Why Don’t Men Sing in the Church?

In my previous post I noted that a heart that has been gripped by God’s grace and love cannot help but sing and boast and glory in God. As I was reflecting on that some more I remembered a sermon by Alistair Begg which he begins by noting that American men don’t sing and that he thinks you can really tell when an American man has been converted when he begins to sing in church. Watch it below. If it doesn’t start at the right point you will need to skip ahead to the 5 minute mark.

It seems Martin Luther would agree:

God has made our hearts and spirits happy through His… Son, whom He
has delivered up that we might be redeemed from sin, death, and the devil.
He who believes this sincerely and earnestly cannot help but be happy;
he must cheerfully sing and talk about this, that others might hear it and
come to Christ. If any would not sing and talk of what Christ has wrought
for us, he shows thereby that he does not really believe and that he belongs
not [to the realm of ] New Testament [religion].

Along with Isaac Watt’s who wrote in the hymn, “We’re Marching to Zion:”

Come, we that love the Lord

And let our joys be known

Join in a song with sweet accord

And thus surround the throne

Let those refuse to sing

Who never knew our God

But favorites of the heavenly King

May speak their joys abroad.

People who are happy in God sing praises to God.

Swords From Their Lips (pt. 4)

This is our fourth installment of our study on the stewardship of our tongues.

I was reminded of the eternal significance of this study all the more yesterday as I came across this quote from Augustine concerning Satan and Jesus description of him as “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44):

See the kind of murder, brothers. The devil is called a murderer, not armed with a sword, not girded with a weapon; he came to humankind, he planted an evil word, and he killed him.”

What a thought! Satan “planted an evil word, and he killed him!” Behold the power of words! With them we kill or give life or as James 3:9ff says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

The inspiration for this study has come from the four times in the Psalms David speaks of being attacked by stabbing words (Psalm 55:20-21; Psalm 57:4; Psalm 59:7; Psalm 64:3). In fact, the title for this series comes directly out of Psalm 59:7, “they spew out swords from their lips.” There is no doubt in my mind that each of us can relate to what David means by using this very graphic word picture for our tongue. We have all felt its sharp edge and we have all done our fair share of flesh-ripping with it. Already we have considered what God thinks of how we use our tongue. Then, in our last study, using David’s personal example we began considering how we should we react when we feel the sting of death in someone’s words, namely, we should pray. Presently, we are looking at David’s example and learning that the second manner with which we should respond is praise to God.

He Praises – Psalm 57

Psalm 57 has been aptly called “A concert in a cave” for as the superscription reads David composed this psalm when he fled from Saul in the cave. How does he pass his time? He sings praises to God:

  • Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (vv. 5, 11)
  • I will sing and make melody!” (v. 8)
  • Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.” (v. 9)

This is nothing short of remarkable!

In his own poetic words he is “in the midst of lions…amid fiery beasts – the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords” (v. 4) and he is not having a pity party or angrily blaming God or wondering “how can a good God allow this” but rather he is singing! And what is he singing? Is he singing the blues? No, but “thanks” and “praises” and that God would “be exalted” and glorify Himself “over all the earth.”

Is this your experience?

I am going to go out on a limb and say probably not. In fact, I am going to go even further out on a limb and say that I am fairly confident that more than anything instead of praising God you felt sorry for yourself, became angry and maybe even (if only for a moment) questioned the loving-kindness of God the last time someone ripped into you with their flesh cutting words. Yet notice verse 8. Here we see why David is thanking and praising God – “For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” Did you catch it? Why is David praising God? His “steadfast love” and “faithfulness.” Incredible! This is heightened even more when we come to the realization that David is in this predicament because God anointed David to be the next king over Israel in place of Saul. In other words, in obedience to God’s call he is suffering verbal assaults and even risking his own life. But instead of blaming God or questioning God or throwing in the towel because it just isn’t worth it he praises God for his steadfast love and faithfulness.

