Category Archives: singing

Can’t help myself!

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…And God said, “let there be light..let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear…let the land produce vegetation… let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night”…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

(Gen 1.1,3,9,11,14&31)

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is the son of man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.

(Ps 8.1-5)

My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.

(Ps 108.1-5)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

(James 1.17&18)

Do you ever think about praise as a means of defeating evil? That is how the psalmist describes it in Psalm 8, giving the voices of children raised in faith the power to advance God’s kingdom and silence the wicked! I love this, because it helps me to understand why it is always good to praise God, even when we are in trouble, weighed down by burdens of our own, or those of others.

When we declare in the face of the darkness that God is, that he is good, loving, faithful and utterly trustworthy, then the kingdom is being built. We may not see how God uses those statements of faith, sometimes whispered from breaking hearts, but he does.

And sometimes, in spite of the darkness in the world around us, we are simply prompted to praise by the beauty we see around us – and living where I do now, this happens very frequently! I sing with the psalmist, from a heart that overflows with delight, gratitude and deep joy, responding to the light, the colours, the sights, smells and sounds around me. I am so thankful to be alive today; so thankful for the physical strength which I have been given to move and work and play; deeply grateful for the mind and spirit which enable me to appreciate and grow in love for my God and all he has done.

God made it, and made it very good; and even all the consequences of human rebellion cannot disguise the vision of the creator, or take all the joy out of creation’s natural constant song of praise to its maker. The mountains and seas rejoice in their elements, the wind whispers and roars songs of praise; the trees and flowers of the field shout ‘Glory!’, and the creatures each in their place display his power, might, and delight in details and in the ridiculous.

I am made in God’s image, I share in some small way the delight which God has in all he has made – so that my joy in the beauty around me is a right and proper thing; a gift to be rejoiced in, and given thanks for. When I am gladdened, lifted up in my spirit, I sing thanksgivings in my heart to my Father God, and in sharing my joy, I am enriched and He is exalted because all the glory goes to Him.

Let me never neglect this ministry of rejoicing before my God, of fulfilling my debt of thanksgiving and praise, so that I might do my part in advancing his kingdom, standing against evil and proclaiming Christ’s victory. Let my voice not be silent among the chorus of creation, because I am both made and remade, I have double reason to shout alongside the trees, the birds, the glory of light upon the water and the wind over the moors!

Shout with joy, all my being rejoice and sing before your Lord and King; exult in his goodness and acknowledge in all things that He is God!

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Bursting with praise!

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

(Ps 19.1-3)

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good..

(Gen 1.31)

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

(Rom 1.20)

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;

(Ps 96.10-13)

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

(Isa 55.10-12)

This autumn has been a fitful, boisterous and wet one in my part of the world, with few settled days to enjoy the changing colours of the trees, and a great deal of strong winds and heavy rain. The gales largely stripped the trees of their leaves before the colours had ripened into gold and bronze, and the dark, rainy days have muted the opulent colours of russet bracken and purple brown heather so that they are barely noticeable. But when the sun has made it through the storms, we have rejoiced indeed in the transient glory which is an autumnal palette, and our spirits have been refreshed and nourished by the riches all around.

On such days, I call to mind the wonderful poetry of the psalms and prophets as they speak of how all creation rejoices in the creator and continually praises him whose handiwork they are. It is good for us to join in that song of praise; to put aside all requests and fears; to look away from the brokenness to the beauty, and to allow these things to give our souls ease.

Yes, all these things are transient; but their song is none the less powerful for that. The coming darkness of winter days, the knowledge that trees will soon be bare, and all nature withdraw into herself to wait and prepare for the sure-awakening spring, these things are part of the rich song of worship which accepts the ways God has woven into the world. As a created being, one who knows from whom her identity and worth come, I can also surrender to that providence, and trust the good God who has decreed all that shall be part of my life.

Because I have Christ, I am in tune with creation’s song; I know to whom I owe thanks for all that I see and receive. His purposes for the world and all within it inform my praise, I know that while this world delights me, it is only a taste of the inexpressible joy which awaits…One day, I shall awake in the new earth, in the realm for which I was made, where all sadness and mourning shall have fled away, and where I will walk forever in unshadowed companionship with not only all those who call Christ Lord, but with my Lord himself. All this, I know now, as surely as I know that he will keep me safe until that day. This is reason enough to lift my voice with the trees of the field and the hills around, to glorify the Lord of heaven and lose myself in worship.

Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen:
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.

(GW Robinson 1838-1877)

 

Thank you letters…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Phil.4.6&7)

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live…Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you…How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people…I will sacrifice a thank-offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. 

