Why Do We Sing?
- James Burstow The Good Book Company
- Updated Oct 01, 2017
There is something special about music. Something that’s hard to explain. It stirs our emotions; it lifts our hearts—but that is not all it does.
Words set to music have the unique ability to burrow deep into our hearts in a way that enables us to remember them. And that means that singing in church, for ourselves, with our children or even in the shower is not just an “optional extra” for the Christian life, but a practice that can profoundly strengthen our faith, and our ability to persevere in the hardest of times.
I have friends who seem to have a photographic memory for Bible verses. They can recite bible text, complete with chapter and verse reference, without a moment’s hesitation. But those friends are rare. I have many more friends who, like me, struggle to retain even those verses they’ve only recently read!
Unless that is, they are put to music. For some reason, that changes the whole equation. In the same way that I can still remember random pop lyrics from the ‘80s, Bible verses set to music seem to find a place in my brain that is altogether easier to access. I am sure that there must be a scientific explanation for this, but I have irrefutable anecdotal evidence that this is true.
I used to feel a bit embarrassed about this; it felt to me as though the godly people were the ones who could remember a Bible passage studied years ago as though they had only just read it that morning. Whereas I couldn’t even remember which order the minor prophets come in, let alone quote any verses from them! Then I started to notice some encouragement from God’s word. I noticed that people in the Bible sing rather a lot. They sing for joy (Isaiah 65:14). They sing their praises to the Lord (Psalm 9:11). But they also sing to remember.
In Deuteronomy 31:19, The LORD has Moses write down a song and teach it to the Israelites “because it will not be forgotten by their descendants” (Deut 31:21). In Judges, the singers at the watering places "recite the victories of the Lord” (Judges 5:11). The Psalmist writes that he will "sing of your strength, in the morning” during times of trouble (Psalm 59:16). And Paul encourages the Colossians to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the spirit" (Col 3:16).
For the young…
We’ve been singing memory verses with our kids since they were babies—Colin Buchanan and Randall Goodgame are our favourites—my wife and I are convinced that we’ve learned just as much as them, if not more, over the years! I trust that these verses will stand us in good stead in the years to come.
For the middle...
Singing not only prompts mindful remembrance of God’s character and promises, it also has a powerful effect in reassuring our wavering hearts of the same truths. Time and time again we return to song when words fail, when weariness overwhelms us and when gospel truths rendered in song are needed to soften our stony hearts.
The Sing Conference has been happening this week in Nashville, organised by Keith and Kristyn Getty and featuring a wonderful line-up of Bible teachers and musicians. I’m a huge fan of the Getty’s music—not only are the melodies so well crafted, but the words (often written by Stuart Townend) have a depth and richness to them which is unusual in modern praise music. These songs remind us of God’s promises, reassure us and move us to rejoice.
For the old…
We sing carols every year in a local retirement home. Many of the residents are unable to engage in conversation, and many of those who can are not able to remember much to talk about. Yet when the carols begin, they start to sing. The words seem to bubble upon from some secret place and smiles spread across their faces.
I can’t explain how it works, but my experience of song gives me hope that if I reach some ripe old age where my memory is fading daily, the songs that I’ve learned over the years will remind and reassure me of my Saviour and of the sure and certain hope that He has won for me. And that is worth singing about!
This article originally appeared on TheGoodBook.com. Used with permission.
James Burstow's role as Commercial Director encompasses marketing, sales and customer service. Before joining TGBC he spent time in Chile and Japan teaching English before becoming a fundraiser for Great Ormond Street Hospital. He is the senior elder at Grace Church Worcester Park.
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/DigitalVision.
Publication date: September 29, 2017