“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” —John 4:23 There was a time when singing together in a public setting was perfectly normal. In some parts of the world this is still the case. During the few trips I’ve taken to rural Africa, the locals regularly gathered in some part of the village, often in the evening, to sing together. In the absence of televisions, radios, movie theatres, and performance venues, this is what they were doing for entertainment. In fact, entertainment is the wrong word, because it implies observing and not creating. This is what they were doing to find and express joy.
I was at SeaWorld a while back with my family, and we decided to go see the dolphin show. While we were all waiting for it to begin there was a group of probably close to 100 Brazilians singing together. At first I felt uncomfortable, but as I listened it began to dawn on me that I was missing out on something pretty special. In our culture, entertainment has made us an inhibited people. We participate by observation without creativity. We get glimpses every now and then of what it would be like if this were not so. A couple of years ago, I went to a Coldplay concert and during the closing song, “Fix You,” there were thousands of us singing so loudly that the band was all but overpowered. But for the most part (as much of the rest of that same concert illustrated perfectly), we are observers and not co-creators.
We have a responsibility to teach each other how to reclaim what we have lost as an over-entertained and inhibited culture. I know firsthand from listening to my children sing “Let It Go” at the top of their lungs that singing is a birthright and inhibition is an inheritance. We were born to sing. The old spiritual says, “I sing because I’m happy! I sing because I’m free!” and I believe the inverse is just as true. We are happy because we sing. We are free because we sing. Singing breaks down the inhibition we have learned. And when we let go and raise our voices together, we find that there is a joy and freedom within us that “growing up” has taught us to forget.
Singing is not always worship, and worship is much more than just singing. But here we ought to remember the goal we’ve been given—to become worshipers of God. If singing is a means of opening us up to the joy we were made for, and if joy is at the very heart of what it means to be a worshiper, then the calling of our Creator beckons us to sing. In the long run, there can be no such thing as a joyless worshiper.
Charles Wesley says it best: “Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.”