There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.
It's been the month of summer music festivals here in New Zealand which means that news sites and Facebook feeds have been full of pictures of people enjoying the sun, their friends and their favorite bands. There's been pictures of crowds of people together, hands raised and shouting lyrics at the top of their voices. A lot of these pictures have shown me something about our culture: we like to sing.
To sing is human. It's something we do from the earliest of ages; while watching children's TV shows that teach us the alphabet; in our rooms to our favorite top-40-hits as a teenager; belting out the national anthem before a sports game — though perhaps that could be better described as "melodic mumbling" for some of us. Anyway...
Paul gives an instruction to the young church in Colosse to focus on Christ by singing songs together. This would have been nothing new to these people, as they would have liked music and singing just as much as we do today, but there is a new message in the music: Christ. Because of this they are to sing some old songs, some new songs and some songs that haven’t even happened yet.
Paul's first instruction: sing psalms. The Psalms are a collection of songs, prayers and poems in the middle of our Bibles, and this collection had been the words of prayer for generations of Hebrew people.
It had been their words to songs as they travelled.
It had been their words of praise when they held a celebration.
It had been their words of lament when they were suffering in exile.
It had been their words as they journeyed with God through all that life brought, day-after-day.
These words still relate today. There are words in the Psalms for when we don't even know them ourselves yet, and they have been there for generations. There is a deep well to experience if we would engage and sing these words. Sadly, we have left a lot of these behind.
Next Paul says to sing hymns. These are songs that the people would sing together that weren't in the book of Psalms, but were known to each other. Songs that someone at some point had written, for whatever reason or experience, and other people thought it was good enough to join in with. It has always been good to have songwriters gifting the church with songs that have been crafted for us to sing together, and that is no different today.
Lastly Paul says to sing spiritual songs — perhaps better interpreted as Spirit-led songs. Those spontaneous ones. The ones that just, well, happen. It is good to have spontaneous moments of singing whatever the Spirit is leading us towards. It helps us identify it and put words to it and it helps us to return praise to God for gifting it to us in the first place.
So Paul gives us a rhythm to our singing together: dig back into the rich depth of the Psalms, enjoy the current life of what the songwriters are bringing, and look for the new spontaneous thing that hasn’t even happened yet. It brings us to joy and thankfulness. It gives us a healthy perspective, realigning us towards Christ and His story. The presence of God moves and His activity works in and through us.
And all because of a time spent singing.
Who knew singing could be the platform for such a powerful work?
Maybe it’s because singing is an expression – the bit we can hear – of an even bigger activity lurking under the surface: worship.