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Sing Mindfully

by Levi Sisemore

12/27/16 – Singing

To a biblical church that was struggling with competition and one-upmanship, Paul wrote these words, “I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also” (I Cor. 14:14). By extension of principle for us, we can affirm that singing (and all of worship and the Christian assembly) is not simply an emotional experience. These days, too many people equate spirituality with emotionalism. Rather, Paul tells us that our mind must be engaged as well as our heart.

Our minds cannot be worshipfully engaged if we do not understand what we are singing. There can be many reasons that a song’s lyrics are unintelligible to us, but the most common culprits include archaic or unfamiliar vocabulary, our own unfamiliarity with biblical imagery or doctrine, or grammar-poor lyrics. While there is probably very little the singer or worshiper can do about the third, there is much he can do about the first two. He must apply himself to study the lyrics of the song, lest he sing them without engaging his mind. The hymnal – rather than projection slides – is very useful for this kind of study, because one can see the whole song at once, and begin to see how the lyrical poetry breaks down and how the verses of a song build upon one another (though for congregational singing, I much prefer using slides with words and music).

In the assembly is probably not the place for a person to try to digest the full meaning and depth of a hymn (unless that hymn happens to be the subject of the day’s lesson). What I mean is, if we only encounter the songs which we sing on Sunday as we sing them, we’ll hardly learn to appreciate the richness of the words, nor understand what we’re teaching ourselves and others. It’s a great idea to have your own copy of the hymnal your congregation uses, and keep it out with your Bible, so that you can begin to incorporate these worshipful, mentally-stimulating, heart-stirring words into your daily devotional time. Trying to understand the songs you sing will make you a more engaged participant in worship and in teaching one another through song.

This last Sunday I was asked, “What does gloria in excelsis Deo mean, anyway?” This Christian observed in himself, and in so many of us, singing without understanding. To sing words that we don’t understand is gibberish and not useful to anyone!

For the record, gloria (glory) in excelsis (in the highest) Deo (to God) is a Latin translation of the words the heavenly hosts sang in Luke 2, announcing the birth of Jesus. Now that we know, let us echo those words in our songs and in our lives!

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace

among those with whom

He is pleased!”

(Lk. 2:14)

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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8