When my nine-year-old daughter communicates with me about something that happens in her day at school, she uses gestures, eyebrows, words, and inflections to try to get the story from her heart into mine. For a child, everyday conversation is something more like singing than talking. Music, relationship, and storytelling are three strands of the same cord.
Sometimes it seems we have forgotten our childlike ability to sing. But even when we are silent, there are thousands of love songs streaming on the radio. There’s evocative orchestration beneath the scenes in our favorite movies. Songs are ubiquitous, yet we have forgotten how to speak the language of music.
You may not think of yourself as a singer. But if we can suspend all judgments about what makes a good vocalist, there is something irresistible about it. Singing is part of what it means to be human. You don’t have to sing a solo on a stage, but all creation is invited to join in the song back to the God who made us. When we sing, we engage our affections, not just our speech.
Ephesians 5:18–20 contrasts the intoxication of wine with the intoxication of worship. Beyond the pull of pop radio and movie orchestrations, this text affirms that God has designed us for rich, emotional expression. Before school, on our way to work, at weddings, or beside a hospital bed—we are called to sing our gratitude to God at all times for all things:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have we forgotten how to sing our prayers? Psalm 126 traces the story of God’s people through a time of captivity and deliverance. The Israelites had been enslaved to the Egyptians. During that time, they remembered their freedom as if it were a dream. While they were held captive, they refused to sing their familiar songs (Ps. 137:3–4). But when they were delivered, they had a new song; when they were restored, they sang about it:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. . . . Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” (Ps. 126:1–2, 5–6)
Since singing is a natural outflow of emotion, in times of acute pain, often the bond between voice and heart gets disconnected. When there’s disruption or oppression, as in the story of the Israelites in Psalm 126, people just like us can forget how to sing.
In this practice of singing our laments, the psalmist doesn’t encourage us to dramatize or to deny our pain. But as in verse 5, when we sow our sorrows, we will return home singing songs of joy. God causes beauty to grow up in our lives like “a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isa. 61:3). He makes our sorrows fruitful.
Just as spring comes after winter, God’s renewing beauty makes us able to sing. Even in our disappointments and failures, he brings new life out of fallen seeds.
I wish we could hear the songs today that the Israelites sang when they came home to Zion. Songs of redemption remind us of what is in store for us even in the moments when we don’t feel triumphant. Songs can comfort us, inspire hope, and strengthen our faith. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). Even in hard times, we’re singing ourselves forward.
Practicing this kind of singing is gospel work. When we sing, we are expressing hope with our whole being. When we sing, light breaks into the shadows. “My servants will sing out of the joy of their hearts” (Isa. 65:14). We lift our voices as God is restoring our relationships and our stories, and he keeps on giving us new songs to sing.
Sandra McCracken is a singer-songwriter who lives in Nashville. Follow her on Twitter @Sandramccracken.
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