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Above All, Sing Spiritually
Thursday was one of those days. Do you ever have days when if anything can go wrong it will? Thursday was like that. It all started when I scheduled a funeral in the sanctuary the same time as a wedding! Luckily Janet, our Administrator, caught the error in time! Well, that little mishap was the high point of the day. The rest of the day went down hill from that. At the end of the day, I sat down and listed ten things that went wrong. I would like to forget Thursday. Some days are like that.
In Modesto one morning about 10:00, I said to the secretary, "I've got to leave. I'll be back whenever." I got in the car, drove to a park, took out a pad of paper and listed the crises I had dealt with since arriving at the church about 8:00 a.m. In the space of two hours, 14 items were crises or required a decision from me!
Stress is a modern phenomenon. Whoever heard of stress ten years ago? Stress is now a part of life and to blame for most of our ills. A few years ago, we blamed anxiety, then viruses, now it is stress.
Everyone has stress. The modern prophet, Erma Bombeck, describes the stress of a child entering school for the first time.
My name is Donald and I don't know anything. I have new underwear, a new sweater, a loose tooth and I didn't sleep last night; I am worried. What if the school bus jerks after I get on and I lose my balance and my pants rip and everyone laughs? What if a bell rings and everyone goes into a door and a man yells, "Where do you belong?" and I don't know? What if the trays in the cafeteria are too tall for me to reach? What if my loose tooth wants to come out when we're supposed to have our heads down and be quiet? What if I splash water on my name tag and my name disappears and no one will know who I am? What if they send us out to play and all the swings are taken? What if I spend the whole day without a friend? What if the windows in the bus steam up and I won't be able to tell when I get to my stop?
Everyone has stress. How do you handle stress? What do you do when stress dissipates your strength? What do you do when you feel depressed? What do you do when you feel life is twirling, and you are at the end of the line in the whip position? What I do is sing. I sing. I sing in the car. I sing in the house. I sing on the sidewalk. I sing in the halls. Now that I think of it, perhaps that's the reason the staff was so excited about me moving my office down behind the sanctuary. They got rid of my loud singing.
I sing. I pray through singing. I wonder if doctors prescribe singing as a cure for stress and depression? It works. The lesson today, from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, says that one way to be filled with the Holy Spirit, one way to receive power, is by singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.
There is power in singing. Social movements are usually accompanied by singing. The Nazis sang. The French revolutionists sang "Marseilles." Communists sang the "Internationale" Yankees sang, "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and the rebels sang "Dixie." The Civil Rights movement sang "We Shall Overcome", which now appears in our hymnal. These songs still stir the hearts of people.
The Christian Church has come singing down through the ages. Martin Luther's followers sang through the streets, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," and the Protestant Reformation could not be squelched. Charles Wesley wrote some 6,500 hymns, and the Methodist movement could not be stopped for the singing. All the spiritual awakenings--the great revivals--have been accompanied by singing, and hymns in our hymnal reflect those movements and periods.
In our Scripture lesson this morning, Ephesians 5:8-20, Paul said singing is a means of receiving and expressing the Holy Spirit, and a means of giving thanks to God.
Singing is a means of giving thanks to God. Ephesians 5:19-20, "Sing and make melody in your hearts to God, giving thanks always." Notice how Paul emphasizes, "Sing to God," not just about God, or for God, but to God. In John Wesley's "Directions for Singing," 1761, Wesley taught, "Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature." Singing spiritually means singing to God, not to one another, not even to yourself.
When we sing in worship, why do you sing or not sing? Do you sing so the people in the row ahead can exclaim, "My, what a beautiful voice you have!" Or, do you not sing so you won't be embarrassed when people move away from you?
To whom do you sing? Sing to God, not to those around you. Why do you sing? To give thanks to God. Likewise, the choirs are not singing or ringing handbells to us. We often forget that. The choirs are singing and ringing to God on behalf of the congregation; doing their best with the best music, in the best way they can.
In fact, worship is like a drama, with a stage and an audience. Who is on the stage performing? Choirs, organist, ministers, yes; but also the congregation. All of you are on the stage. And, who is in the audience? God. Our worship service is your gift to God, thankful for all you are and have received from God. What kind of gift do you bring? Some are so unappreciative they don't even worship regularly. Express thanks to God by singing, says Paul. Sing to the Lord with all your heart and voice, and phooey on those who hear you and make remarks about your voice!
Give thanks to God, praise God, by singing; and receive the Holy Spirit by singing. Paul wrote, "Be filled with the Holy Spirit." He said true joy is not to be found by getting drunk with wine or by drugging the senses, but by being filled with the Holy Spirit. "Sing and make melody," he wrote. Singing is a means of letting God's Spirit move in your life. In my own life, some of the deepest experiences with God have been in and through singing. When you are down, sing! When you are up, sing! When you are angry, discouraged, lonely sing, "What a friend we have in Jesus," or "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen; nobody knows but Jesus."
I appreciate our new hymnal which we are dedicating this morning. I like its diversity. Through the years, several songs have become very special to me, songs I find myself singing when stressed, depressed, or discouraged. Two of those now appear in our new hymnal. Both speak directly to stress. Both offer strength and hope by trusting in Christ. Let's sing them. No. 507, "Through it all, I've learned to trust in Jesus." The second is my all-time favorite. I have sung it often as a solo. You have heard it several times. No. 474, "Precious Lord, take my, hand lead me on, let me stand."
© 1989 Douglas I. Norris