Music and song. It’s everywhere. From the jingle on tv to the school concert, music surrounds us. At church, we sing hymns with the congregation before the pastor preaches God’s Word. But have you ever wondered why we sing hymns?
Music is a gift from God. As Martin Luther puts it, “Music is a fair and lovely gift of God which has often wakened and moved me to the joy of preaching.” In fact, we can find God’s people singing praises to God throughout the whole Bible. Moses and the Israelites sang praises to God after they left Egypt; “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted.” (Exodus 15:1-2). The book of Psalms is full of songs to God. In the New Testament, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God when they were put in prison.
What do all these people do in common? They are singing to God with their heart, not half-heartedly singing. In a talk by John Piper about this issue, I found that it is the condition of our heart- how our heart is responding that really matters when we worship God. When we sing hymns to God, we are not singing for ourselves. In a book I am reading by Martyn Loyd Jones, he says: “So often we are in danger of abusing the Scriptures in this way. We use them as mere phrases in that manner, or light-heartedly we sing our hymns, and we feel better for the time being”. We do not sing hymns for ourselves- to “feel good” or as part of a routine every Sunday. Rather, we sing for the glory of God.
When we sing hymns, we also have to remember that it is the lyrics that matter the most. Sure, the song might have good music, but are the lyrics giving the right message? I read an article about the theology and place of music in worship, and it mentions how music is supposed to accompany and reinforce the words. We all know that music is powerful - it can evoke powerful emotions. The music is still important. However, it is not supposed to be more important than the hymn’s lyrics.
Another reason why singing is important is that it helps us remember words - more importantly, God’s Word. In Deuteronomy 31, God uses music to help the Israelites, his chosen people, remember his Word through song. God instructs Moses to teach Israel a song as “many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring” (Deuteronomy 31:21). When Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison, the hymns were hymns that they remembered.
Hymns give encouragement
This leads me to my next point. Singing hymns can encourage Christians in whatever situation they are in. When I was younger, I used to be scared to go to the bathroom at night because of how dark it was. Eventually, I would build up my courage and force myself to walk there. Now, it seems pretty silly, though, at the time, it was pretty scary. As I walked over, I would sing a hymn or the choir song I was singing in my church’s children choir, not always out loud but in my heart. I found that it gave me courage when I sang a hymn, reminding me that God is in control.
I know that my situation is small compared to the martyrs and persecuted Christians who sing hymns despite being in life-threatening danger, but it is my personal experience on how singing hymns gives courage.
Hymns are our weapon in our spiritual battle
Last of all, singing hymns is a means of spiritual warfare. I read another article by John Piper, and this time, the article was about ambushing Satan through song. God uses spiritual songs as spiritual weapons against Satan. As William Law says, in his book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, “Just as singing is a natural effect of joy in the heart so it has also a natural power of rendering the heart joyful . . . There is nothing that so clears a way for your prayers, nothing that so disperses dullness of heart, nothing that so purifies the soul from poor and little passions, nothing that so opens heaven, or carries your heart so near it, as these songs of praise.” Satan will try to keep a church from becoming a singing church, so we must fight him with song. When we sing hymns, we have two weapons- God’s Word and song, which we must use in our spiritual war.
You see, hymns are more than some words put together with some nice-sounding music. Hymns are a form of worship to God from our hearts and a weapon in our spiritual battle in our life.