Two Ways to Sing to God

Originally posted at Doxology & Theology by Joel Limpic

How do you approach worship on a Sunday? What draws you to sing and engage physically during the church’s gathered times of singing? Do you wait for a particular feeling to sing? Do you refuse to lift your hands until you feel moved by an emotion? Psalm 81:1 commands us to “sing for joy.” How does this command play itself out practically in our worlds, particularly when we feel joyless? I want to propose that to fully embrace this command, we must learn two sing in two ways: from affection and for affection.

First, singing from affection.

At times, singing is like a dance that overtakes us and we can’t help but join in on. This is probably the most widely embraced understanding of worship, and should hold a rightful place in the Church. As God opens our eyes to His glory and redemptive work, how could we not be moved to respond in praise? As we sense His nearness in often tangible ways, how could we not be comforted and grateful? We can’t help but overflow in song! Our bodies can’t help but follow suit as our hearts leap for joy… We sing from already existing affection in our hearts, and it is right to express this.

Secondly, singing for affection.

At other times, singing is like a war that we must wage that feels less like an inspired dance and more like a disciplined trudge. The truth is most often we come into our gathering times feeling distracted, disjointed, and despondent! In our times of singing, we’ll be physically unexpressive because we don’t want to appear hypocritical. We justify this by reminding ourselves that Jesus told the Pharisees that their mouths were near and yet their hearts were far from him (Mark 7:6). We don’t want to be lumped in with that group, so we think by refraining from singing joyfully or expressing ourselves with our bodies, we somehow keep ourselves pure.We unfortunately misunderstand a couple things when we do this: First, just because we may not “feel” a particular truth doesn’t somehow make that truth less true or worthy of celebrating. Second, simply because we may not be in a particular mood, we underestimate the role of our bodies when it comes to our affections. We are not Gnostics; what we do with our bodies matter! It’s precisely because we’re not feeling anything that we must sing… It’s precisely because our vision gets foggy that we should get on our knees in reverence and lift our hands in praise. It’s in the place of confusion and complacency where we must learn to sing for affection; to raise our voice and hands to tell our forgetful hearts that Jesus is King and not our emotions or mood. Eugene Peterson wisely reminds us:

“Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshipped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. We think that if we don’t feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship.”

Biblical worship is evidenced in those who sing both from and for affection. May God meet us in both the dance and war of our singing!