“But I Can’t Sing”

(NEWS FLASH: I have an update on Dale Grotenhuis’s choir settings.  Read this comment on a previous URC Psalmody article for the details.)

A while back I referred you to Dr. Paul Jones’s book Singing and Making Music, one of my favorite resources on church music.  While Dr. Jones makes a convincing case for many foundational elements of Reformed worship, his essay on “Why Every Christian Should Sing” (Chapter 15) has always stuck with me.  Here are his comments:

As a choir director who is constantly recruiting, and as a leader of the people’s song, I frequently encounter men and women who say that they ‘do not sing.’  There are many reasons for their lack of vocal participation, but I have yet to hear one from anyone with working vocal folds that would be an adequate excuse before God.  Fear is the least-cited but generally all-inclusive reason.…Such self-conscious behavior…has little place in the corporate worship of the Almighty.  God never said, ‘If you feel good enough about yourself, sing to me,’ or ‘As long as you have a peer-approved voice, praise me in song.’  According to Scripture, the praise of God is not an optional activity.

Dr. Jones goes on to quote a lengthy succession of Bible passages that support Christian singing.  Obviously, such references aren’t hard to find at all; in the psalms, they practically leap off the pages.  The opening verses of Psalms 33, 34, 47, 66, 81, 147, and 149 are only a few examples of commands to praise God in song.  He concludes:

We should sing because of God’s attributes and acts in creation and redemption.  We should sing because this was the exemplary response of the biblical saints.  We should sing because God has commanded us to do so.  We should sing because it is a Christian and heavenly activity of eternal duration and significance.

If we do not sing, we disobey God and miss out on the rich blessing derived from this activity.  Do not hold back because you lack musical training, or because your husband says you are tone-deaf, or because it does not seem like a ‘manly’ thing to do.  If Moses, David, and even Jesus Christ sang [Matthew 26:30], it is a manly thing to do, a God-fearing thing to do, and a Christian thing to do.

After reading this convicting exhortation, I’ve come to realize that the principal trap to ensnare our singing is pride.  We tend to recognize pride readily if a choir member or congregant is obviously showing off his or her own voice.  But are we aware that it is just as prideful to avoid singing altogether because we are fearful of making fools of ourselves?  The real root of the matter is this: We can only sing properly when our hearts are humble and our praise is directed to God alone.  I’m sure Dr. Jones would agree that anything else is just noise.

–MRK

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