Songs of Praise
Songs appear throughout Scripture. Moses, the Israelites, and then Miriam sing after God leads the people through the Red Sea when fleeing Pharaoh’s army (Exodus 15). Mary sings after the words Elizabeth speaks, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, about the Child she carries (Luke 1). David wrote an entire book of songs, called the Book of Psalms.
Let’s turn to one of those songs now, Psalm 150. It’s the last of those in the book, and sort of sums up a lot of them.
It opens with a call to praise God. As His redeemed people, we have ample reason to praise Him. Notice that the psalmist says to praise Him in His sanctuary and in His mighty heavens. These are places that He dwells. Because of Christ, we have no fear approaching God for praise or prayer or anything…He sees Christ when He sees us.
We praise Him anywhere and everywhere, because He dwells in our hearts.
Verse two goes on to address the “why” of praising Him. Mighty deeds and excellent greatness. We praise Him because of what He has done and because of who He is.
Verses three through five describe the “how”. It’s almost like a listing of instrumentation of an orchestra. His list seems pretty comprehensive, bringing in stringed instruments, wind and percussion, and even dancing!
Finally, in verse six, he tells us “who” should praise the Lord: everyone and everything.
A Song and Dance
Like song, dance is a recurring theme in Scripture. A mode of creative expression, dance has many positive references in Scripture (see 2 Samuel 6:5-15). Like many good gifts that Satan likes to twist and pervert for his own purposes, there are also negative mentions of it (see Mark 6:21-29).
Much of the book of Jeremiah is full of rebuke and the call to repentance; during Jeremiah’s time, God’s people had turned away from Him, following after other gods, reveling in their sin. God called Jeremiah to bring a message of repentance, and he did. Nestled in this book, though, are several chapters that are clearly prophetic in nature, speaking of the promise of salvation, of rescue to come. It’s ultimately fulfilled in Christ.
Let’s read one mention of dancing from Jeremiah 31:1-14. The passage addresses the restoration that salvation brings. Jeremiah 31:13 especially points to dancing:
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy;
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
Restoration is at the heart of what God does in the lives of people. He gives faith and brings us into His family. Forgiving sin, clearing consciences, strengthening and encouraging, comforting and soothing.
A Song Unsung
What about those inevitable times of sorrow, though? Whether from our own sin or from living in a world sick with sin, we will all know pain. Sometimes, we just don’t feel like singing or dancing.
Music and mourning have an odd relationship in my own experience. On the one hand, emotions that run high make it nearly impossible for my voice to carry a note. Sometimes I just can’t sing. But on the other hand, music has been hugely cathartic in my mourning process. Maybe you’ve listened to the same song on repeat, like I have, to help you process a loss in life. . .
The fact is that similar to happiness, music can touch a depth of sadness in our hearts that words alone sometimes can’t.
As we already mentioned, Jeremiah is full of messages of “repent!” and other similarly non-happy messages. It’s natural, therefore, that there would be words of mourning and sadness among those messages.
Let’s turn to Jeremiah 9:17-24. As you read, remember that this is couched in a prophecy of the children of Israel being exiled to Babylon, after a terrible defeat . . . God sees that their hearts are turned from Him, and He will act for the ultimate good, even if it requires exile and mourning for a time.
The “skillful women” mentioned are professional mourners, who lead the assembly in crying for their dead. Sometimes, we just can’t sing. Sometimes we need a track to listen to, that will sing for us. Sometimes our hearts cry out in a way that our voice can’t match or our words fail us when praying. Ever a good and gracious God, our Lord helps us even in this.
Read Romans 8:26-27. In the Body of Christ, in the relationship with our God, in the day-to-day of vocational living . . . we aren’t alone. We aren’t left to our own devices.
Music and the Day-to-Day
Throughout life, we go through seasons of rejoicing and seasons of sorrow. We thrive and we suffer. In the midst of this, music can have a profound impact on the day-to-day of life.
Music can be a central part of that day-to-day. An upbeat song when you’re cleaning the kitchen or bathroom can make all the difference. Quiet, soothing music can help thoughts to calm and center on Scripture during devotional time.
Let me know in the comments how music affects your lives! And stay tuned, because very soon, I’ll be posting a great tutorial on hymn-writing from author Lisa M. Clark! You can check our her blog here, or go check out her books, The Messengers series!