Songs and hymns are a beautiful part of the Christian life. We sing them when we are praising, we sing them when we are lamenting – and somehow, they move us in ways that the spoken word rarely does.
It’s God’s plan that we sing – whether we can hold a tune or not. He calls us to speak “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). No wonder, then, at so many points in history – from Miriam’s song in Exodus 15 to the songs of both Mary and Zechariah in Luke 2 – great acts in God’s salvation plan are accompanied by song. In the letters of Paul, ancient hymns are quoted (e.g., Philippians 2). The Bible even has its own song book, the Psalms.
But what do songs enable us to do?
In Psalm 121, we find at least 6 wonderful ways in which songs can spur us on:
- Songs encourage us to turn to God (v1)
“I lift my eyes to the hills”
In the middle of pain, it is so easy to focus on ourselves. It is so tempting to listen to the counsel of the world. Yet God offers something so much better: a relationship with him that brings comfort, strength, hope and so much more. Songs can help us lift our eyes and orientate towards the one who knows and loves us the best. Songs help us to see and engage.
- Songs encourage us to express our need (v1)
“Where does my help come from?”
It can be hard to say, “I need help” but so much simpler to sing the words he has given us. Songs are a safe place to express our persistent neediness. There is never a moment when we do not require God’s sustaining and saving hand – and whether we are facing small challenges or large, they enable us to pour out words of dependence on him.
- Songs encourage us to remember who God is (v2)
“my help comes from the LORD”
Our God is not a random, distant god but a present, covenanting God. He has promised to be our God and we have promised to be his people, he is our LORD. Not only that, he is the one who has made all things, the one who provides all we need. Knowing that and expressing that makes a difference to the problems we face. As we sing familiar words, we recall important, galvanizing truths.
- Songs encourage us to turn to others (v3)
“He will not let your foot slip”
Songs are not just a personal interchange between us and God with a suitable backing track to spur us on our way, they are something that builds community. They nudge us to turn to our brothers and sisters in Christ and sing to them in ways that help them keep going too. As we sing, we provide each other with mutual encouragement, centred on Christ.
- Songs encourage us to be confident (v4-6)
“The LORD watches over you”
When we sing of his loving care – his powerful activity – his tender watchfulness, our hearts can be lifted to see hope. The current situation we are facing is not all there is. God is at work, and he brings good. Maybe we know that in theory, but singing helps us to speak it out – to proclaim it to ourselves and those around us. Songs help us be sure.
- Songs help us dwell on eternity (v7-8)
“Both now and evermore”
This life is not all there is – there is so much better ahead. Songs enable us not just to talk about that but to taste the beauty to come as we dwell richly on the promises of perfection.
There are many other reasons to sing. Many reasons to sing – or listen to others singing – when life is desperately hard. Many reasons to send a friend a link to encouraging songs when their heart is burdened. Many reasons to reflect on faithful songs in conversations when we are talking through the complexities of life. Many reasons to write our own songs to express the ups and downs of our walk with the Lord. Many reasons to trawl songs for the richness of theology and experience they combine.
One thing we would like to do a BCUK, is put together a list of songs for troubled times: a list of Christ-centred songs that help us all lift our eyes when life is hard. We would love your help too! There are already some lists around, but one chosen by and for the BCUK community could be a lovely way we could encourage each other well. If you have a song to suggest – ancient or modern – please do email in your suggestion to email@example.com