Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Singing hymns with understanding

This week in the music-theory/sight-singing class I am teaching to a group of men from my church, we focused on the issue of singing with confidence before the Lord in corporate worship. Paul Jones says, "When we are aware of a hymn's substance before we sing, we are more apt to sing the text with energy and conviction than if this were simply a standard, rote activity."

How many of us fall into the habit of singing the words on the page on Sunday without understanding, meditation, or heart-felt praise? I'm afraid the answer is probably "most of us", myself often included (although I enjoy precious few opportunities to lift up my voice in corporate worship these days). As a consequence, how many of us could expound the meaning of a text we've sung only a few minutes prior? Again, likely very few of us.

We need to ask ourselves this: Is God pleased just by the words we sing to Him, or does understanding and resultant joyful expression as beneficiaries of His grace play a determining role in whether or not the praise is genuine, authentic, and pleasing? None of us (I hope) would propose that the actual words we lift up in song are of no consequence. But if God is pleased simply by the words, is the sound of a pagan choir singing a great psalm pleasing to His ears? I believe that God is pleased by the praise of His people. As His people, we ought to offer up our words of praise with loud joyful voices, yes - but joy that proceeds from an understanding of His grace, love, and mercy and a conscious understanding of what we are singing.

So how do we prepare to sing before our Lord, to gain an understanding of "a hymn's substance"? Some churches will release the weekly bulletin in advance, giving the congregants and musicians ample opportunity to review the texts before worship. In other congregations, such as WPC where I attend, the bulletin is only available to the congregation on Sunday morning when we arrive for worship. However, there is still ample time to take a seat in the sanctuary before the service begins to meditate and prepare your heart for worship - including a review of the texts to be sung that morning. In family worship, husbands and fathers should review the texts to the hymns being sung and explain them to the family as part of his instruction.

The point is that when we come to sing songs of praise before our Lord and Creator we are not merely offering mindless repetitions of words on a page but presenting a confident, authentic, joyful offering that arises out of understanding of what is being sung.


Jonathan said...

Jonathan, I was under the impression that the bulletin is released before Sunday morning. Right now at our website is last Sunday's bulletin.

But I know that there have been times when my family has been somewhat organized and looked at the Declaring Our Faith portion on a Saturday evening to make sure that we were actually going to declare what we believe. Once, we actually did go through the base line of the next day's hymns with mom on the piano. But I do agree that it is a good thing to do, and we should try to read through the hymns as well as the "declaring our faith."

Mr. Hall put a lot of effort into that website, and often times we don't even think it exists.

~Jonathan V

Mom said...

It's Thursday night, and the WPC bulletin and hymnlist are already posted for this Sunday. Just thought you might like to know. I don't know what day it's usually posted, but it's usually there at least by Saturday evening.

Jonathan and Chelsea Berkompas said...

Thanks for the heads-up on that. I get the bulletin weekly on Thursdays usually, and had noticed that Mr. Hall was on the email list but didn't connect the dots.