(Ps 116.1,2,7,12-14,17)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever..It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man…I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation…Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord…This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it…The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks; you are my God and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

(Ps 118.1,8,13&14,19,24,27-29)

Young children find the business of writing thank you letters a dreadful blot on a special day like Christmas, but as an adult, receiving written thanks from friends, and family after birthdays, or special occasions, I understand why we were trained in this discipline. We give the gift – our time, our money, our thoughtful present – and hope that it will be noticed, be acceptable, hope that we have been a blessing! And then the letter arrives, and we KNOW that we did a good thing, and can enjoy the pleasure that we gave all over again! The good things will not be wasted or undervalued.

Now, I am not suggesting that our eternal, all-knowing and mighty God is in need of our thanks in order to make him feel better. We can do nothing to change how God feels about us, the children for whom his son died. We can however glorify him and be blessed ourselves in so doing when we take time to explicitly recognise and thank him for the good things we have. Thanking God and enjoying his good gifts in his company – using them for the purpose he designed, and giving him all the credit for the results – are things we are commanded to do for our own good and as the only sensible response to his incredible generosity.

When I take time to recognise the miracles which go into providing each thing that appears on my plate at breakfast time, I find myself praising the God who ordained seasons, who gives the power of germination to seeds, who presides over the rain and sun and is Lord of creation – in all its glorious complexity and beauty.

When I take time to acknowledge the miracle which is my own continuing existence – I woke up today; I can breathe and walk, I can think and see; I have a secure place to live and a land where the rule of law keeps me safe – then I find myself praising the God who rules over all power and authority, and who has ordained already all the days of my life. I am reminded that I can trust in him, and in nothing else, since I cannot control any of these things.

When I take time to see what God is doing in my life and those around me – people who encourage and help me; daily opportunities to love and serve and witness; evidence of growing faith, strengthening love, earnest persevering obedience – then I find myself praising and leaning on the God who has promised never to leave or abandon his children, and also to bring to glorious completion the work he has begun in their lives.

Perhaps most significantly, when I take time to acknowledge the difference which Jesus Christ makes in my life – my Lord and Saviour, the one who created a new heart in me and who died that I might be free from guilt and the power of sin, that I might look forward to a life without death in a new earth and new heaven – then I find myself prostrate, flat out in worship of God who for sheer love, made me his child and called me home to his arms.

When my daily life consists in spoken and unspoken thank-you letters to God, then I will live humbly, obediently, trusting and at peace.. May God have mercy and stir up in me the habit of thankfulness.

 

 

And so it comes to pass…

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

(Psalm 100)

O God of Bethel, by whose hand Thy people still are fed,
Who through this weary pilgrimage hast all our fathers led.

Our vows, our prayers, we now present before thy throne of grace;
God of our Fathers, be the God of their succeeding race

Through each perplexing path of life our wandering footsteps guide;
Give us each day our daily bread, and raiment fit provide.

Such blessings from Thy gracious hand our humble prayers implore;
And Thou shalt be our chosen God, and portion evermore.

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751), Scottish Paraphrases, 1781

The hundredth psalm is subtitled in my bible, “for giving thanks”, a serious understatement when it comes to describing that glorious outpouring, in only a few verses, of praise and trust. I grew up in the Scottish psalm singing tradition, so that the words are inextricably linked to an ancient tune, and I can’t say them, but must sing, slipping into the familiar cadences and measured, joyfully steady pace of the music. I hear the echoes of my father and mother singing alongside, in the days when we shared in the worship of God together, and am grateful over again to the church where I was raised, for giving me this heritage of music and word together.

The same is true for the paraphrase (it means a song or hymn based very closely on a particular passage, or passages of scripture, and was a key part of Scottish church singing for centuries). Again, the marriage of words and music is so deeply embedded that I cannot sing these words to any other tune, but who needs variety when the originals are so good! This hymn of total dependence on God, based on his faithfulness to those who have gone before us, is a wonderfully rich prayer for every day of our lives, and those of our loved ones.

I am using them together this week, because our family is giving thanks, and looking to the future as we celebrate our son’s engagement to marry – at an as yet unspecified date – a young woman who shares his deep faith, and commitment to living for God wherever that may take them. It is very humbling when the next generation take such significant steps, another occasion for me as mother to learn to let go, and trust that my heavenly Father knows and loves even better than I do!

I rejoice that my God is faithful through all the generations; and I am deeply thankful that my son has grown into saving faith in Christ, witnessing publicly to his Lord and committing himself to a life of pilgrimage. As a Christian parent, I am well aware that such faith is the only really important thing that one’s child needs, and also, that I have no power to impart it, but depend on God’s grace and the work of his spirit in my children. What a joy then, to see him thus affirm his faith, and to find that God has led him to a life-partner, one who can cherish and console, can exhort and comfort; and one to whom my son can devote all his powers of loving and nurturing.

