Why do we sing in worship services? Why not simply use spoken words? I can think of at least three reasons.
First, the Bible is filled with songs. The very first words uttered by a human being are poetic. In fact, upon seeing Eve for the first time, I think Adam actually breaks out into song:
“This is now bone of my bones
— and flesh of my flesh…”
Following their harrowing escape from Egypt, Moses and Miriam sing praise to the Lord. The Psalms were originally sung, enabling people to express devotion to God in virtually every emotional state known to humans. In jail, Paul and Silas sing in the middle of the night either to assure themselves of their Savior’s presence to because they were assured of His presence (or maybe a bit of both).
When we begin the first song Sunday morning, we’re not really starting something but actually joining our voices in the singing that has been ringing out since the dawn of creation. We join with those who have gone before us in a meaningful way to express ourselves and worship God.
Second, words set to music penetrate our minds and hearts in a way that regularly spoken words do not. Mike Cosper, who used to serve as a pastor of worship and arts in Louisville, Kentucky, explains this well:
Songs have a way of sticking with us… Songs stay lodged in our memories, their words showing up in our thoughts when otherwise, we might struggle to speak. Songs are both a reference point and a tool; a resource that enables us to articulate our faith while we live in the wilderness of everyday life…
As we sing these songs, we not only pray the words, we absorb them. They equip us with language that describes our experience. We cling to them like life preservers when our faith is challenged.
In a difficult moment, it’s a song that might give me some strength and hope. I have heard numerous stories of families gathered around the sickbed or deathbed of a loved one, someone who is mostly unresponsive yet perks up as the family begins to sing his or her favorite songs. Words set to music trigger a unique response in us, sometimes all the way to our dying moments.
Third, as we sing because we are created to. We are made in the image of God – the God who sings, according to the prophet Zephaniah. When we sing, we’re imitating our Creator.
I think Zephaniah’s prophesy is the only place in the Bible where we read of God singing; all the other instances record the songs of people. What blows me away is what God is singing about – not His own greatness or the beauty of creation. I’m in His mind as He sings!
The Lord your God is with you,
— the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
— in His love He will no longer rebuke you,
— but will rejoice over you with singing.
It kinda makes me want to joyfully break out in song.