The foundation for the Center for Church Music is fundamental: God created His saints to sing. God’s blood-bought ones are on pilgrimage—a journey to the Celestial City. Singing lights the path and provides strength for the journey.
Thomas Edison’s invention of electricity and the phonograph dramatically changed the role of music for many people. Listening has now replaced singing. From the mall to the doctor’s office, people are programmed to listen. Even in the church, listening has become the primary activity of the saints.
Scripture’s view of music singing is active, not passive! From Job 38 to Revelation 5, we see worshippers singing praise to their high and holy God. They are involved! So, today we ask two questions: "What song are we to sing?" And "Does it matter what we sing?"
From our text, it’s clear that Christians sing not only for the beauty of the poetry, but for the instruction that it gives. The Psalmist says to God: "I’ll set your instructions to music and sing them as I walk my pilgrim way."
Singing, then, involves instruction. (See Colossians 3:16)
For many, this may be surprising. Is not music meant to lighten the heart and bring joy to the soul? The answer is a resounding yes! And it does! But the Psalmist knows that the life of a pilgrim is not easy. Difficulty, discouragement and death rob the soul of joy. Saints have to be strong. Therefore, unless God’s statutes are the basis for their song, it becomes an empty "mantra" creating emotional façades that collapse in disillusionment.
The "song of the pilgrim" is about substance: that is, things that involve thinking. For intelligence is God’s unique gift to humanity. It allows people to remember and recall. If Christians cannot discern God’s way, they will take a path that leads away from God.
St. Paul in Romans 12:2 writes: "be transformed by the renewing of your minds." That happens only by saturating one’s mind with Scripture. Someone once said: "True men of God shall sing in the ways of the Lord and find something to sing of while they are in those ways.".
Remember, all Christians are pilgrims; they do not belong to this world. They are visitors, not residents. Even if they live 80 or 90 years, their time on earth will soon pale compared to eternity. So, our "songs of pilgrimage" must prepare us for that eternal home.
Earlier we asked, does it matter what we sing? St. Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon and a host of others remind us that our music must bear the "weight of glory". The words and the music (that is, the notes and harmony) must reflect the significance of our journey. We sing with the Spirit, but we also "sing with understanding." Thus, we must examine our music and pray for guidance in this sensitive task. For very often, music exploits and corrupts emotion. "Feeling good" is not the purpose of pilgrims. The "song of the pilgrim" must exalt Him whose glory penetrates the Universe and will forever be known as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
I encourage you to sing—and memorize a hymn today! Start with the first stanza and go from there. Let your "songs of pilgrimage" bring strength and joy in your journey to the Celestial City!