In the old farm-country church where I was raised, there was a monthly tradition: Hymn Night. All the senior saints would fill up the pews and, for an hour or so, people would shout out hymn numbers so that we could all turn in our hymnals and sing together “How Firm A Foundation” or “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” or “Just As I Am.” My brother and I would try to keep serious faces as we’d yell out, “47!”—also known as the entire “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s Messiah—eating up a good 20 minutes of hymn night, and at least taking some control over our own boredom. Because, of course, what could be more boring than a bunch of old people singing old songs?
I think back on that time now, knowing the history of some of those old songs, and some of those people, and realize that there was probably a whole lot more going on than I understood. Singing together is not something our culture really does, outside of fight songs at football games, and that is our loss. There are powerful things that happen when we raise our voices together. Colossians 3:16 puts it this way:
“Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you,
in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms,
hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
When we sing together, we are hearing the voices of our friends, our neighbors, and our families proclaiming the goodness and the promises of God. We are telling ourselves the gospel anew every time we do this. These familiar voices in our community—voices we know and trust—are reminding us that God is present and fighting for us, even when we forget or don’t feel it. This is one of the reasons it’s so important for children to hear their fathers sing in worship. They are watching as we witness to our communities and ourselves.
The story in Acts 16 shows us just how much power there really can be when we sing to our God, particularly in times of darkness and sorrow. Is the good news any less good when our circumstances aren’t? Not at all! It’s at our lowest point when the gospel is most beautiful and transformative.
We don’t really have an image of this in our modern Western culture. I live in the American South, though, where the generational wounds of slavery and oppression are still fresh. Amid the rolling hills and the Civil War battle markers you can almost still hear the Negro spirituals of slaves in the fields, crying out to God in lament and praise.
These were the melodies of hope in a hopeless place. Those songs were reminders that God had not abandoned His people, and that He was near to the broken-hearted. The voices of mothers and fathers singing together were seeds planted in the hearts of the children, who eventually grew to see a dawning light of deliverance in their circumstances. What’s more, those children would grow into a richer and more fervent faith, having witnessed their community praising and worshiping God in times of both joy and sorrow.
There aren’t a lot of earthquakes and jailbreaks on your typical Sunday morning, as there weren’t in the cotton fields of the South or on Hymn Nights in my hometown, but God is using our voices in worship together in powerful ways. Spiritual chains are being broken, hope is being restored, and we are slowly being transformed into the likeness of the One to whom we sing.
I need to hear you, and you need to hear me. Lift your voices, Church! “Hallelujah! How good it is to sing to our God!”
Written by Andrew Osenga