HOW CAN I KEEP SINGING? HAS SOMEONE CHANGED THE SONG?

Singer struggling  I find deeply meaningful the traditional hymn, How Can I Keep from Singing?, also known by its first line, “My life flows on in endless song.” Likewise meaningful is the newer worship song that borrows much from the 1868 hymn accredited by some to an unknown “Pauline T.” and by many hymnals to Baptist minister/teacher/hymnwriter, Robert Lowry. Whether singing the old hymn or the Chris Tomlin/Ed Cash/Matt Redman version, either expression carries a sentiment of a passionate spirit of praise and heartfelt worship such that testifies the singer simply cannot help but sing. Both worship song and hymn express that even in the struggle of life’s storms there is “an endless song,” though it may be a “far-off hymn,” still “it finds an echo in my soul.” The hymn and worship song reflect a sentiment that I fear has been lost in many settings that are called worship. Of course, I am not just speaking in relation to these two songs, but rather to worship singing itself. I wonder if many can no longer hear that “far-off hymn,” the “endless song,” or if it cannot echo in their soul because their soul has no ear to hear.  I wonder if their sentiment would instead be “How can I keep singing?”  or just “How can I sing since I have nothing to sing about?”

Much has been written about stylistic and musical jockeying that has been done with worship singing over the last fifty or sixty years that has morphed “worship music” into little more than listening to the loud band, the polished choir, the grand organ, the orchestra, the virtuoso soloist, etc. In recent days more and more leaders seem to be awakening to the fact of this distortion of the congregational worship environment. I am thrilled to read blogposts and musings from some who have engineered and trumpeted a performance environment before, but who have had an epiphany that something needs to change. It is as though someone looked up one Sunday and realized, “Hey! Ain’t nobody singing out there!” Yes, folks, it hardly seems like “admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” if everyone is standing around watching the leader(s) do their thing and then offering up a holy golf clap after the song ends, or when the leader tries to jack up the applause meter a bit more by hollering into a microphone, “let’s give the Lord a hand!” Really? Sorry, but it just seems grotesquely disingenuous. I fear that we have changed the disposition of the worshiper from “How can I keep from singing?” to “How can I keep singing?”

Undoubtedly, mechanics and fundamental musical components are at play in discouraging full participation in worship singing, but that is not my purpose in this post. I fear a much more severe problem that will never be fixed by changing the mechanics. I am deeply concerned that what may well be keeping many would-be worshipers from singing is that there is not a genuine connection to “the endless song,” the “far-off hymn.” I am fearful that we may have pews and chairs of people that have not truly been born again. I am reluctant to even write such a thing because it certainly is not for me to judge anyone ever, and those who sometimes use the statistics to build up a kind of salvation numbers game generally repulse me. Only God truly transforms a life. He alone knows what is in the heart. There is reason, however, that estimates by the George Barna group, Billy Graham association, and others estimate that anywhere from 65% to 90% of those who attend church are unsaved. We could discuss soteriology at this point, but rather I would ask leaders to at least consider whether we have piled so much fluff in our worship environments so as to presumably make people feel like they are worshiping, but have instead simply drowned out the discoverability of the truth that many are generally disengaged. Regardless of your particular theological understanding of salvation it speaks volumes (pun intended) when music leaders crank the volume to levels that are harmful to the human ear in order to cover the fact that so few are actually singing in worship. The same can be true of a blaring pipe organ. It is certainly fair to say there is a place for a so-called Christian concert, whether rock ‘n roll or sacred classical. These kinds of events may well minister and contribute to the development of maturing worshipers, but they do not take the place of admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Nowhere does the scripture say, “Listen to a new song unto the Lord.” Rather, we know it directs emphatically to “Sing a new song to the Lord!” Over and again it says, “Sing!” But I wonder if oft-heard excuses like “I just don’t sing,” or “nobody wants to hear me sing” are really just cover up for “sorry, but there is no song here.”

The song we see in scripture is the song of deliverance, the sweet song of salvation. From the Song of Moses sung by Israelites after crossing the Red Sea to the Great Hallel in the Psalms to the hymns of the New Testament that announce the coming Savior, declare the saving power of His death on the cross and resurrection, and promise His return, the theme is God’s glorious acts of saving grace. We are still singing that song today, whether Victory in Jesus, A Mighty Fortress, or Glorious Day, and there is no need to try and change over to an over-romanticized song in order to try to get people to “feel their love for God” as I heard one leader describe it. The miracle is His love for us even while we were yet sinners. Instead of trying to manipulate feelings surely we are better served praying and studying to hide God’s Word in our heart. Could we pray that He might “stir the slumbering chords again?” Oh, would that the Spirit send fresh wind, fresh fire that we might be regenerated or reminded according to our need, and be able to sing with authentic ferver:

Wonderful, wonderful Jesus

In the heart He implanteth a song:

A song of deliverance, of courage, of strength

In the heart He implanteth a song[1]

 

[1] Anna B Russell Wonderful, Wonderful Jesus in Baptist Hymnal 2008, #567

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts

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6 Comments on “HOW CAN I KEEP SINGING? HAS SOMEONE CHANGED THE SONG?”

  1. Suzanne Martin Says:

    At a loss for words other than to simply say, “Amen.” Music is such an integral part of my life, I cannot imagine life without it. Although since Don’s passing, the music in church that wove our lives forever together causes memories to spill over from my eyes; it lifts me up and out of the sadness to heights of worship and praise. “Then sings my soul…….”


  2. Great article, Paul. Thanks for sharing it

  3. kai Says:

    Good I kwon this is nice


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