy upon great promises. Take Psalm 103 for example, we find adoration (v. 1, 2, 20, 21, 22); explicit gospel (v. 8, 10, 12, 13); reality (v. 14, 15, 16); and the attributes of God (v. 8, 11, 13, 17, 19) to name only a few. The Psalms, along with the rest of Scripture, teach us that truth is the most important part of our worship.
Singing Before The Sermon
I'm not sure the order of worship in your church, but in my own and many I've attended, the church will sing before the sermon. This time of singing sets the mood for the sermon. Without fail, the congregation's attitude towards the sermon is influenced heavily by the time of singing. The church that puts a lot of emphasis (expression and energy) on the singing is usually bored with the sermon. The sermon lacks the pizazz and energy of the singing unless the preacher is quite charismatic and energetic himself. On the other hand, the churches that have a simpler time of singing are usually more attentive and eager for the sermon. Regardless of the way the church carries out their time of singing, when the church sings before the sermon, it ought to be for one purpose: preparation for the sermon.
Singing before the sermon is one of the greatest methods of preparation for the congregants to hear the Word of God proclaimed. The preaching of the Word of God must be the primary focus of the church if it is to be in step with the true Church. Therefore, the singing must direct the congregation of believers in that direction. It is imperative for truth to be sung during this time. When truth is sung, it prepares our hearts to receive the truth that will be preached.
Imagine yourself on a Sunday morning. It very well could have been last Sunday. You wake up on the wrong side of the bed, your coffee spills on your white shirt, the toast is burnt, you snap at a family member, and kick the dog on the way out. Now imagine walking into church in such a state, are you prepared to hear God's Word? Probably not. The last thing you need now is for the music leader to tell you that you can worship however you want. What you need is to be reminded of truth.
Even if Sunday morning preparation for church was flawless, each member walking into church has just gone through a week in the world, fighting temptations, killing sin, being mocked, being influenced toward a worldly way of thinking, and a whole host of other ills. What we need most is to be reminded of truth. There needs to be a realignment with truth, and that ought to, in part, come through song.
Singing After the Sermon
When the church sings, everyone is actively participating. When the church listens to the preacher, it is the preacher who is active. It can be a wonderful experience when these two work together. When the congregation sings after the sermon, they are affirming the truth that they have just heard. It is as if the congregation responds with a resounding, "Amen! We agree with what has been proclaimed!"
In agreeing with the truth that has been taught, we are helping the message to be applied to our hearts. We are not only saying that we agree, but we are affirming that the Word of God is to be taken seriously in the week to come. It is as if we are not only agreeing with what has been taught, but that it is beneficial for us.
Jesus' prayer was that His followers would be united in truth (John 17). When I look around the sanctuary as my church sings, I cannot help but notice that everyone is proclaiming the same thing at the same time. It is an obvious observation, but a profound one (it is often that the profound is found in the obvious). When the church sings, they are united in proclaiming truth, they are carrying out what Jesus prayed. What joy that must bring Christ! What joy should fill our hearts!
We do not sing as individuals, but as a congregation. In such a setting, there is no room for self-expression, but humility. When we sing together, we must realize that we are not alone in worship, nor is it our individual worship that gains God's attention. Singing together will not cause this attitude of humility, looking to Christ causes that. Rather, it is a visual reminder that God's saving purposes reach much farther than ourselves. It ought to remind us that the truth we sing is not just for ourselves or a specific person, but for the collective group in order that we all may become more like Christ. When Christians sing, it displays to all that Christianity is not an individualistic religion.
There is more to a church singing than meets the eye (in this case, the ear). It plays a necessary role in directing the congregation's eyes heavenward. We must not take this worship lightly, but pursue to sing songs filled with biblical truth and a biblical message.