What is the purpose of singing in Christian Worship?

Every Sunday across the United States and around the globe voices are raised in churches. Why do we sing? Why has singing become such a large aspect of what we gather together to do on Sundays? Is there something magical that happens when we sing?

What does our singing look like to others? Is it weird? I personally don’t find the fact that we sing praises to God weird at all. We have musical souls and use music to express every other aspect of our lives (sadness, happiness, anger, etc…). Why wouldn’t we sing to God? In fact, the Bible is filled with commands to sing and lift praises to our God.

Psalm 100:1-2- Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

Psalm 95:1-2- Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Psalm 147:1- Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.

Isaiah 12:5- Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.

So… the Bible tells us to sing. But, if for some reason that isn’t enough for you then the fact that the Saints that have come before us sang should speak volumes to you and your beliefs or reactions to singing. We can even see an account where Jesus sang with His disciples before His betrayal. Mark 14:26 gives us this account when it says:

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

In fact, Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that we have a God who is going to sing over us Himself one day.

 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by his love; He will exult over you with loud singing.

So… we sing because God Himself sings! We are also commanded throughout Scripture to sing praises to our God. We have already seen many of these passages, but we can find another in Psalm 33:3 where it commands us to:

 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

John 4:23-24 also says that God is seeking people who worship Him. He Himself delights in our worship… He delights in our singing!

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

God is worthy of our praises and that alone should make us sing. We should rejoice and celebrate in the grace that we have been give. We have been blessed beyond measure and spoken words alone should not be able to completely contain our praises and excitement.

Other than the fact that God is worthy of our praise and we are commanded Scripturally to sing… why do we sing? What is the purpose of our songs? I will provide a few practical applications or purposes of our singing below.

  • We sing to remember.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to recall the words of songs you haven’t heard for a numerous amount of years? Some songs are like learning how to ride a bicycle… once you hear them and they are there you never can forget them regardless of how little you bring them to the front of your mind or how hard you try to forget. As humans we store literally hundreds, even thousands of songs in our brains without even knowing it! We live in a musically saturated world. Rhyme, meter and song are the most powerful mnemonic devices.

You may be asking… what is that weird word?

Mnemonic devices, according to the Oxford dictionary, are devices such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assists in remembering something.

Music has an unusual mnemonic power. We remember patterns in music much better than patterns in words alone. In Deuteronomy 31:19-22 we see a particular passage in which God uses music to help his people remember his words. In this passage we see Moses commissioned by the Lord to write a song for the people of Israel so that they can easily remember God’s words.

“Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.” So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel.

It is crazy that even in the Word we can see the fact that music has incredible memorization power for humans acknowledged. Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly…singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Therefore, we can see that songs whose lyrics expound on the person, work, and glory of Christ tend to stay with us long after we’ve forgotten the main points of the sermon.

To end this point I will provide a snippet from a previous blog post of mine:

We live in an entertainment driven culture, so sermons or teaching just aren’t stimulating enough to keep some people connected. I found it interesting that researchers have discovered that the brain releases dopamine, a chemical related to attention and focus, when people watch TV or play video games because that “entertainment” is giving the them a “stimulus surge.” In a culture filled with this “surging” it is easy to see and understand why we have collectively become desensitized to things like sermons, lectures, meetings, etc. This lack of focus without “surging stimulation” can be seen first-hand in our sanctuaries and classrooms.

Interestingly enough, the brain also releases dopamine when stimulated with music!

 I have said all of that to make my next point clear… our music is important. The songs that we sing will likely be remembered when all else is forgotten, and because of that we must work to make wise choices regarding what we sing and play in our limited time each week. Our music shapes the Gospel for our congregations on a weekly basis whether we want it to or not.

We sing to remember God’s words, characteristics, and all that He has done for us!

  • We sing to respond.

Sometimes just thinking or speaking isn’t enough! Think about your response to a great gift you’ve received. If you just said “thank you” without smiling or looking happy what would be perceived as your true response or emotion? Think about a soldier returning home from war and his wife rushing out onto the runway and leaping into his open arms… what an awesome response! Speaking alone isn’t enough! The glory of God cannot simply be talked about. We need to sing! Simply thinking isn’t enough! The glory of God cannot simply be thought about and kept inside our minds. We need to sing!

Think to the book of Exodus when Moses and the Israelites fleeing for Egypt and the army of Pharaoh, just when the Israelites thought they were had and that they were done for God delivered them by crushing the enemies and their armies. What was their reaction… their response? They sang.

Exodus 15:1- Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.

