The Medicine for the Soul

by Jared Shaw

            In 2021, during our men’s summer Bible study, Jim Gutsch led us to consider Paul’s life. We surveyed many men in the Old and New Testaments and considered their lives. 25-40 men were in a room singing together. We were singing a well-known song to MCC, but at that moment, it was more powerful and real to me than ever. Hearing men sing out with joy, “With every breath, I long to follow Jesus for he has said that he will bring me home, and day by day, I know he will renew me until I stand with joy before the Throne. To this, I hold my hope is only Jesus, all the glory evermore to him. When the race is complete, still, my lips shall repeat, Yet Not I, but through Christ in me” will bring you to tears. That is a moment that is etched into my life forever. Hearing younger and older men alike sing about the same truths profoundly affects your soul. The thought that came over me as we were singing was this: it’s not that we’re men singing the same song; it’s that we are men singing the same song that is all about God. There are many articles and books on why we sing, but the purpose of this blog is to ask why we sing what we sing.

We know that through New Testament writings, we are commanded to sing. We know the profound effect of singing on our souls, but have we ever stopped to consider the words we sing? I’m concerned that in many evangelical churches, well-intended music ministers and pastors are singing songs that have no place in corporate gatherings. I hold that concern because many of our modern “worship” songs are centered around “me, myself, and I” and not on God. Word choices in songs matter because what we sing matters just as much as why we sing.

            The following story may be one you resonate with. My wife, Maggie, and I had recently moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, after finishing Bible College. We attended a church with my mother and sister, and hundreds of people were standing singing a chorus, “This is how I fight my battles.” While there are more lyrics to the song that are okay, that was the only phrase sung. The song went on for six minutes. As each minute passed, people in the crowd became more and more emotional. The music director began to sing with greater intensity, and the public worship of God became nothing more than an individual concert. Having just finished Bible College and not having much tact, I looked at my wife after six minutes and said, “I still have no idea how they’re fighting their battles.” While the comment was offhanded, it was nevertheless true. The sad reality is that in many churches, there is never a conversation about what we sing but why we sing.

            Then, some churches go to opposite extremes—no choruses, no hymns, just Psalms. I love the Psalter, and I long for singing Psalms to be a common practice among protestant believers again, but if all we sing are Psalms, we have missed Paul’s admonishment in Ephesians 5:19. We are to sing more than just Psalms. We are commanded to sing hymns and spiritual songs as well. The goal is to take a panoply of voices, instruments, and writing styles and use them for one intended purpose: God’s glory.

            The reformers lived by the motto, Soli Deo Gloria, to the glory of God alone. That included music. We look at music today from a purely consumer mindset; it’s simply there for entertainment and enjoyment. While there is some truth to that on a worldly level, that couldn’t be further from the truth in church. It’s also not true that we perform for an audience of one. Yes, it is ultimately God that we are singing to and for, but we are also singing to instruct one another. That is why, in a day and age where the exaltation of self is significant, we must be clear about what we sing.

            What we sing offends. I remember hearing a story of a man telling the Gettys that when they sing “In Christ Alone,” they change the words from “till on the cross as Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied” to “till on the cross as Jesus died the love of God was magnified.” Is it not true that God’s love was magnified on the cross? Of course, it’s true, but God’s love is magnified because God’s wrath is satisfied. What we sing can sometimes offend people. To which I say, good. Let them be offended. Let them be offended when we sing, “Alas and did my Savior bleed and did my Sovereign die, would he devote that sacred head for such a WORM as I.” We are teaching one another through song that though our sins are so great and high, the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ are more remarkable. Are we mere worms that can be crushed under his feet? Apart from Christ, yes. But praise be to God that we can then sing the following words: “At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light and the burden of soul rolled away. It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all day.”

            What we sing convicts us. I was driving home from work one day, hearing John Newton’s “I asked the Lord that I might grow” for the first time. I almost had to pull over because I was weeping. It was a day that I had been wrestling with the old man all day. I was beaten up, I was hurt, and I was in prayer. While praying, I hear these words in the background, “these inward trials I employ from self and pride to set thee free and break thy schemes of earthly joy that thou mayst find thine all in me.” Those words then made the tears already present flow even greater. It made me see God in a more excellent light.

            What we sing reminds us of our final destination. The old Southern Gospel song says, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.” While there is a hint of truth in that song, a better song would be “the bride eyes not her garments, but her dear bridegroom’s face. I will not gaze at glory but on my King of grace. Not at the crown he giveth, but on his pierced hand. The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.” We will sing of the victory of Jesus, but we will do so because he is the victor, and it is only through the finished work of the Lamb that we are victorious.

            Over the last few years, we have lost some dear brothers and sisters. What we sing matters because they are in the presence of the One we sing to. Consider these words, “some have crossed before us safely to that land of perfect rest. Can you hear them singing faintly in the mansions of the blest? Hallelujah, Hallelujah, hallelujah, praise the Lamb. Hallelujah, hallelujah glory to the Great I Am.” One day, faithful pilgrim, when your eyes close in death, you can sing these words “as I draw this fleeting breath when my eyes shall close in death. When I rise to worlds unknown and behold Thee on thy Throne, Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.”

            What we sing matters because it reminds us that we are weak; he is strong. We are sinners; he’s our Savior. What we sing teaches us what we believe about God. It stirs up our emotions, and it helps us to consider that one day, this God we know in part here, we will know fully one day soon. “By and By, when the morning comes when the saints of God are gathered home, we will tell the story of how we’ve overcome; we will understand it better by and by.”

            On Sunday mornings, stop and listen to those around you. Look around and realize that this person sitting next to me or across from me is singing about the same God I am. The people coming into our midst who don’t know Jesus are being introduced to him in what we sing as well as what we preach. Let’s be a people who care about the words we sing as we seek to glorify God together.


Don't lose any sleep over it! We have a delayed start on Sunday, March 10, 2024

EH/MK 10:30-11:20
Worship: 11:30-1:00