Singing to Survive – and Thrive
Over the years, the Psalms have helped my soul in ways that have surprised and salvaged me. Like a rescue ship to a drowning soul in a raging sea, they have lifted my spirits, given me hope, provided deliverance, offered new perspective, and lighted the way when the skies were dark. Not only have I read and worshiped through them with fellow believers for twenty years, but my daily walk has incorporated a steady diet of the Psalms.
The emotional transparency of the Psalms helps me. David, in particular, wrote with raw inspiration as he expressed fears, despondency, hopelessness, and struggle. Conversely, he declared his joy, his confidence, and his great expectancies in God. Even an individual Psalm contains both raw doubt and resolute trust. Life is that way. Most of my days are a mix of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, burdens and blessings.
One lesson I am learning from David is the power of song. I am not referring to our common experience of singing in church, but the personal discipline of singing to the Lord. Certainly, David knew the beauty of congregational singing and music as performance in worship. He directed a large choir in his day. Yet, I am learning from David the importance of personal, heartfelt singing as a spiritual therapy for the soul. The Psalms were largely poems that David sang. He did so as a vital part of his spiritual journey. We need to embrace the power of song to help us through our days of discouragement, danger, and delight.
Our Heritage of Song
God’s people have always understood the power and value of song. A brief summary of singing can help us understand the vital role of song in our lives. Singing first appears in the Bible as a familiar part of merrymaking in connection with sending away guests and loved ones (Gen. 31:27). Vocal music first appears in Exodus 15:1 & 20 as songs erupted in celebration of the passage through the Red Sea. The digging of the well (“Beer”) was celebrated by a song (Num. 21:17-18). Moses taught Israel some of his last warnings in a song (Deut. 32:1-4). The Judges Deborah and Barak celebrated their triumph in song (Judges 5). David was celebrated with song by Israel’s women after his victory over Goliath (1 Sam. 18:6-7). Saul’s torment by an evil spirit was counteracted by David’s songs (1 Sam. 18:10). Solomon was a songwriter, composing 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32). Singing was common in ancient Israel. David’s trained choir numbered 288. Singing was noted as a major part of the leadership of key Old Testament figures like Solomon (2 Chron. 5:12-13; 9:11), Jehoshaphat (20:21-22), Joash (23:13,18), Hezekiah (29:27-30), Josiah (35:15,25), Ezra (Ezra 2:41; 3:11; 7:24), and Nehemiah (Neh. 7:44; 10:28; etc.). The “songs of Zion” were famous (cf. Ps. 137:3). The church is commanded to sing as an expression of the filling and overflow of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18-19). [i]
A Singing Lesson from David
Recently I was struck by Psalm 59, where David writes in an early moment of his life-flight from Saul’s hateful attacks and murderous men. First Samuel 19:10–11 tells us that David had just avoided a spear after Saul’s attempt to kill him. As he writes this Psalm, he is in his home surrounded by Saul’s men, who are poised to murder him. Reflecting on his treacherous situation, David cries to God for deliverance. At the end of the Psalm he writes, “But I will sing of Your power; Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; For You have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble. To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises; For God is my defense, my God of mercy” (Psalm 59:16-17).
When was the last time you sang aloud, all alone, in the midst of a painful and troubling situation? If you are like me, you need to learn from David to sing to the Lord in the midst of your problems. Too often we shut down, analyze, bemoan our situation, and engage in a process of negative navel-gazing that leaves us depressed and useless. Instead, we need to sing!
Again, this is not a performance for people. (Some of us are “prison singers” – always behind a few bars and unable to find the right key.) This is a heartfelt declaration of praise, trust, and focus from our soul to God in intimate exchange and needful focus.
From the privacy of his home, while surrounded by assassins on assignment from the King of Israel, David declares, “But I will sing….” Here is my application of that decision: “Regardless of what I feel and what I face, I will choose to fill my mouth, my mind, and my soul with a song to my God.” Recently, I noticed 18 different verses in the Psalms that declare David’s resolve to sing, in any circumstance. I am not sure what you are experiencing right now, but I hope you will learn from David and resolve to sing.
David then writes, “Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning.” How we start the early moments often sets the course for the entire day. Regardless of his circumstances, David knew the value of taking command of his soul to focus on the Lord with a song. Sadly, we often set the morning agenda with our own depressing thoughts or fill our minds with the noise of television. No wonder our days are miserable. Get a grip on your soul and sing to God as you start the day. See what might change – within you and around you.
Of course, David chose his lyrics carefully. Here is a simple breakdown of what we see in Psalm 59:16-17:
God’s Unchanging Character – David focused his songs on God’s character: “But I will sing of Your power; Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning.” Here, he declares God’s power and mercy. Another translation describes God’s strength and constant love. Imagine the transformation we might experience as our soul, voice, and mind worship accordingly each morning.
God’s Past Exploits – David declares, “For You have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.” His song remembers the many times God has proven Himself to be his defense and refuge. Let your voice declare the things the Lord had done for you all along the way of your journey.
God’s Present Help – David then says, “To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises; For God is my defense, my God of mercy.” David knew that in that moment, God would be his strength and defender, showering him with mercy (or unfailing love). Today, the Lord wants to lavish us with His amazing strength, His sure defense, and the assurance of His unfailing love. What more could we need?
The God who sings over us wants us to experience and enjoy the powerful gift of singing every day. While we may not serve in the choir or can’t even find the right notes during the songs at church – we can sing every day to the Lord. You may not “play an instrument”, but God has given you an essential instrument for your survival and victory – your voice. Use it for His glory and your good. Let it be a heartfelt, resolute, early, God-focused expression of your soul to God and see how He might use it to change your heart and your life.
Copyright © 2011 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] Adapted from The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright 1988.