Singing Worship

Written on October 10, 2016   By   in Thoughts

How can a song trigger sweet, melancholy memories in only seconds?  Why do we sing instinctively during moments of extreme joy?  How many times does Bobby McFerrin’s classic a cappella hit from 1988, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” have to get stuck in our heads before we understand that human beings have a strange relationship to song?  Even at the most basic, physical level, singing is actually proven to reduce stress, lower bad cholesterol, improve lung oxygenation, and help keep brain functions sharp.  Singing has even been shown to temporarily short-circuit chronic pain.  It gets even stranger when we see the effects of singing with others in a group.  Scientists have noticed a peculiar phenomenon when a group of people sing; their hearts begin to beat together as their blood flow harmonizes in rhythm.  In worship and praise with other people, singing transcends even our medical and biological wonder:  “Participation in practices such as hymn singing has been associated with experiences such as joy, transcendence, ineffability (a feeling that cannot be expressed in words), and relaxation, but the mechanisms through which these changes are produced is not well understood.”[1]  Combine this with the unique phenomenon doctors have stumbled upon while treating stroke victims who have lost the ability to speak yet can still sing words (words in song originate from a different part of the brain and can actually retrain the damaged speech center)[2] and we might be getting closer to the mystery of words sung.  Because the language of song comes from a different place in us, we are literally able to sing things we cannot say.  If we only speak to God and others, our communication is simply incomplete. Add to all this the fact that worship and praise through song was modeled for us in the old and new testament periods and commanded of us by the Holy Spirit through the epistles and we will clearly see that singing as worship is not only beneficial to us on multiple levels but is also our joyful duty of love and gratitude to God.



The Old Testament is full of song as the Jews rejoice, worship, mourn and remind themselves of all God had done and would do for them. We see this in Exodus just after God split the red sea for His children to pass through and then drowned the Egyptians trying to kill them. “Then Moses and the Israelites sang… to the Lord” (Exodus 15:1 NIV).  In Deuteronomy we see Moses teaching the people part of the law they were to follow in a very long song full of praise, warning, theology and worship:  “And Moses recited the words of this song from beginning to end in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel” (Deut. 31:30 NIV). We also see God fighting for His people as they sing their way into battle: “Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.’ As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes…” (1 Chron. 20:21-22 NIV).  Perhaps most importantly, we see God responding to worship in song with the blessing of His presence.  One good example of this is when Solomon finished building the temple and called for a celebration complete with loud music and songs of praise and thanksgiving:

All the Levites who were musicians—Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and their sons and relatives—stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: ‘He is good; his love endures forever.’ Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God. (II Chron. 5:12-14 NIV).


The secular historian Josephus even records some of the Jewish propensity for loud and joyful song when he witnessed them in Babylon “making a noise with songs, and pipes and cymbals.”[3]  Song was so prevalent in Jewish worship that their largest book in the collection of sacred texts was a book of songs (Psalms).  This same Old Testament was handed down to the church, completed in Christ but not negated, and many congregations all over the world still sing the Psalms as part of their worship service.



After the last supper, just before that infamous scene in the garden where Judas and the guards find Jesus praying, Matthew and Mark include a detail that we often skip over without thinking: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out…” (Mark 14:26 NIV).  Jesus had just instituted fellowship for His church and he was going out to speak with God the Father before being offered up painfully as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  His mind and heart were both fixed and troubled with the weight of eternal work but Jesus paused in the middle of this to sing with His disciples.  In doing so, He modeled worship for us in a way that mere commands cannot.  The fact that this detail was inserted in such a casual way (Luke and John didn’t even mention the song) is evidence that this practice was a common occurrence.  It’s also possible that Paul and Silas remembered how Jesus responded to the stress of persecution when they began to sing and worship after being beaten and imprisoned: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25 NIV).  Romans 15:9 and Hebrews 2:12 also speak specifically of praise in song by Jesus among his church.  The verb used in Romans 15, transliterated psalló, actually carries the image of Christ praising God the Father while (or by) playing a stringed instrument[4].  Though we don’t read about Jesus actually playing an instrument or leading the multitudes in song, we can definitely infer that He and the apostles spent time singing worship and praise.  In the Jewish religious culture it was almost a given and the practices of the early church testify to this tradition as they built their service on the framework of synagogue worship.[5]



There is no stronger reason for doing something than because God said so!  This was all the reason Abraham had when he took his only son up the mountain as an offering to God and it was Noah’s only comfort as he built an ark for 40 years while everyone around him laughed.  When people think of Biblical commands, they usually focus on the negative imperatives (the thou shalt not’s of the Bible) however, there are many positive commands in the old and new testaments and singing is definitely one of them.  Paul was inspired to write: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16 NIV).  His message to the believers at Ephesus was even more direct: “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).  Even a cursory study of scripture on the subject of singing will reveal that, for the believer, singing is not an option.  And after learning all the wonderful ways God works through it as well as the observable physical benefits, one would wonder why anyone would try to opt out of this practice!  In today’s western culture, however, many do refuse to sing.  “Westerners rarely engage with music in a participatory setting, and if you ask people why they do not sing more often, the most common response you will hear is ‘I don’t sing very well.’”[6]  It is worth noting at this point that we are never commanded to sing well (though the injunction to play instruments skillfully stands).   Lepore continues, “One of the main explanations for this effect [lack of participation in song] could be the professionalization of singing.”[7]  In fact, too many of the activities we are blessed to join in as the body of Christ have been professionalized in the minds of congregations.  We are all called to love, evangelize, help, pray and sing!  Our singing blesses us and others even if it isn’t what our culture considers “good” but, more than that, it blesses our Father, God.  He made every voice unique and no one can sing your song for you- worship, praise, sing!


[1] William Forde Thompson, ed., Music in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: an Encyclopedia (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc, 2014), 680.

[2] Benjamin Stahl and Sonja Kotz, “Facing the Music: Three Issues in Current Research On Singing and Aphasia,” frontiers in PSYCHOLOGY 5 (2014 Sep 23): 1, (accessed February 21, 2015).

[3] Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews (Lawrence:, 2010), 342.

[4] Bible Hub, “Strong’s Greek: 5567,” Bible Hub, (accessed February 21, 2015).

[5] Christoph Tietze, Hymn Introits for the Liturgical Year: the Origin and Early Development of the Latin Texts (Chicago, IL: Hillenbrand Books, 2007), 48.

[6] Franco Lepore et al., eds., Enhancing Performance for Action and Perception: Multisensory Integration, Neuroplasticity and Neuroprosthetics (Amsterdam: Elsevier Science, 2011), 104.

[7] Ibid., 104.