Singing resounds throughout scripture, booming off the pages in jubilation (Exodus 15) and tumbling out of hearts in lament (Psalm 13), overflowing in joyful praise (James 5:13) and steadying the fearful (Psalm 57).

The Lord Himself expresses delight over His people in song (Zephaniah 3:17) and Jesus sang hymns with His disciples (Matthew 26:30). The whole of creation bursts forth in song to the glory of God, from the mountains, fields and trees on the earth (Isaiah 55:12; Psalm 65:13; 1 Chronicles 16:33) to the stars in outer space (Job 38:7). Clearly, this business of singing is important. Aside from the fact that scripture repeatedly commands us to sing, there are many reasons why sung worship is vital. So, why do we sing?

Singing engages our whole being

The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Singing is a great way to do this, as it involves our whole being. We use our bodies, as we breathe air, to offer praise to God (Psalm 150:6), we sing and make music to Him in our hearts (Ephesians 5:19), and we engage both the spirit and the mind (1 Corinthians 14:15). Music is a wonderful gift from God, with power to sway our minds, to move our emotions, to energise our bodies, and to prompt action. As we use every part of us to express our love to God in song, we submit fully to His lordship and allow ourselves to be transformed by Him.


Singing forms community

We are made in the image of the triune God, and Jesus prayed that we would be one just as He and the Father are one (John 17:21). While singing does not always unite (a topic for another conversation), it is a powerful medium for bringing people together. Throughout scripture we are directed to sing together, to sing God’s praise in the assembly of His faithful people” (Psalm 68:26). As we do so, we fall into synchrony with each other around a shared pulse, melody line and formal structure. Ethnomusicologists talk about a kind of social entrainment that takes place through music, which helps to build community. Furthermore, as we sing the same words together, there can be a joining of minds and hearts around a common theme or goal (think about football chants and national anthems).

Singing shapes our theologies

How many sermons do you remember? If you’re anything like the average person, probably not many. Words that are sung, however, are more memorable. This is because they appear in patterns (melodic, rhythmic, structural) that make it easy for our brain to recall. Unlike sermons, we typically join in with sung worship, and this vocalising helps us to internalise the lyrics. The Apostle Paul recognised the didactic potential of singing, instructing the church in Colosse to teach each other through songs, allowing the word of Christ to dwell in them (Colossians 3:16). Singing allows God’s word to inhabit us, to remain in us, to shape us.

Singing tells our stories

Scripture commands us to sing praise to God and tell of all His wonderful acts” (1 Chronicles 16:9). With carefully crafted words, songs can remind us of God’s story and our place within it. We acknowledge the forgiveness and grace extended towards us through Christ and have opportunity to respond. Stories of God’s deliverance are celebrated throughout the psalms, and the writers often draw on these past victories for comfort and hope. Singing can help us recall our own journey with God and the
ways He has helped us in the past, thereby finding fresh hope for today’s challenges.

What about the COVID restrictions?

Navigating sung worship during the pandemic has been challenging. Both during lockdown and as we begin to gather once more, the sound of in-person congregational singing has been placed on mute. While we still find ourselves in this season, what are the opportunities and possibilities around sung worship?

1. Rediscover your own voice

We’re called to sing to God both in the assembly” and on our beds” (Psalm 149), but
some perhaps find it easier to join in with corporate singing, supported by musicians,
worship leaders and amplifiers. When it comes to our time alone with God, it’s all too easy to reach for our phones and invite professional’ worship leaders to do our job for us through Spotify or YouTube. While these can be excellent tools, I do wonder if God misses our voices and our individual creative expressions. Why not use this time to lift your own voice to God in song, and perhaps even see if He births a new song in you?

2. Be creative

For those returning to corporate gatherings, there may be a mix of joy at being back
together and frustration at not being able to sing. However, this provides an opportunity to explore creative forms of worship. These might include musically accompanied meditation on scripture, quiet congregational humming, signing the words of songs, inviting congregants to share a testimony or short reflection and to select a related song for the band to play, or inviting worshipful engagement through
creative activities such as painting, drawing or clay modelling.

3. Consider justice

If we neglect justice and righteousness, our singing is just noise to God, and He refuses to listen (Amos 5:23 – 24). Perhaps we might use this pause on our congregational singing to consider the outworking of justice in corporate sung worship. Thinking about your own church, ask yourself the following questions: Do any of our songs highlight injustices and move people to action? Does our worship band and the songs we sing represent the congregation and its surrounding community, including an
appropriate mix of ages, genders, ethnicities? Do we support local expressions, the voices within the congregation, and the sounds of underrepresented groups, or do we only value the big brand’ names in worship music?

4. Sing to the world

Music has found ways to spill out even as we have all been shut away. This reminds me a little of Paul and Silas’s stint in prison (Acts 16). They were on their way to a corporate gathering, but instead found themselves being thrown into jail. They couldn’t join other believers in worship as they had intended, so instead they prayed and sang to God with all the prisoners listening. What followed was an amazing testimony that led to the jailer and his family turning to Christ.

At the start of the pandemic, Amy Tan (singer-songwriter, worship leader and London
School of Theology music alumna) took to singing in the street where she lives. Through this, she brought a sense of hope and lifted the spirits in her community. The many iterations of The Blessing’ music videos demonstrate how digital media can be used to communicate a message of hope. The world needs to hear the good news more than ever in these difficult times. So, sing for your friends and neighbours to hear, sing further afield through online platforms, and see what God will do.