One of the earliest depictions outside of the Bible of the early church was from a guy named Pliny (rhymes with skinny). Pliny was the governor of a Roman province in Turkey. He wrote a letter to his Roman emperor who was asking questions about these people who were following “the Way”. The emperor was asking about Christianity. Before Christians were referred to as, “the church,” they were called, “the Way”.
Describing the church early on in her existence, Pliny wrote this:
They meet at dawn to sing a song of praise to Christ as God. – Pliny the Younger, of Bithynia
From the beginning of the church, God’s people have been a singing people. Paul the Apostle wrote this:
Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. (Colossians 3:16)
As Colossians 3:16 says, a person will sing when the message of Christ, the Good News, fills their life. As Pliny wrote, these people were gathering AT DAWN to sing.
Think about the last time you entered into a church to worship. Were there people already singing? Were you a tad late? Is that unfair to ask? It is, isn’t it?
I’m not a prison warden. I don’t want to sound strict and judgmental. I’ve been late to church many times. I don’t want to sound like a marine about it.
If we’re early to school and early to work and early to sports practices and early to dinner reservations and early to the doctor’s appointment and early to the movie and early to a concert, shouldn’t God’s people singing together trump all of that?
If it’s something the early church did, and it’s something Christians are going to do forever in heaven, I want to get a bit better at being to church early, preparing my heart to sing loudly and joyfully.
Singing is what the people of God are described as in the beginning. And not just since the birth of the church but since the birth of humanity. The first recorded words of human history are Adam singing about his wife Eve. We’ve always been a singing people.
Why have we always sang? Why do we make sure we take time to sing?
Because we are a grateful people.
Singing is not exclusively worship, but it’s a form and an expression of worship. When we sing it’s a spirit to Spirit experience with God. It’s me seeing what Jesus has done for me, in me, and me being grateful for it. So I sing. Singing does move me closer to God, but I primarily choose to sing because I am thankful.
There are some people who don’t like to sing in church. They don’t sing. They just stand. Does that mean they’re ungrateful? Does that mean they don’t care about God? No.
A few years ago my wife and were at a Christian conference where there were worship services in the morning and in the evening. With other Christians gathered we sang and shouted and felt God moving through music all week long. We attended these worship services next to my parents and where my mother sang loudly in praise, every time I looked at my dad, he wasn’t singing.
This is my dad. This is the guy who drove me to elementary school singing Motown songs by The Temptations and Diana Ross. And he would sing soprano, slapping his thigh and snapping his fingers. I knew he liked to sing. He had always been like this.
And my dad was a preacher. My dad had been a Christian for 40 years. Just because he didn’t sing or move his lips during the singing time, does that mean the word of Christ didn’t DWELL within him as the writer of Colossians 3:16 says?
At the time of that conference my father was battling terminal skin cancer. We didn’t know it then, but he was less than three months away from dying. The closer he’d gotten to death, the more serious conversations him and I had. Walking back to the hotel after one of the worship services where he stood, but didn’t join in song, I asked him why he didn’t sing.
He said, Z, I don’t like to sing songs I don’t know in front of other people I don’t know. He said, I sing the songs I know. I like the new songs. We should sing a new song. I just have trouble reading them, learning the rhythm of them at times, so I listen.
And then he shared something that helped me understand those who don’t sing every song in worship, he said, Just because my lips aren’t moving doesn’t mean I’m not being brought closer to God. I’m still connecting with Him. I’m still praying grateful prayers.
In worship, it’s impossible to be grateful and critical at the same time.
We can’t worship while being grateful and critical at the same time. The earthly brother of Jesus wrote:
Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? (James 3:11)
Either you’re grateful and are refreshing or you’re critical and a bit salty.
All over Scripture there are grateful people singing loudly in gratitude to all God has done in their lives.
Do you know what else there is in the Bible? Dancing. People moving their bodies in a glorifying way. I enjoy moving my feet in worship. I enjoy shaking my lack of hips. I bob my head in worship like at a Kanye West concert. I clap my hands. This is worship people. If I’m going to dance at a wedding why wouldn’t I practice dancing on Sundays where we prepare for the final wedding feast in eternity with Jesus?
We’ve always been dancing. We’ve always been musical. We’ve always been singing, and why is that?
Because the word of Christ DWELLS inside of us. Because Jesus has saved us and forgiven us and has given us new life, and we just can’t keep it in. We are grateful, not critical. We’re early, not late. We sing loudly or reflect deeply.
I love watching my young daughters sing and dance. As their father, it is such a gift to see them physically express themselves to music and have a good time.
You might be stiff, you might be insecure, you might be silent, you might not know the songs, the music might be too loud, you might think there shouldn’t even be music, you might be running late, but I’ve got to tell you, God enjoys watching His children sing and dance for Him (and every Worship Pastor out there screams, Amen).
Do you know why some people raise their hands in worship?
When my three year old child is exhausted, when she’s not feeling well, she runs up to me and extends both hands up. She wants to be held and comforted and have a closer feeling of security. When God’s children are tired and exhausted and stressed and not feeling well, we still choose to raise our hands.
When I raise my hands in church it’s because I want to be closer to God. Sometimes I’m a man at the end of his rope and I’m just hanging there about to fall as the enemy comes after me and I just need to reach up for God to pull me up like Jesus pulled Peter out of the Sea of Galilee. It’s okay to raise your hands.
Get to worship early. Commit in your heart as you prepare for worship to be grateful. Sing loud in church. Dance wildly. Clap. Cheer. Put your hands up. Sit down and pray. Reflect on the words and be grateful.
Whatever you do, practice what we’ll be doing forever at the throne of Jesus for those who believe. And I’ve got to think those who believe and still treat worship like it’s a doctor’s appointment have yet to taste how good the Gospel is.
Think of your favorite singer or band. Now picture yourself at their concert, (Are you at a Justin Timberlake concert? I am.). Aren’t you early to the concert? Aren’t you standing and singing loudly? Aren’t you dancing? Aren’t you clapping? Aren’t you cheering? Aren’t your hands in the air? Yes to all of that.
Let’s take those actions combined with our gratitude toward God into worship next time you gather with Christians to sing. Who cares what others think. You worship your heart out and let them be salty.
Thanks for reading. You are loved. So SING!