Singing the Language of the Kingdom

worship practicesMusic conjures up memories, elevates emotions, and cultivates passions. It’s a powerful phenomena. Songs have a power unto themselves that can draw out all sorts of desires and dreams in me. A song like The Weepies’ “Simple Life” romanticizes minimalist living for me. Or a song like “Snow” by Sleeping At Last makes me miss my dad and appreciate the value of community. Songs are powerful. That’s why, as we attempt to cultivate hearts that long for the Kingdom of God one of the most important things we can do is sing. Singing the language of the Kingdom forms our desires for that Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God needs to capture our imaginations. It needs to be what animates, activates, and alters us. We come to understand this Kingdom by reading the Word of God, by hearing from Jesus himself and his apostles as they proclaim this Kingdom. But simply reading the Word alone is not sufficient. The Bible is not a magical book that transfers new desires by means of a simple reading, it must get into our hearts. That is why Paul calls the Colossians to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). And how does that happen? He unpacks several ways that this can happen. He writes:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

The Word of Christ dwells in us richly by means of teaching and admonishing one another through “singing”. How amazing. God’s Word dwells in us richly not simply from study, or hearing good sermons, but by means of our singing!

James K.A. Smith notes the relationship between music and the imagination well. He speaks of worship as involving our whole body, drawing out our memories, and impressing songs upon us. Music gets “in us” he says. Smith writes:

Singing is a mode of expression that seems to reside in our imagination more than other forms of discourse. Partly because of cadence and rhyme, partly because of the rhythms of music, song seems to get implanted in us as a mode of bodily memory. Music gets “in” us in ways that other forms of discourse rarely do. A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do. Indeed a song can come back to haunt us almost, catching us off guard or welling up within our memories because of situations or contexts that we find ourselves in, then perhaps spilling over into our mouths till we find ourselves humming a tune or quietly singing. The song can invoke a time and a place, even the smells and tastes of a moment. The song seems to have a privileged channel to our imagination, to our kardia, because it involves our body in a unique way. (Desiring the Kingdom, 171).

Don Saliers speaks of beliefs being “knit” into our bodies by means of singing them (“Singing Our Lives” in Practicing Our Faith, 185-186). The musical component of our worship captures our imagination and helps the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly.

It has been this way all throughout history too. Think about the Old Testament people of God. They commemorate the dramatic events of the Exodus how? With a song (Exodus 15). The largest book in the Old Testament too is the book of Psalms, a collection of hymns. Worship was an important and influential means of cultivating gratitude, and establishing new values. It continued into the New Testament church, as we have seen. Paul instructs the churches to sing. Surely not because everyone had great voices, or because all loved the idea of singing. Even today many simply don’t want to participate in corporate worship. But Paul instructs the Ephesians to speak to one another with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (5:19). And on throughout church history hymns have continued to be written. John Wesley “famously described hymnody as ‘a body of practical divinity, a sung theology'” says Smith (172). Singing the language of the kingdom has been a huge part of cultivating citizens of the kingdom.

Music is exceedingly powerful. As part of the practice of the church it helps to cement the values of the Kingdom in our being. We love what we sing and we sing what we love. The more we sing of it the more we love it. Worship engages not simply my mind, but my heart, my imagination, my desires. It engages my hands and my body. It renews my mind, stirs my memory, and tugs at my emotions. A compelling song can do many things to me and can upon later remembrance stir those same things up in me again. Worship is a major means by which we cultivate a desire for the Kingdom of God. Sing the language of the Kingdom, friends, and so find that the Word of Christ dwells more richly in you.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for his article Dave. Music is indeed powerful and those who plan and lead it have a sacred trust to do it in Spirit and Truth.. As a worship leader, I feel it is important for those of us who engage in the art of worship leading to be increasingly sensitive to discern the difference between the anointing of the Holy Spirit vs. emotional manipulation using the tools of the trade.

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