Some of the greatest memories of my childhood are actually those shared with me by my mom and dad as they recounted their childhood upbringing. A particular one that's been on my mind, is of the Sunday afternoon drives my mother's family would embark on almost weekly. During these outings, they would visit friends and family in SE Michigan, NW Ohio, and Indiana, reconnecting and reminiscing of days gone by.
My mom would always tell us kids of the togetherness on these day-trips and the mesmerizing effects of singing countless songs along the way. Most of these songs were 50’s era standards like “You are my Sunshine,” “Roll out the Barrel,” and “How much is that dog in the window?”. Not only was this a regathering of the family unit, but also a time to regroup from the previous week's events, and even reencounter the past.
The part of this story that always impacted me as a kid, is when “Pip” (That’s what all eighteen grandkids called Grandpa Long; it means ‘grandpa’ in French) bought a new ’59 Chevy to replace the ’58 that Uncle Marv wrecked. The confused salesman was emphatic on ordering him the car with a radio, but Pip insisted on not having one. His reasoning? The fear that the singing would stop! Pip cherished those moments and didn't want the radio to replace them. That passion and quest for ‘family harmony’ through such a simple action was something I never ever forgot.
It occurs to me how many parallels this story has to corporate worship. First, how many fights do you see break out in the midst of Sunday worship? Is there bickering about petty things that go unresolved? How ridiculous (and irreverent) would that be? It's not hard to discern that when we are focused on God and lifting His name on high, somehow all the world (and even church) troubles seem to evaporate like early morning mist. Even Pip was able to recognize (and defend) that in the moments of Sunday afternoon ‘worship,’ all the sticky family matters from the week would melt away through the magic of song—the refuge of familial peace was easily found.
Second, the ‘singalong’ activity is very much the art of retelling the story of our lives. Too often, the madness of the day pushes out any or all opportunities to reflect on how far we’ve come, much less where we’re going. In God’s word we find Moses reciting a song to Joshua and giving him this final charge:
“Take to heart all the words of warning I have given you today. Pass them on as a command to your children so they will obey every word of these instructions. These are not just empty words—they are your life!” (Deut. 32:46-47, NLT)
Pip knew the power contained within those special afternoons. The collective singing not only defined and reaffirmed their identity and story, it gave them (and us) a pathway to re-enact the rich, abundant life Jesus shed His blood to give!
Thirdly, the act of singing awakens our hearts to remember and retell the greatness of the life God has granted us. When we worship God we are teaching our souls to sing. Even in the repetition, as we grow in relationship with God or our small group, the songs we sing allow us to experience God with a fresh newness each time. Not only are we teaching our heart, soul, and mind to remember what God has done for us, but we get to tell God what He's done for us. It's one thing to silently think or pray God's praises, but to exuberantly sing them aloud involves a deeper creativity, inhibition, and cognition as we proclaim that which God has inscribed upon our hearts.
The Psalmist writes:
"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a LOUD noise, and rejoice, and sing praise (Ps. 98:4, KJV, emphasis added)
I love how the King James version puts it. The Psalmist isn't imploring us to make an itty-bitty quiet noise as we mumble the words under our breath. No! Instead the writer directs us to lift up a shout of praise that practically shakes the foundations of heaven itself...for our Maker's benefit and pleasure.
We the church must learn the value and never forget the importance of an unbridled 'heartsong.' To take the time to remember, sing, and testify to the greatness of God’s power in our lives is integral to us working towards the full expression of the Imago Dei. Let not God's treasure be stolen from us by the thief, who disguises himself as ‘Busy.’