One of the things I love about autumn is that our church choir resumes after their summer break. We sing on Sundays regardless of the season, of course, but the first weekend the choir is back — oh, it is always a joy! As they sing music far too complicated for my untrained voice to follow, my heart soars upward, following each note as it makes its way to heaven.
The fourth century bishop Augustine of Hippo reportedly said, “A person who sings prays twice.” Somehow song lifts our hearts in ways that the spoken word does not. I suspect this is why so many people turn to favorite hymns in times of intense emotion, for music “attunes” our hearts to Christ.
Psalms is one of my favorite books of the Bible. I love the variety of the songs within it, for there seems to be one for almost any emotional state of mind I am in. There are songs of joy and of frustration, songs that cast out fear and express anger. Although we don’t know the exact music that accompanied these profoundly moving pieces, we almost don’t need to know. The words sing in our souls.
A few weeks ago I was asked to pray for a young woman who had gone through a highly traumatic experience. Her story was so awful I almost didn’t know how to pray. So I opened my Bible and prayed Psalm 118 on her behalf:
“When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; He brought me into a spacious place” (Psalm 118:5).
Hear her cry, Lord, and bring her to a spacious place.
“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)
Be with her, Lord, and show her Your way so she is not afraid. Open her heart to Your love, so that whatever mortals can do and have done is as nothing compared to Your peace.
“The Lord is with me; He is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies” (Psalm 118:7).
Yes, be with her, Lord. Be her helper. Help her forgive, help her heal, and in that way help her triumph.
This Psalm is especially moving when I am praying against fear, for I can easily imagine anxiety as swarming “around me like bees,” and I love the fierceness of saying, “in the name of the Lord I cut them down!” (Psalm 118:12). And yet any Psalm can be prayed. For that matter, any treasured Bible verse can be sung.
Did you know that even God sings? It’s true. “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Perhaps this is one reason music resonates so deeply in our hearts: because it is a reflection of our creator, and a way of communicating with Him. We sing to God here on Earth, and when we stand before the throne in heaven we will sing “a new song” (Revelation 14:3).
The Psalmist proclaims, “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (Psalm 104:33). We can open our hearts by opening our lips, offering songs of praise each morning as part of our devotions.
We can sing our way through traffic jams, hum hymns while doing dishes, and lift our hearts by lifting our voices when walking the dog. We can listen to inspiring music as we exercise. There are dozens — even hundreds — of ways music can enrich our spiritual lives and connect us more deeply to Christ.
So let us enter this season of fall with our voices raised in songs of praise, thanksgiving, repentance, sorrow, or whatever emotion is on our hearts. Let us follow the example of King David and use music to express our innermost thoughts. Whether we give glory to God with instruments, by singing along, or by listening as others harmonize, we can grow in love and enrich our worship.