We are told to sing with “thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Singing is meant to be a whole-hearted activity. Emotionless singing is an oxymoron. God gave us singing to combine objective truth with thankfulness, doctrine with devotion, and intellect with authentic emotion.

1 Corinthians 14:15- What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.

In the end, the act of singing engages the full range of our emotions. Singing is a way of expression. It helps us engage our entire being in worship and praise to God.

Has God given you something to sing about? Has God given you a song? Sing it.

  • We sing to encourage ourselves and others.

James 5:13 says:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

Singing can be an encouragement. What is more encouraging than standing amongst your peers, your brothers and sisters in Christ, when you are at your highest high or lowest low and hearing them sing praises to God. Not everyone is in the same spiritual, or emotional place on Sunday mornings when we gather… but yet we still do. It is encouraging to sing, and it is encouraging to hear other’s sing to our God.

When Paul and Silas were in prison what did they do? They prayed and sang… that should say something.

Acts 16:25- About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

  • We sing to engage.

Music is an essential part of our culture. Music is everywhere. How do we engage our culture that has drifted far away from the truths of the Gospel and the Words and lifestyle of Jesus? One way is through our songs and through our music. Great music can assist us in reaching those who are far from God. Music affects people in strange ways that words simply cannot. Music can reach the human spirit where mere debate and spoken truths cannot. It can soften our hearts and make us more receptive to the truth.

We see the lives and attitudes of inmates changed when Paul and Silas are in captivity singing and praying. When the doors swung wide open and the bonds fell off nobody ran away. Nobody even tried to escape! What changed their hearts? God did. Through what avenue? Most likely the truths being expressed through Paula and Silas. We see change not only in their testimonies… but in the response of the prison guard ready to take his own life to avoid punishment and the disgrace to his family’s name. Acts 16:25-34 says:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Music can change lives. Sing truths that will infiltrate hardened hearts, and sing challenges to those of us who already know Christ. We can worship, teach, and evangelize through the songs that sing on a daily and weekly basis.

  • We sing to silence the enemy.

My favorite reason that we sing is to silence the enemy. Singing throughout the centuries was used as a battle tactic or a way to prepare soldiers for battle. We see in the Bible that singers and musicians were just as big of a part of the army as the soldiers themselves. They led the fighters into battle! Tribes in Africa will often sing and shout before heading into war as a way of intimidating their enemies with the size of the army and the volume of their voices. In Korean and Vietnamese history soldiers would rush into a battle with loud shouts and songs to intimidate and overwhelm their enemies. In American history music played a large role in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars as both a moral booster and communication technique.

We can apply this strategy to our own lives. We enter into spiritual warfare each and every day. When we accepted Jesus as our Savior we basically put a target on our back for Satan and the world to shoot at. But, when the enemy tries to attack your life or church, the raised voice of faith in the promises of God will drive him away. Psalm 68:1-6 says:

God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him! As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

Sing truths to yourself and to the works of the world and the devil. A simple reminder is often all it takes. 1 Samuel 16:23 says:

And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.

Refresh yourself and others. Sing to yourself and with others. Prepare yourself to fight and let the devil know who the victor will be!

My favorite song to sing in times of spiritual warfare in my own life is “Always” it goes like this:

My foes are many, they rise against me, But I will hold my ground. I will not fear the war, I will not fear the storm. My help is on the way, my help is on the way.

Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear, His promise is true. My God will come through always, always.

Troubles surround me, chaos abounding, my soul will rest in You. I will not fear the war, I will not fear the storm. My help is on the way, my help is on the way.

Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear, His promise is true. My God will come through always, always.

I lift my eyes up, my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up, my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up, my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up, my help comes from the Lord. 

Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear, His promise is true. My God will come through always, always. Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always, always.

  • We sing to unite.

Ever wonder why singing is the dominant art form or artistic expression in churches? I believe the answer to that question is simple… singing is the easiest way to unify a large group of people.

People sing together in all kinds of places including church. We sing together in different scenarios and for different purposes… but it always unites a group of people for a sole purpose or with the same words. Singing together binds us together. When we sing corporately it provides a way for numerous people from all races, backgrounds, social and economic classes, and ages to express the same thoughts and passions together.

Do you want a more united church? Sing together.

These are just a few of the reasons we sing together in churches every Sunday. This list definitely isn’t exhaustive and you may have some reasons yourself that I haven’t mentioned. We must all take the challenge to truly think about and work to understand the reasons behind our singing. So… I’ll close this question:

Why do YOU sing?

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