Category Archives: singing

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.

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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!

Wherever?

Remember your promise to me; it is my only hope.

Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles.

The proud hold me in utter contempt, but I do not turn away from your instructions.

I meditate on your age-old regulations; O Lord they comfort me.

I become furious with the wicked, because they reject your instructions.

Your decrees have been the theme of my songs wherever I have lived.

I reflect at night on who you are, O Lord; therefore, I obey your instructions.

This is how I spend my life: obeying your commandments.

(Psalm 119. 49-55)

What sweet words I find at the start of this lovely extract from Psalm 119, ” your promise to me”, reminding me where my ultimate security lies in the face of all that life throw at me! In the months ahead, I know that I will find myself in need of that solid reassurance as our family faces the biggest upheaval we have known since our first child arrived and parenthood commenced!

It is likely that in April, in a little church just behind the beach in this picture, my husband will be voted in as the minister of the local parish, and in the summer we will leave the city to learn how to live in a relatively isolated part of Scotland. We have been assured at every step thus far that God is in charge, and his timing is right not only for our family, but also the congregations involved – the one we leave and the one we are called to.

The God who has led us thus far, into marriage; ministry; parenthood; is a faithful God, one who has called us to know and be loved by Him. We have a God who has graciously invited us to be part of His great work in the world, part of the redemption of a people who will praise Him and enjoy Him for ever. We need no approval from any man, it is nothing to us if others regard our decision as foolish, because only God’s opinion really matters – He asks us to go, and to obey His instruction is our privilege and pleasure.

The psalmist is testifying to the way that God’s words to Him are a constant source of comfort in trouble – and is that not the case for us? We have a communicating God, one who has chosen not to remain anonymous or remote, but to be known, and to share His heart with us. That heart is full of tender, forgiving and transforming love, of compassion for the pain of living in a world which is deeply scarred and troubled. Our God knows that we suffer, and His promise to us is constant presence, we are never alone in the dark. He will keep us safe through all that may come, and His promise is that He is always at work in us to refine us into the likeness of Jesus, so that none of what we endure will be wasted. We have a glorious hope of resurrection life, a current promise of divine strength, and the courage of knowing that we are obeying our Lord’s explicit command – a purpose, an enabling and a future to look forward to.

The songs of God’s people have been a source of strength and comfort to me for as long as I can remember, and the best ones are retelling of great truths, ways of calling to mind and celebrating all that we know of God, His acts and character. Many times, I find a phrase coming to mind and as I trace the rest of the verse and sing it to myself, I am blest and it seems my perspective is brought back into line with God’s ways of thinking and working. It is surely this experience to which the psalmist is referring as he talks of how God’s decrees are the theme of his songs….wherever he has lived.

As I look back along the story of my life – the physical places I have lived, but also the stages of life and experiences I have known – I am reassured, that the God who has been faithful through so much will continue to keep His word to me. I can rely on Him, and actively look for the ways He will remind me of His presence with, purpose for, and delight in me.

All praise be to Him and may my life continue to become more and more pleasing to Him!

Praise to the holiest…

Praise to the holiest in the height, and in the depth be praise – 

In all his words most wonderful, most sure in all his ways.

(J.H. Newman 1801-90)

I am an amateur musician, a choral singer, with no formal training but a deep delight in singing as part of a larger group. It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to be part of a large symphonic chorus here in my home city, where we are privileged to work with professionals and perform on a public platform with world-class musicians. I especially appreciate singing music which expresses or reflects aspects of my faith, and the words with which I opened this post are from one such piece – The Dream of Gerontius, by the English composer Edward Elgar. He set words by Cardinal John Newman, meditating on the passage of the Christian through death to glory, which include this great hymn rejoicing in the utter goodness of our God. It was our close of season concert this year, with performances on Friday and Saturday evenings in Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively, and our voices are all very tired today!

The composer, Elgar, was a devout Roman Catholic and dedicated the work to the glory of God, pouring out into it a very personal expression of faith and the beauty, peace and strength which it brought to his life. When I sing such pieces, I am worshipping God too, regardless of the views of those around me, pouring out my voice as an act of willed praise and testimony. Many of my fellow musicians, while not sharing my faith, are deeply moved by the music and words which they sing, and I pray that God will be at work in their lives to remove the blindness which keeps them from seeing and accepting Him as the author of all the good things which they love and appreciate so much.

I believe that our worship of God consists of much more than merely our singing of songs on a Sunday morning – or on any other occasions! Worship is about an attitude of heart and mind, in which all that we are and have is continually made available to God for his glory and the blessing of others. So it can be as small and quiet a thing as a moment of urgent, silent prayer for a friend who is in need; the making of a cup of tea for a colleague who is too busy to get one for themselves; the hug or squeeze of the arm to someone in distress. My worship of God is my whole life – although I know that every day I am distracted and forget, this is still the truth, and is still my daily goal. May God be glorified in and through me, whether by noisy, obvious acts of praise, or by quiet private acts of service, they are all equally valuable.

But of course, as a singer, I am thankful that God has made it clear in the bible that music can be central to our expressions of joy, thankfulness, adoration, lament and grieving. We are made, in God’s image, in such a way that melody and rhythm are an integral part of who we are and how we express ourselves – surely that means that God is the source of all melody, that he is the great singer of songs and the consummate composer! When we make music, we reflect something very significant in God’s character, and can therefore surely delight in the gift while always remembering the Giver! When we begin to revere the music itself, seeking our fulfilment there, then we have set up an idol in place of God and begin to be led astray by it. But when God is first, then music is a wonderful tool for our own pleasure and the blessing of others.

I know that I will be singing bits of Gerontius to myself for days, it is so fresh in my mind and has gone so deep – and what better phrases to have buzzing in my mind than these?

O loving wisdom of our God! When all was sin and shame, a second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.

O wisest love! that flesh and blood, which did in Adam fail, should strive afresh against the foe, should strive and should prevail!

O generous love! that he who smote in man, for man, the foe, the double agony in man, for man should undergo…

(JH Newman)

May this generous love be flowing so deeply and strongly through us in the days ahead that our lives bring blessing to all those around us, and glory to the Holiest in the heights!