On the first Sunday of Lockdown we read Psalm 137 – “By the rivers of Babylon…” a psalm of mourning as the people of God went into exile. That’s what it felt like for us. We, as a church community, were going into exile! Forbidden to gather, to sing, to hug – our church building closed. Just as the temple vessels were stolen during the OT captivity, had our vessels of worship – our usual expression of worship also been taken away? With heavy hearts we hung up our lyres (or guitars) on the willows – weeping like the trees.
Singing has always been such an important part of our worship. Meeting together we unite through our music, through the words of our songs, declaring the works and ways of God as a means of deepening God’s truth in our hearts (Colossians 3:16) and encouraging one another to persevere in faith (Hebrews 10:24-25). As we sing we build up ourselves and one another (Ephesians 5:19).
There are so many exhortations in Scripture to sing God’s praises – about 50 times I’m told, though I haven’t counted. How, then, could singing stop? And, of course, it hasn’t!
Sing a new song!
The Blessing Scriptures from Numbers 6:24-26, have come to us via Youtube from all around the globe, from Korea, America, Africa, Turkey and even Uzbekistan, where 30 years ago there were but a handful of believers. We’ve seen church denominations unite, Christians of all ages from many tribes and tongues, singing out loud and clear to remind us that God has put his Name upon his people (v27), that we might experience the smile of his face and know his peace.
We’ve worshipped with playlists of songs old and new.
Each week worship leaders we know and love have come up close online – right into our homes to lead us, and we’ve seen the sincerity on their faces and felt the passion in their hearts.
More than a Song!
Yes, we are missing corporate singing, yet we’re learning that worship is more than a song. Worship isn’t limited to singing. It’s much much more and the Holy Spirit who is not locked down in a building has Zoomed to our aid! Gathering around God’s Word, responsive readings, the Lord’s Supper in our homes, fellowshipping in chat rooms, prayer in pairs through WhatsApp or FaceTime and larger prayer events through Zoom and Microsoft Teams – our worship has found ways of expression.
Worship is more than a song for singing and music without hearts full of praise are empty and not worship at all. It’s a whole of life consecration (Romans 12). It isn’t tied to the building or vessels of religious activities, but tied to loving God and loving our neighbour.
Augustine said, “Sing with your voices, your hearts, your lips and your lives: Sing to the Lord a new song.” Singing without a godly life marked by obedience is hypocrisy.
The prophets tell of God’s work in exile to purify from idols and turn his peoples’ hearts back to himself ( Ezekiel 11:18-20). Perhaps God is working similarly with us. Is he not purifying our priorities, decluttering our lives -separating us from dead works to what really matters? The result according to Zephaniah is God singing! (Zephaniah 3:17). What a wonderful thought! If we take time to be still and listen, we might just hear him. God is working in our midst, pruning us for greater fruitfulness and greater joy.
Yes, as we experience a growing sense of God’s presence we’ll find songs of praise bubbling up from within. We’ll sing to him all the more with full hearts because he is firstly singing over us. In the midst of life’s troubles, uncertainties and even plagues, we’ll catch a glimpse of eternity and sing the deliverance songs of Moses and the Lamb, worshipping with the nations Almighty God whose deeds are amazing and whose ways are just and true (Revelation 15:3-4).