Who is this man? Has he lost all sanity? Maybe he has been in the cave for too long and the air is getting to him? What do we make of this? How is he able to praise God in such dire circumstances? Psalm 57 indicates several things:

First, David is humble. Though God has appointed him to be king over his chosen people Israel he begins the Psalm with these words, “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me” (v. 1). Other translations use the word “grace” instead of “mercy.” Either way it is clear David is requesting that God extend kindness to the unworthy. That is humility! Another indication of his humility is found in the last half of verse one where he writes, “for in you my soul takes refuge.” To cry out for refuge is to imply weakness and vulnerability. What a lesson! Is praise far from your heart? It is because it is full of self! It is because you do not realize how unworthy and weak and vulnerable you really are. It is because you think you deserve better or that somehow God owes you! But God owes you nothing! That is the very nature of grace and mercy! And so a humble heart is very much the first step to a singing heart. As one has aptly put it, it is the doorway to worship.

Second, he is confident. In verse 2 he writes, “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” Did you hear that? Why is David able to worship God in the cave? Because he has deep, unshakeable confidence in God’s purposes for him. God has promised him the throne and God will bring it to pass. How different this is from our usual approach. We make our plans and expect God to bless them and if he doesn’t we get angry. How backward we get it and no wonder we can’t worship him! We are too self-confident! Yet how our hearts are freed to worship when we rest in the certainty of God’s good purposes for us and are immutably convinced that God, by faith in Jesus, is for us and nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth can thwart him.

Third, he is intentional. In verse 7 he writes, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody!” And why shouldn’t he be? God’s purposes for him were unalterable and so was his determination to praise God. Nothing was going to stop him from praising God and so sluggish his soul may feel he preaches to himself, “Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!”

In light of these three things, is this not the way all our souls should be engaged? Under a deep sense of humility and of God’s greatness we intentionally praise God whether we be holed up in a cave or the victim of unfair verbal assaults and what is more, the soul that has humbled itself under God’s glory is not content to sing privately. Such a worshipful heart desires to draw others in and so David writes, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations” (v. 9). In other words, if God is great, we go public with our worship. We want all to know, even those who stab us with their words. Our praise has international implications.

One last note. As I mentioned above. David is being persecuted because of his obedience to God’s call in his life. The rest of Scripture confirms that as Christians we should expect nothing less. If they persecuted Jesus, so us (John 15:18-21). Note also the words of 1 Peter 4:12-17, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Note it well! If you stand up for Christ and his truth as revealed in Scripture you will suffer. If you live in obedience to God’s call you may very well find yourself in a “cave” surrounded by “the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords” (Psalm 57:4). But do not fear or get angry or blame God or throw a pity party, rather, having a humble heart in awe of the greatness of God steel your heart to have a concert in the cave to the glory of God for his steadfast love and faithfulness in counting you worthy to suffer for his name’s sake and make it loud enough that the whole world hears.

I leave you with this thought from one of our church fathers, Rufinus of Aquileia:

But for these wounds that people inflict on one another with the tongue we can hardly find a physician; so I have turned to Jesus, the heavenly physician, and he has brought out for me from the medicine chest of the gospel an antidote of sovereign power; he has assuaged the violence of my grief with the assurance of the righteous judgment that I shall have at his hands. The potion that our Lord dispensed to me was nothing else than these words, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). 

I am planning two more posts in this series:

  1. Swords from our lips is not always bad.
  2. Jesus tongue is described as a sword in Revelation 1

Help my Unbelief!

This has been an unusual week for me (I will spare you the details), but to say the least it has made sermon preparation difficult. Although every week varies, I typically spend 25-30 hours of sermon prep total for 2 sermons. I find this much time necessary because I am a slow learner and because far be it from me to casually stand before my sheep and just “shoot from the hip.” I take very seriously the ominous words of James 3:1: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” and Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account…”

I share all of this with you because up until this morning I have been struggling and wrestling with two passages that just kept eluding me no matter how much I studied and prayed(if you must know, they are 1 Kings 22:41-53 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-26). Praise be to God, however, who has in the past few moments helped my unbelief! A quickening light has diffused the darkness and I cannot help but sing his praises!

My Raptured Soul
Taken from the Gadsby Hymnal #268
Words: John Berridge, 1716-1793.

If Jesus Kindly Say,

and with a whispering word,

‘Arise my love and come away,’

I run to meet my Lord.

My raptured soul will rise up,

and give a cheerful spring,

and dart through all the lofty skies,

to visit Zion’s King,

to visit Zion’s King.