Christian marriage brings many of the same challenges as the union of those with no faith, but it has one key difference – the presence of a living, loving God by whose power both partners are enabled to forgive and live with one another, and to cope with whatever challenges they might face. It is a great relief, as a parent, to be able to commit these children of my heart to the God whom they trust, knowing that He has their best interests at heart too, and will fulfill his purposes in their lives.

The pilgrimage will at times be weary; the path will often be perplexing; but in looking to God, I can pray with confidence that my succeeding race will find all their needs are met, their faith strengthened, and that God will be glorified in and through them.

A singing faith…

 

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skilfully, and shout for joy!

(Psalm 33.1-3)

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Ephesians 5.18-20)

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…and they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. 

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise! 

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever! The four living creatures said, AMEN, and the elders fell down and worshipped.

(Revelation 5.6, 9-14)

 

Music is to be praised as second only to the Word of God because by her are all the emotions swayed. Nothing on earth is more mighty to make the sad gay and the gay sad, to hearten the downcast, mellow the overweening, temper the exuberant or mollify the vengeful….this precious gift has been bestowed on men alone to remind them that they are created to praise and magnify the Lord.

Martin Luther, on music…1538

Do I need to add anything more?! Dear friends, we may not think that music is our particular gift, that our voice is nothing special, that the serious business of learning from the bible is the principle reason for meeting together as believers… But none of that is to the point!

We are commanded by our God, the one who made us and knows what we are capable of and also what is to our benefit, to SING, to make a joyful noise, and to use whatever musical instruments come to hand in order to add to the experience. We are not told to sing only when we feel like it; to sing only using certain forms of words; to sing only in church; to sing only in four-part harmony; to sing only unaccompanied by instruments, or only with instruments. It is really quite simple…humankind is created with the ability to make music, we have an inbuilt instrument, and God says to us, “I gave you that voice for a purpose, USE IT! principally to glorify me, and also for your own pleasure.”

When his people sing, when we use the voices he has given us, I believe that our loving Father delights in our music – not because of our polished performance, but because it is our personal response to all that he is and has done for us. I believe that each individual voice is heard within the whole – and if we deliberately withhold our song, he misses us. I also believe that singing our faith is a powerful way of learning our theology – how often do I find myself remembering lines from hymns which speak of deep truths, bringing comfort and encouragement. Singing is good for us, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Let’s do it with enthusiasm, and be willing to learn to do it better!

I could write at length on this, but I want to let the words of scripture speak for themselves , so will just close with one last thing that has always puzzled me…why is it that so many faithful followers of Jesus seem unable to sing with feeling? I don’t mean that we should be constantly in a state of brainless ecstasy, but rather that the truth we are singing should be expressed and reflected in the way we sing… Folk have commented that I smile often as I sing – it never occured to me that this was peculiar; of course I smile, I am singing to my Saviour, I am full of thankfulness, I must smile! And equally, at times I weep, and can barely make a sound, as I am overcome by the message of a song.. And yet so many seem to sing as if there were no connection between the words coming form their lips, and their hearts….it’s odd.

This has been a rather long post, but it only touches the surface of a big subject. Let us indeed encourage and sing to one another, let us begin to rehearse in earnest for the great day when we join the chorus of the redeemed in the new creation, to give our hearts in praise to our glorious Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ..just do it!

I just need to sing!

My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.

(Ps 108.1-5)

I admit it is a little foolish to write about singing – I should just go and sing – but I wanted to explore and share a little of what happens to prompt my singing, of why it can be the only right response to what is happening in my life, and thoughts.

Consider the wonder which is a new day. The sun has risen again, all the laws of nature continue to operate , and life is sustained. I have slept – a huge blessing in itself – and am awake. My body continues to function – that is a gift of God, he could have chosen to take me home, but he has granted me this new day in which to live, breathe, see and talk to other people – each one of whom is a unique and precious creation in God’s eyes. The very pattern of the clouds in the sky above the hills is new every morning, never to be repeated. My eyes – a scientific marvel still beyond our full comprehension – register colour, shape, distance and details, so that my mind makes sense of the world around me.

In that world there is so much to touch my heart with wonder, and drive me to my knees in thankfulness to the creator, the original singer of songs. See the delicate details of petals, the brilliance of colour, and beauty of forms; look at the strong silhouettes of the trees – shorn of leaves at this time so that I may glory in the variety of structures, the colours and textures of bark. Listen for the birds in the thickets, or calling overhead as they ride the wind and exalt their maker by their effortless mastery of the air. Watch the tiniest finches throng the bird feeder, with bright colours and quivering alertness to every possible danger – and remember that not one falls to the ground without its maker knowing!

