Singing and Emotion

One of my favorite aspects of the Advent season is the music. There are some beautiful and majestic Advent/Christmas songs, and the lyrics and music combine to help me worship God and anticipate the presence of Jesus. Who doesn’t love to belt out “Joy to the World”?


But Christians should be full of song throughout the year, not just when our children pluck cheap chocolate from paper calendars. Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5:19 makes it clear (in context) that our “singing and making melody to the Lord” is a vital part of being filled with the Holy Spirit (see Eph. 5:18). Christians should be singers, regardless of ability and season.

So why should we sing? For most of my Christian life, I have thought singing is born from the overflow of emotion. The emotion might be joy, thanksgiving, love, or lament, but (I thought) emotion fuels singing. But through a recent Bible study, God took that assumption and crumbled it in His hand, like a four-day-old biscuit. We were studying Isaiah 12.

1 You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.
2 “Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
4 And you will say in that day:
“Give thanks to the Lord,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 “Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be made known in all the earth.
6 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

If you read Isaiah 11 (a reasonable course of action before reading Isaiah 12), you’ll see this prophesy concerns the time when the shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse (11:1), when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb (11:6), and when God makes a highway for the exiles from Assyria to return to Him (11:16).

Returning to chapter 12, one of the reasons given for song in this chapter is the salvation of the Lord (v.2). Early in this chapter, this is personal and individual—we read that “God is my salvation” and “my strength and my song.” One can see an emotional element too. Because God has turned His just anger away from me, because He is my salvation, I will sing.

But notice how this personal testimony leads to the corporate body of believers calling others to worship God in verses 4–6 (“you” in verse 4 is plural), and notice the reasons given for worship there. In verse 5, the call is made to sing to God “for he has done gloriously.” In verse 6, the greatness of the holy God in the midst of His people is the reason for song and shouting.

Did you catch that? Objective facts are given as fuel for singing! We are not to sing (and call others to sing) solely because God has given me relief and freedom from guilt and happy emotions. We are to sing because of what God has done and because of who He is. This is good news, because if we only sang when we felt happy emotions, we might not be the singing people Paul describes in Ephesians 5.

We can, and should, sing because of objective realities, which means we always have occasion to sing! In the U.S., I suspect we are most used to singing happy songs, but the Psalms (and other parts of Scripture) provide us with words to sing when exuberance is not our foremost emotion.

So, this Advent season, sing! But sing throughout the year too. God has done gloriously, and the Holy One of Israel is in our midst. He has created, sustained, redeemed, and promised, and He is worthy of our raised voices.

Photo Credit: -bartimaeus-, Creative Commons License

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