The TikTok trend at the start of 2021, according to American late night host Stephen Colbert, is the Sea Shanty. In our fragmented and divided age, who would have thought that maritime folk songs from 19th century sailors would bring together teenagers from Tokyo to Tulsa? What in the world is going on? 

Singing is fundamentally an act with the world and for the world. Songs travel where people cannot. Songs cross borders and can be an embassy unto themselves. Christians get this. The gospel has a soundtrack, and every major revival over the past two millennia has been accompanied by song, starting with Paul and Silas in the Philippian prison. From Gregorian chant, to metrical psalms, to Watts and Wesley, to Beverly Shea, to Vineyard, to Hillsong United — we sing our praises. And we sing our sorrows. 

The Negro Spirituals remind us that our cries of defiant trust belong in the hymnal, just as David and the Psalmists teach us both to clap our hands and to tear our garments. Paul Westermeyer, a historian of church music, says it this way:


Joy inevitably breaks into song. Speech alone cannot carry its hilarity. The physical equipment we use to laugh is the physical equipment we use to sing. From laughter to song is a small step…. The same can be said for sorrow, the opposite of joy. Sorrow also inevitably breaks into song. Speech alone cannot carry its moan. The physical equipment we use to cry is also the physical equipment we use to sing. From mourning to song is but a small step.” (Te Deum, p. 28)

"The gospel has a soundtrack, and every major revival over the past two millennia has been accompanied by song, starting with Paul and Silas in the Philippian prison."

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the global bride of Christ finds herself at a loss of one of our most precious gifts: our corporate song. It is in our song, in our acts of Christian music-making, that we find that resonance, that almost sacramental echo of my heart cry with your heart cry, brothers and sisters praying to the Lord together with one voice.

Because, really, no song is designed to remain private. Sung worship forces us out of ourselves into an expression of worship with our whole lives. Song draws out our joys and our sorrows, reflections of our shared human experience around the world, and so it has been jarring in recent weeks to see songs of the Christian faith yoked uneasily with various forms of religious nationalism. It obscures an even more fundamental reality of worship, that it is intrinsically global: And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy are you … for you ransomed a people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9) Apparently, some prayers speak so directly to the depths of our existence, none of us can help but sing them. Some prayers come from such a deep, visceral place, that mere words fail us and we cannot help but turn our cries and our shouts into dirges and anthems across the nations.

Let us join the anthem of the heavenly throne in prayer for a gospel invasion. The song of the gospel knows neither political border nor quarantine restriction. If God puts the tune in our heart, no siren song can compete, and no noise will overpower. Join us in praying that the melody of heaven will transcend all cacophonies of racist syncretism, jingoistic pride, and selfish individualism. God can raise up troubadours for His name that can cross any border and win hearts over to a melody sweeter than honey.

So will you sing a new song over your community? Will the cry of your heart find voice as you speak Jesus’ hope and restoration over the broken places in your town? Will the church defy borders and collectively cry for revival on the earth?

Will you join me in asking for God to reignite our passions, and to remind us all of the lyrics as we sing a new song, saying:

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals.
For you were slain,

And all God’s people said: Amen.