The apostle Paul, in Colossians 3:16-17, encouraged the people: “Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts….” (Phillips) For him singing was inextricably linked to the process of God’s word getting into our hearts and lives. Singing that makes a difference involves more than just singing words. Sometimes I find myself singing on “auto pilot” when I could be singing to express thoughts.
I’d like to share an experience that had a great impact on me, personally. When I was in high school I attended a Farm Bureau convention where a gentleman by the name of Ariel Lovelace led us farm kids in the singing of African-American spirituals. His leadership was so inspiring that we sounded like what seemed a choir of angels. Years later I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Lovelace. I asked him to share his secret for effective leadership. His answer was simple and profound. He said that he doesn’t lead others until he is so filled with the song that he can’t keep it inside any longer. With that power-packed thought in mind, I challenge myself and others who are privileged to lead, to be filled with God’s spirit and the message of the songs we sing and play. This admonition is for instrumentalists as well as singers.
How can we become filled with the message of a song? Learning the story behind a song can serve as inspiration. A Google search for “Hymn Stories” could serve as a starting point for the those who are curious. Ken Osbeck has written on this topic, and his book entitled 101 Hymn Stories [and others] are available from Kregel Press. The late Don Hustad provided a rich resource in The Worship Leader’s Edition of The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing, 1990). His emphasis is on the scriptural and theological content of hymns. Another great way to inwardly digest the message of a song is to read it devotionally. Although music is my profession, the message of the words has become more important than the music. I suggest that we first savor the words, then let the music underscore and reinforce their meaning. With God’s help we can [and should] strive to stir up the song in the hearts of all people. This is theme of the following prayer:
O Lord, restore your song in hearts of old and young;
In every land and every tongue, let your praise be sung.
Refrain: O Lord, restore your song.
With joy our hearts can swell when all is going well,
But when there’s trouble, doubt, or wrong, we need a different song. Ref
Let those who have no song be drawn until they long
To drink of your life-giving stream and find release in song. Ref
The song your Spirit breathes is like a gentle breeze,
You calm our fears, you dry our tears, to You our hearts belong. Ref
Let hearts once filled with pain now long to praise your name.
O give us a desire to sing praise to Christ, our King.
Refrain: Lord, fill our lives with song.
Words: Ron Sprunger; Music: Linda Sprunger
Note: A recording of the above song is included under Media.