The Discipline of Singing

It is not my position as a pastor that pushes me to sing in worship whether I feel like it or not. Rather, it is my increasing experience that the intentional act of singing words that are true helps my heart to turn toward God and away from self.

If Luther is right (and I believe he is) that sin prompts us to “turn in on ourselves,” then worship songs that speak of God and the Gospel are a powerful antidote. (Granted, there are plenty of worship songs that do not focus on God or the Gospel, but instead tend to assist our souls in turning inward.) And yet the songs themselves cannot serve as an antidote unless we intentionally enter in to singing them wholeheartedly.

And that is why I believe that singing can be a spiritual discipline. Certainly it doesn’t have to be a discipline, and it isn’t always a discipline, but sometimes it may be chosen as a discipline. Singing becomes a discipline when in my flesh I say “I don’t feel like singing” or “I don’t want to sing” and yet I sing anyway. In that place, I do not sing because I’m happy, but I sing to make myself happy in Christ. And in that place, I do not sing because life is comfortable and good, but I sing to remind myself that God is good even when life is not. Singing as a discipline is not a response to joyful feelings but a catalyst for them.

But the only way that intentional singing can become a catalyst for joyful feelings is when what is being sung is deeply and powerfully true. In order to pull my sin-sick eyes off of myself and onto the God who saves, and in order to straighten out my inward-curving gaze, I must be singing words that point me compellingly to the Gospel so that I become captivated by the beauty of Christ.

At the retreat I led this past weekend, I struggled to sing Keith and Kristyn Getty’s song “When Trials Come” because I felt so empty and weary, and yet those beautiful–and true!–lyrics breathed new life into my soul as I chose to sing them despite how I felt. So join in with me, and see the triumph of the cross even in the midst of your weariness.

When trials come no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold
And there His faithfulness is told 
And there His faithfulness is told

Within the night I know Your peace 
The breath of God brings strength to me 
And new each morning mercy flows
As treasures of the darkness grow 
As treasures of the darkness grow

I turn to Wisdom not my own
For every battle You have known
My confidence will rest in You
Your love endures Your ways are good
Your love endures Your ways are good

When I am weary with the cost
I see the triumph of the cross
So in its shadow I shall run
Till He completes the work begun
Till He completes the work begun

One day all things will be made new
I’ll see the hope You called me to
And in your kingdom paved with gold
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old

 

Where Unworthiness & Great Worth Meet

The final verse of a hymn sung by Keith and Kristyn Getty portrays a strikingly beautiful contrast:

Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed – my ransom paid
At the cross

The cross of Christ clearly establishes my unworthiness. Like all of mankind I was dead in my sin, completely incapable of knowing God or pleasing God–cross-at-hilltopand it was my sin that put Jesus on that cruel cross. Jesus did not suffer and die because I was worthy of His salvation, but He faced the wrath of God in my place out of His great love for me, even when I was dead in my sin.

But amazingly, the cross not only establishes my unworthiness, but at the very same time establishes my great worth. The fact that the sinless Son of God would bear shame and wrath and separation from His Father on my behalf places inestimable worth on me. It is not worth that I have somehow earned or gained, but worth that is bestowed because of the incalculable cost that Jesus paid to make me His own.

Unworthiness and great worth meet at the cross. There the ransom for my unworthiness is paid, and there–through that ransom–my worth is established. Lyricist Graham Kendrick says of this hymn:

We need to sing about our worth from God’s perspective, not ours or our cultures, and God’s perspective centres in on the cross.