The savour of the simplest of foods, the smell of fresh coffee and superb thirst-quenching power of pure water – a luxury which I take too easily for granted – all should prompt my profound thanks.

All these good things, which I cannot earn, have not deserved, and yet which I receive in such bountiful measure…And somehow, until I have rendered thanks for them, my pleasure is incomplete, lacking. It is in praising my Father, the giver of all good gifts, that I fully realise the riches which I have. And for me, that means singing my thanks, my heart is much too full for mere spoken words to give expression to the joy, the sense of astonished gratitude, which is mine.

I am humbled when I remember that for too many in this world, the physical daily blessings which I receive are unheard of luxuries, but it is good for me to be reminded that my reasons for thankfulness must not depend upon my bodily well-being. If my thankfulness is not ultimately – as the psalmist’s was – for the love and faithfulness of my God, then it is misguided, ungodly and transient.

The God who made this world is good, all the time, and made a world which would speak of his power, beauty, and love. But the gifts themselves are not the ultimate good, God is, and I rejoice most truly when I rejoice in him – his character and his salvation, freely given to me, at great cost to him. This is why singing as part of public worship is so important – it allows us to give expression to our sense of indebtedness, our delight in God, our deep thankfulness for his love, and our awareness of how little we have deserved such goodness.

We are creatures with emotions, and we are made with music in our souls. I believe that we are designed to glorify our God at least in part by expressing our loving response to him in our singing – and that when we do, we are making an acceptable offering to him; a sacrifice of praise.

So next time you have been profoundly moved by your bible reading; by a sermon; by the beauty of a sunset or the laugh of a beloved child, let that gift prompt your praise in music. Join me in being those who sing songs of praise as they walk the hills and beaches; or drive under great trees and by fair fields, and who remember that the God who made all this has loved and saved us, individually for his glory and pleasure!

Getting to know me…

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Ephesians 5.18-20)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speed; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

(Psalm 19.1-4)

David, the shepherd boy, the giant slayer, and beloved king of Israel, is also described in the second book of Samuel, as “the man anointed by the God of Jacob, Israel’s singer of songs. The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.” (2Sam 23.1)

The gift of song-writing was given to David as part of God’s great plan to bless the whole world through his chosen nation, although his people probably valued his military and leadership skills more highly while he was alive! David’s songs, left to us in the collection of Psalms, are the word of God to us just as surely as the words of the books of law, history and prophecy. He knew that this gift came from God, and that what he was doing was of eternal power and significance.

More than that, David knew that they were songs, not just poems or words to be spoken. He knew that music has a divine power to drive truth into the human heart, and to release human sorrow, joy and gladness, bringing healing and wholeness to the singers. Modern research simply confirms what singers have always known – it is good for you! We feel physically better, but also emotionally better, when we sing. And as followers of Jesus, we have much to sing about.

We join in the song of creation, adding our voices to those of the heavens in praising our maker. We sing with all the ransomed souls around the world, adoring the one who loves us enough to become human and even to die so that we might live with him. And we also follow David’s example in singing about our griefs, our struggles with injustice and oppression, with the sheer wanton destruction caused by evil in the heart of mankind.

Our new congregation has for some years held a weekly Songs of Praise event during the summer months, open to all and giving us the chance to sing the sun down on a Sunday evening. Although it can seem a bit daunting to go out again after two services, it is in fact such a sweet and wholesome time of fellowship together and well worth the effort. No preparation is required, our accompanist can play literally every song in the book, so folk just call out what they would like to sing and away we go!

At the close of the service last week, my neighbour turned to me and said, “That’s a bad cold you’ve got!” I replied that it was no cold which had caused me to blow my nose and wipe my eyes so frequently, but rather the emotions which our songs had brought. One after another celebrating the awesome sacrifice of Jesus; His tender love for us; our sure hope – through all trouble – of glory to come; our shame at our sin and thankfulness for forgiveness, cleansing and transformation; affirmations of our own vows to follow and serve him and him alone. It had been a night of floodgates opening in my heart, and I was utterly drained and profoundly thankful.

I hope that my new congregation will quickly accustom themselves to the sight of their minister’s wife in floods of tears, because it happens so often! I cannot sing of my Lord and his love without being deeply moved, and how can I not show it? Perhaps my own tears – sometimes of joy, sometimes of sorrow, sometimes of homesickness for heaven –  will help others around me to freely express their feelings and enrich our times of worshipping God together.

I am not ashamed of my Lord, and I will not be ashamed of the depth of emotion which he stirs in my heart. Let us all rejoice in his praise, and join the glory of the heavens in lifting his name high!