The enemy has duped us into believing that what makes our lungs uniquely Christian is that they don’t have any tobacco in them.
This is a trick. Tobacco-free, cancerous, nicotine-free, or carbon monoxide-ridden — what God wants most is for his church to have gospel-centered lungs: lungs that breathe in God’s grace and sing out God’s praise. So, the aim of this article is going to be narrow, with the hope that its limited focus will strengthen you to sing your guts out in church this Sunday.
Breathe in God’s grace, sing out God’s praise.
In fact, stop for a moment and ask yourself: why do you sing every Sunday in church? If your church is anything like mine, every Sunday you sing two or three songs at the beginning of your service and sing another two or three songs to conclude your service. That’s about twenty-five minutes of singing every Sunday. The number adds up. You spend about ninety minutes a month singing away your Sundays. That’s about eighteen hours every year, almost a full twenty-four-hour day, that you spend singing with your local church.
So, why do you do it? Maybe the elders of the early church decided to include singing in their church gatherings for purely psychological reasons, like: (1) singing releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones; (2) singing releases oxytocin, the stress-reducing hormones; (3) singing decreases feelings of loneliness and depression, and (4) singing enhances feelings of trust and bonding. Maybe.
Or consider Judah. Long ago, this Israelite tribe received a three-chapter, Old Testament prophecy from Zephaniah, a letter spilling over its sides with warnings of coming judgement. Most of the letter is warning: if you belonged to the tribe of Judah, listening to this letter read aloud would have felt like having your hands tied behind your back in a boxing ring for two and a half chapters. But then, halfway through chapter three towards the letter’s end, hope emerges: “‘Wait for me,’ declares the LORD.” (Zeph. 3:8) And this is the practice of waiting that God demands from Judah: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” (Zeph. 3:14) And as the letter closes, God roots his command to sing in his character: “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.” (Zeph. 3:17) Christians sing because God sings over us.
Thomas Manton, an old puritan pastor, once described singing this way: “Singing is the vent of our joy.” As we try to embolden ourselves to sing our guts out this Sunday, that’s a helpful image.
Now, consider King David. In Psalm 51:14, David asks to be delivered from his “bloodguiltiness.” This is a confession of his guilt for Uriah’s murder, and it’s also a reference to Old Testament law, particularly: “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death . . . If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.” (Lev. 24:17-20) In other words, David feels the carbon monoxide of the law building in his lungs. Surely, he’s wondering: will I be put to death for plotting the murder of Uriah? David is feeling the smoke of the law building in his spirit: will I be stoned to death? Will I receive the judgement of God for this? The pressure of the law, like hot trapped air, must have been growing more and more uncomfortable, hotter and hotter, until God delivers him from his sin and opens David’s vent, and singing comes out! “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness . . . and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.” (Ps. 51:14) And there’s more: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” (Ps. 51:15)
Consider Jesus. After stumping a Jewish teacher, Jesus says this: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear it’s sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) Suppose for a minute that you can visualize the air molecules that make up the wind of the Holy Spirit. Maybe you picture them as little dots, intricately connected in the shape of a gust of wind, like a science textbook might illustrate. Then suppose that, by the grace of God, the gust of wind blows in your direction. You inhale the air molecules and radical transformation begins. Picture an aerial view of the human body. The first destination for the air molecules is your lungs and from there, in the blink of an eye, the Holy Spirit then jumps into the bloodstream until he reaches your heart. After moving through both sides of the heart, the air molecules jump into your arteries and, from there, the Holy Spirit circulates himself through your entire body: into your lungs, heart, brain, and other vital body parts.
Here’s the point. If God has given you the Holy Spirit, he wants to regenerate every square inch of you: your heart, mind, mouth, tongue, and lungs. Saved people aren’t just the recipients of a renewed mind or a regenerated heart. Saved people sing!
If you gather together liberal Christians or conservative Christians, poor Christians or rich Christians, if you make Christians worship Jesus illegally underground or if you let Christians worship Jesus in a megachurch building, no matter who you gather or where you put them: Christians sing. So, sing because you have been delivered. Sing because you have been forgiven. Sing because you have been set free. Sing because you have been given new lungs. Sing loudly!
And I anticipate that some of you might say: I can’t sing. I don’t want to sing. If that’s you, let’s talk.
The problem might be practical. Your church’s worship music might be too loud, it might be too soft; your church’s lighting might be turned up too bright, it might be turned down too dim; you might be too embarrassed of your voice or you might be too exhausted on Sunday mornings. It might be a practical problem, but probably not.
It’s probably a theological problem. Earlier in this article, this Bible verse probably seemed like a foreign language: “he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph. 3:17)
Six months ago, my first child came into my life. While my wife was on maternity leave, there were these incredible mornings when I would be studying in my living room, early in the morning, while everybody in the house slept. There wasn’t a noise. Or a squeak. Or a sound. And then my son would wake up. As he awoke to the darkness of his room, the first noises that would escape him were crying and wailing.
Then, I would hear our bedroom door open and my wife tiptoe down the hallway. When she opened my son’s bedroom door, she would always meet the crying with her singing: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his glorious face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”
To me in the living room, it sounded like war. Light versus darkness, hope versus hopelessness, singing versus crying. I could see it in my heart’s imagination. And little by little, the crying would get softer and softer and softer and, eventually, the singing would always win the battle. My wife would then deliver my son from the dark bedroom into the brightness of our living room, and he would have this gigantic smile stretched across his face. Four or five months later, he now sings himself to sleep.
So perhaps singing is a struggle because you haven’t been delivered from darkness. Or maybe you have, but you have never heard the Father sing over you.
Here’s what it sounds like: first, picture a first-century Jewish man named Jesus crucified publically before a crowd. What makes this picture so horrifying is not the blood, nails, or even the darkness. The horror of it all is that God the Father is silent. God says nothing. As Jesus hangs on the cross and the unbearable weight of noiselessness falls upon him, he cries out with a loud voice: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Second, picture this same first-century Jewish man three years earlier baptized publically before a crowd. What makes this picture so glorious is not the weather, the heavens opening up, or even the dove that descends upon Jesus. The glory of it all is that God the Father is exultant. God rejoices over his son. With a loud voice and a tone shaped by pleasure, God says: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased!”
These two pictures, harmonized together, make the melody of God’s song for you: Jesus got your cross, you get his baptism. Jesus received God’s silence, you now receive God’s singing.Christ experienced God’s absence so that you could experience God’s presence. The Son said to the Father: “why have you forsaken me?” so that the Father could say to you: “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.”
So, this Sunday, sing along.
Before this was an article written for Dead Men, this was a sermon preached for a local church. Watch the sermon here:
If you gather together liberal Christians or conservative Christians, if you gather together poor Christians or rich Christians, if you make Christians worship Jesus illegally underground or if you…