Emperor penguins love to sing. They are among the most musical creatures on earth. When courting, the male and female bow and sing to each other. When the mother penguin has laid her eggs, she goes off to the ocean for several weeks to feed. While she is gone, the father sits on the eggs and sings. After regaining her strength, the mother comes back to the nest and sings to it. Before the little one is hatched, it is also singing inside.
Followers of Jesus Christ are also singers. We sing not only because we love to sing but because God’s salvation filled us with gratitude and one way of expressing this joy is to sing about it. Regardless of our musical talents, singing is a healthy discipline and contains many spiritual benefits.
Firstly, singing helps us respond to God’s grace. It is both an expression and a confession of our faith. After God parted the Red Sea and delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians, Moses led the people to sing a song of praise (Exodus 15:1-18). Similarly, we who are redeemed echoed with John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace! how sweet the sound— That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.”
Secondly, singing helps us keep God’s word in our hearts. Music has an unusual mnemonic power. We remember patterns in music much better than patterns in words alone. In Deuteronomy 31, God uses music to help His people remember His words. In Colossians 3:16, Paul encouraged the church to “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
Thirdly, singing unifies the body of Christ and that glorifies God. In Romans 15, the apostle Paul said “…with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (v 6).” What was once impossible became reality as people who have been deeply divided began thanking God together for His mercy shown in Christ.
Finally, the reason we sing is because God commanded us to. “Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim His salvation day after day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96:2-3). While musical styles can be varied and even controversial, worship is about God and God alone.
So whenever we sing or whatever we do in worship, do it for the Lord alone.
“Sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself… see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve...” (John Wesley, Instructions for Singing, 1721)