Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why do you sing?

Our former (not "old") teaching pastor, now pastoring in Seattle, was approached one day by an earnest young woman. "I'm supposed to shadow someone with an unusual career," she said. She's a student, and this was a sociology or psychology assignment. She could think of no career stranger than "pastor of a church."

So she followed him around one day, and she was full of questions. "Why do you sing?" for example. She had never been to church, and this first experience was astonishing to her, like stepping into an alternate universe.

But why do we sing? I can think of about three answers.

  1. Tradition!
    Perhaps easiest to understand. It's a habit. I mean, it's what you do in church. It makes people feel good.
  2. Remembrance
    You don't have to be a churchgoer to understand that the media bombard us with messages about who we are (you're a loser unless you wear these clothes) and what we need (like "You need this car!"). To help us remember the reasons for our hope -- the key word here being "remember."
  3. To get spiritual help
    This will probably strike the unchurched as really weird. The Bible says that God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22). The Bible tells of times when God does great things, as his people praise him. The walls of Jericho came down, for example, when trumpets were sounded. These were blown by priests, and it's no stretch to say this was an act of worship and praise.
Let me clarify this bit about God doing great works and showing his power. Jordan Seng talks about how works of power in the Bible (and in his own experience) seem to be related to these four factors:
  • authority. When we're obeying God, we have authority.
  • gifting. Some people have gifts in greater measure than others do.
  • faith. This does not mean, "if you didn't get healed, it's because you didn't have enough faith." No! What it does seem to mean, though, is that if everybody for 5-10 yards around thinks in his heart "nothing's gonna happen," then probably nothing will happen.
  • unction. Jordan doesn't like this word either, but he couldn't think of a better one. He also suggested "anointing" -- but the point here is that sacrifice brings power.
A little more on faith: First, it's environmental. Mark tells us that even the Lord Jesus Christ "could not do any miracles" (except heal a few sick people) in his hometown because of their lack of faith (Mark 6:1-6). And then consider the daughter of Jairus. Two points here: First, notice how Jesus threw them all out (Mark 5:40) before he raised her from the dead. They were scoffing and he wanted them out of the immediate area. For another example, Jesus sees a crowd approaching (Mark 9:25-27) and acts before they arrive, probably because they were an unbelieving crowd too (Mark 9:19).

Second, whether someone gets healed does not necessarily depend on how much faith the subject has. Back to Jairus's daughter: how much faith do you suppose she had? Not much -- she was dead! Or how about Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12)? He was dead, too. Same deal with Dorcas/Tabitha (Acts 9:36-42). She was dead but Peter raised her back to life. Note that he cleared the room first (Acts 9:40). These people were dead so they didn't have much faith. You don't have to have a lot of faith to be healed. Now, if you're certain that prayer won't cure anything, and others around you feel the same way, then, well, why are you even getting prayed for? Lack of faith inhibited miracles from the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and whoever is praying for you won't be able to do much better.

Now Jordan also told us that these factors seem to be sort of additive. Someone who's got all four factors (or "terms") working in his/her favor can see a lot of stuff happen. But if you're strong in some, you can be weak in others and things still might happen. For example, Moses had gifting and unction and faith, so even when he was disobedient (i.e., he had no authority -- when he struck the rock a second time rather than speaking to it (Numbers 20:7-12) -- it still "worked." By the way, you can tell they were disobedient by the Lord's reaction.

The disciples couldn't drive the demon out of the (apparently) epileptic boy in Mark 9:17-29; according to Jesus, prayer (some manuscripts say "and fasting") was required. The disciples were high in authority, probably OK in gifting, but they were lacking in unction. They had plenty of faith, too; you can tell because they were surprised they couldn't cast the demon out.

So that's the outline, sort of. Now, we cannot maneuver, manipulate, or bulldoze God into doing things. But we can observe the way he seems to act, and this business of faith, unction, authority, gifting -- this seems to fit pretty well.

How does singing help? The remembrance can help me in terms of faith, because I become more likely to remember the reason for hope. And when a lot of us in the same room are remembering why we can have hope, that increases our faith.

And when we remember in our daily lives -- as we go through the week and remember to have the right perspective -- because of those songs, then we are more likely to obey and therefore to have more authority -- because we're more likely to act in a way that pleases God.

Songs of praise to God seem to increase our unction, too. The book of Hebrews talks about a "sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that give thanks to God."

Well, I hope that helps.

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