Congregational Singing: A taste of heaven

One of the great burden-lifting joys God has graced me with is a church that values congregational singing. I love the Christ’s church, caring for her is the joy and duty and mission of my life. Proclaiming her message and protecting her purity is, by God’s grace, what I’ll spend the rest of my life doing. I don’t want to start a successful business, be president of a large company, or spend my life traveling the world. I want to serve the church. Period.

I don’t love the church because it’s an easy place to be. I’ve heard, and have no problem believing, that there is no “occupation” more difficult than pastor. It isn’t that everyone is “nice” at church. That’s not even true. It’s not that I’m a people-person and I need to be around people a lot. What draws me is the picture of what’s happening every time we gather. I am dwarfed by the vastness of God and the Great Story that, though blind I often am, is all around me. But when we sing– together, loud, enthralled–I am lifted out of myself to realize what is really happening. I remember what Christ’s church is all about. And it’s far more than a song.

Sinners, made saints by the grace of God, come to behold their Creator, to hear from him, and to align themselves together to worship obey him. God comes down, steps in, speaks life and truth and joy, and we are changed– even if it’s only a degree (2 Cor. 3:18).

So as I look around the congregation, I see trophies of grace, and am drawn to the great God-triumphant, Redeemer Jesus, who is scooping up mounds of dirt and making diamonds. Singing together with these people is literally a heavenly experience– and I don’t mean that in a Hallmark-y sort of way. We actually will do this in heaven. Revelation 5:11-14:

[11] Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, [12] saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” [13] And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” [14] And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

O how small we will feel when we see the angels, towering up and up like an unending wall of faces, “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,” when every creature in heaven and earth gathers before God, shoulder to shoulder, joyfully enraptured, to shout their praise to God!

And on Sunday I get a small taste of that. And it’s sheer joy.

I can’t put it better than Jonathan Leeman does in his book Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People but this is what happens when I join my church to sing:

We’re singing the sixteenth-century words of “A Mighty Fortress,” and I notice a woman who was recently assaulted now sing with all her might of a “bulwark never failing.”

We’re singing the eighteenth-century words of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and I’m heartened by the older saint who has persevered in the faith for decades, still singing, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.”

We’re singing the nineteenth-century words of “It is Well with My Soul,” and I look out and see the middle-aged brother struggling with discouragement over his fight against sinful anger now raising his voice to shout, “My sin–Oh, the bliss of this glorious though: my sin, not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

We’re singing the twenty-first century words of “In Christ Alone,” and I see the talented young mother who is tempted to regret what she’s given up to have children now exult in her new ambitions: “In Christ alone my hope is found, he is my light, my strength, my song.”

As I sit, look out, my own praises to God are strengthened by the stories and songs of others. My faith is invigorated and enlarged by His work in them.


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