Music in Worship: Sing With Joy
Wilhelmus á Brakel (1635-1711) wrote that “the modulation of our voices at a suitable rhythm is capable of unlocking our hearts and stirring our emotions, God thus willing that we lift up our hearts to Him in singing... However, our voice and the melody in and of themselves are not pleasing to God; rather, it is the motion of the heart relative to the spiritual matters which we express before the Lord in singing which pleases Him. Both the voice and the melody are means to bring us into a spiritual frame and to lift up our hearts heavenward - as well as the hearts of those who hear us.”
Singing from the heart has always been a kind of worship in which the Lord is pleased. The angels sang together with joy in witnessing God’s creative glory (Job 38:7). In fact, angels sing before the Lord non-stop in praise of his holy and glorious Being (Isaiah 6:1-3). Adam sang joyously for God “at last” finding him a perfect help-mate, the creation of his wife Eve (Genesis 2:23). Moses and the children of Israel sang unto the Lord in right response to God’s saving power (Exodus 15). And countless are the examples of David, the sweet Psalmist (2 Samuel 23:1), who sang and wrote psalms unto the Lord.
In fact, seeing David’s Psalm 22 as a psalm of worship, written as it was for the choirmaster, gives a whole new light on Jesus’ citing of it as he hung upon the cross. Jesus indeed worshipped perfectly as he sang out in agony the Psalms first note: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” (This ought to at least give pause to those churches who only sing upbeat and happy songs)
Scripture of course requires the Bride of Christ to also join in song, “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). And we know with confident hope that we will join our Bride Groom in glory “singing a new song before the throne” (Revelation 5:9, 14:3) as the multitude of God’s people lift up their voices louder than thunder, louder than many waterfalls!
á Brakel later goes on to encourage his readers to thus dispense with all listlessness, quoting from Psalm 100:2 - “Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!”
We can see a few brief insights from this wonderful passage. First, we are commanded to sing. “Serve the Lord!” This is not a matter that Christian’s can neglect as unimportant. To not sing unto God is not only foolish but sinful. And we must sing worshipfully together. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise... addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”(Ephesians 5:19). Singing to God is fine in private, but it is commanded to be done corporately as well.
Secondly, it is to be done with gladness. The heart of a man is what is at stake here. It is authenticity in singing of which God is pleased. And what grace that God has given us the gift of singing to form part of our worship. Who has not known times of coldness during worship, through the prayers and even during the preaching, but then in the midst of song the heart is softened and warmed to delight in God anew. Serving the Lord with singing is an activity meant to draw and involve the whole heart. “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise”(James 5:13).
Thirdly, singing is an activity uniquely fitted for coming into God’s presence. Out of all our acts of corporate worship, singing alone is said to last on into eternity (Revelation 14:3). And it is there where our voices will finally join in with all the saints to sing with perfect, sinless, joy the eternal praises of our God. This is pleasing to God, something he delights in. Thus as we worship God our singing should be bold, as we confidently draw near to His throne of grace.
Knowing God, worshipping God, and coming into the presence of a holy and awesome God, is for the Christian a joyous thing. Thus let our worship exhibit our joy in song, “singing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel”(Isaiah 12:5-6).
Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.
 Wilhelmus á Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 4. Translated by Bartel Elshout, edited by Joel R. Beeke (Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids) pg. 31.