Be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. ~Ephesians 5:18-19
Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. ~Colossians 3:16
When Paul writes in Ephesians and Colossians about singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, what is he writing about? These three different expressions of the gift of music include a creative blend, a beautiful mixture of ancient and modern, traditional and contemporary, structured and spontaneous, familiar and unfamiliar.
Here are a few of my reflections on the gift of music in light of Paul’s instructions.
Singing the Psalms
The first of the three forms of music are Psalms, or prayers in song. The people of Cannon Beach Community Church will read and study the Book of Psalms during the Summer of 2021. Nearly half of the Psalms were written by David, who was not only King of Israel, but also gifted musician and composer. David is said to have written over 3000 Psalms and faith songs in his lifetime.What is a Psalm? Simply put, a Psalm is prayer in poetry and song. The 150 Psalms collected in the Bible were all set to music. Over the past 3000 years, many composers and song-writers have written new music to these ancient cries of faith, including Joseph Haydn and J. S. Bach.
The Psalms include many types of song-prayers, including prayers for thanksgiving, praise, celebration and journey; songs of lament, confession, meditation and intercession; and prayers of the individual, the community and the nation. The Book of Psalms is the prayer book of the Bible, and the Psalms are our prayer instructors, teaching us how to pray. Through the Psalms, God deepens our prayer life, inviting us further into God’s goodness and love.
Enjoy singing the Psalms together with other followers of Christ.
Another way to enjoy the gift of music is by singing hymns. Many contemporary churches have given up singing of hymns, a great loss to the church by ignoring some of the richest faith expressions in church history.
I love seeing people sing hymns with their eyes closed, singing from memory, singing hymns of the Heart. One of my “heart hymns,” comes from Ireland, “Be Thou My Vision,” a hymn that sits on the top of my favorite hymn list. The words date back to the early 8th century in Ireland and the tune, called “Slane” is an ancient Irish ballad, possibly dating back even further to the time of St. Patrick in the 6th century. Slane is a hill near Tara, Ireland where the first fires of Easter were lit by St. Patrick.
Hymns always have a story to tell, simply because they were written by real people in real times of struggle, growth and spiritual challenge. What is a Hymn? Simply put, a hymn is a faith poem intended to be sung. A hymn expresses truths about the Christian faith, set into a structure of meter and rhyme, to be sung by a congregation of believers for their spiritual edification.
Hymns can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as in the New Testament. The great hymns of the Bible often express the hymn-writers theology about the identity of Christ. Two excellent examples are Colossians 1:15-20 and Philippians 2:5-11. Paul tells the people at Colossae to “let the word of Christ dwell among them richly as they sing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs”.
Most hymnals are collection of hymns ranging from the early church, through the medieval times, into the reformation, up to the modern day. Hymns we often think of as “old” or “traditional” are actually quite modern when seen in light of Church history.
Learn to love singing hymns. They pick up our spirits, build up our faith, instruct us about the truths of God through the pages of Scripture and quicken our hope for eternal life.
Singing Spiritual Songs
Another way to enjoy the gift of music is to sing spiritual songs of the soul. Our third type of music is a spiritual song. We most often think of spirituals as music sung by African-American slaves in the south in previous centuries. Spirituals include songs of suffering and hope, of slavery and redemption, of the troubles in this life and the glories in the life to come.
Often these African-American spirituals were inspired by Jesus’ example of suffering on the cross such as in the spiritual “He never said a mumbalin’ word” in which the song looks to Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith, who didn’t insult back when insulted, who didn’t strike back when struck, who patiently endured persecution, offering us his life and love as our example for facing the trials we face in life.
What is a spiritual? A Song inspired by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of lifting our spirit, intended to edify our souls, to build us up, strengthen, inspire, restore, renew our weary spirits.
There are many types of such spiritual songs, with every generation writing their own new versions of such music.
Spirituals are a tribute to the power of music to liberate the human spirit, to elevate our inner lives above the circumstances, enable us to triumph in our attitude.
Other kinds of spiritual songs are those being written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by contemporary composers for the purpose of lifting up the human spirit through worship in song. We often think of these songs as “contemporary” songs or “praise and worship” songs. Such music is often devotional oriented, often written as personal prayers to God, crying out to God, adoring God in word and music. In this form of music, our emotions play a vital role along with our bodies, as we sing out, lift up our hands, stand to sing together.
Try this experiment: next time you get into a bad mood, sing some songs of faith, hope and love. Sing a Psalm. Sing a Hymn. Sing a Spiritual Song. Sing them aloud several times through and see what happens.