It has been so fun to be back, specifically on Sundays when we gather together. During my time off I spent a lot of time understanding my God-given strengths and personality. Over the past few weeks I've *tried* to exhort (encourage) people to sing.. you know actually sing. I am talking about how you sing in the car and suddenly look over and see a fellow driver noticing that you are really going and then wait for them to drive off so you can keep belting it out. Sometimes when I share that it comes across rather... um... blunt. I am working on it ("Jesus put your arm on my shoulder and your hand over my mouth")! I wanted to write a blog and tell you WHY I believe it is so important for our church to practice signing out loud, together, each Sunday (whether or not we feel like it).
A few years ago I referenced Better Man in church. Watch the video (and get a picture of my junior high favorite band). The fans are going all out, signing along with Eddie Vedder (in heaven my voice will sound like his), responding to his leadership and everyone is participating. My hope is that we would learn how to sing like that: wholeheartedly as a body.
The reason why I want us to consider singing out loud and with our whole heart is because it is a mandate in Ephesians (the Swiss Alps of the New Testament). Check it out:
18 And do not be drunk with wine (in which is dissipation), but be filled by the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and singing praise in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to the God and Father
(Lexham English Bible)
First off - the thrust of the verse and thus the section is to "be filled" by the Spirit. Instead of getting drunk we are to become intoxicated in the Holy Spirit by drinking "huge draughts of him." The problem, according to Charles Spurgeon, is that we have a tendency to leak. That is why it is so important to "not forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some (Hebrews 10:24-25)," because when we gather we are reminding ourselves of who God is, who we are and what we are to be about.
Now the church is filled with the Spirit and we are to go on being filled with the Spirit. The first question is how? Ray Mayhew points out that God is "filling us by being in environments where the Holy Spirit is active." That doesn't mean that the only place the Spirit is active is at church, yet Ephesians gives a charge to go on being filled together.
Psalms, Hymns, And Spiritual Songs
Paul clues us in on how we are to "be being filled" as an ongoing process. We are to speak to one another in psalms (the literary temple of praise, the Torah for how the people of God are to shema The Lord). The book of Psalms is so important! It helps us love God and others. I would encourage you to check out The Bible Project on the Psalms and what they have to say about the Psalms as poetry. Then dive into it! I spent the better part of 6 months in Psalm 23 and 62. Or perhaps start in Psalm 40 - my (future) friend Bono has a great take on that hymn. We can't simply show up on Sunday and expect to be ready to worship. We must feed our souls with good food and drink during the week. As we do that, our mouths will have a better time speaking blessing to one another and to God.
Like Bethel, minus the spontaneous stuff...
If you've noticed sometimes our Jenny or Kristen will go off of the lyrics and start signing something out of their own heart or mind. This is what I would define as "spiritual songs." The word can mean breath or supernatural. If you are like John Crist, you like worship from places like Bethel (minus the spontaneous stuff). When worship leaders attempt to sing spiritual songs, in effect they are making room to help lead us in signing songs out of our spirit; something given to us by God for God and for us. It might be strange to be a part of if you've never been in churches or environments that attempt to sing in spiritual songs, however for us, this is something we want make room for: space for God to breathe on His body and us respond with songs that overflow out of our heart. John Wimber and the Vineyard movement was known for this as well. This clip can be a little strange to, but gives you an example of what happens with the Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ join in greater union through singing.
My hope is not that we mimic Vineyard or Bethel or Upper Room. My hope is that as we learn to sing together, our own songs, and form our own fresh expression to God. I don't care what we look like or that we model some other church. God called us to be a family and to express His image as He intended. Ray Mayhew points out during his teaching on Ephesians, during times of revival (when a church family is attached an on fire), new songs, new hymns are always released. During the great awakinging, Charles Wesley, wrote close to 500(!) new songs. That is what we’ve seen with Bethel, Vineyard and even the Upper Room here in Dallas. How cool would that be if our church family contributed new songs to the body of Christ at large?
Singing and Signing Praise in your Heart to the Lord
"Ah-ha," you think, "we don't have to sing out loud. We simply need to sing in our own hearts. Well yes, that is correct, we should sing in our hearts and make a melody to the Lord (which can be hard if you spend all your time on Instagram looking for the "new-new" or simply judging and being jealous of everyone else's life). Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 that, "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (or in the case of Sunday worship, sings). Like pregaming before a Pearl Jam concert, feeding your soul the word of God throughout the week will help you sing out of the depths of your being on Sundays.
PS - Seeds Family Worship did a great job putting Matthew 12:34 to music
Giving Thanks to the Lord
Remember the new creation community (the church) is to be completely different than the culture around it. Thankfulness is one of the most counterculture things we can do and it is the will of the Lord for your life (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The Spirit is active when we give thanks. We, as leaky humans, are present tense being filled as we give thanks to the Lord. I spend time each day writing and thinking of things to be thankful to the Lord for and it has revolutionized my mind and emotions. This is a great way to fill your heart and even prepare for gathering together.
In Romans 1:21 Paul offers as strong a rebuke as he can - men and women are turned over to their own desires (to sin, the shadow and their own personal Babylon), in part, because they did not give thanks to God! Oh let us enter His gates (our church gathering) with thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4)!
Part of why these verses are important, is because after we leave Sunday and go to work and enter into our local community, the enemy is at work (Ephesians 2:2; John 10:10). Men and women, systems and businesses and governments, not under the Lordship of Christ are empowered by the enemy (again the Bible Project is helpful here). As we live out these verses, we come into the presence of the Lord (even if we don't feel like it and even if all hell is breaking loose). This is why Sundays are important (not for my sermons, although some are magnificent), but for the presence of God! As we sing to the Lord together, the Spirit is active, filling us with His goodness, joy and courage to face a new day.
So would you join me in trying to live out these verses? Let's pregame a little over the next few weeks and see what happens.