Sing among the nations
This month I shared my testimony at the Hokkaido Bible Institute and afterwards got to sit in on a lecture on Psalm 96. Obviously, I could not understand everything because it was in Japanese but thankful that there was a lot that I could follow and be challenged by. Firstly, the Psalm is about singing – “Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!” It directs our hearts to God first and foremost – to see his glory, behold his works, and to praise Him for his holiness. But it does not end there, the Psalm is directed to God but then shoots out to the nations, calling them to praise too. Here are a few phrases: “all the earth” “all the peoples” “families of the peoples” “the nations”. God is not a tribal or regional deity; He is the supreme God of all nations. John Piper taught me well I think in saying: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t”. Because we know God is the supreme God of all nations, we are compelled to go and share the good news of God – who He is, what He has done, how He can be known.
Have you ever really considered that SINGING is an important part of making God known? I don’t think that I have ever really paid serious attention to this. Up until this point, I only thought about TELLING as the vehicle for missions. We need to preach, we need to teach, we need to disciple…yes! yes! yes! BUT ALSO, we need to SING! Check out these Psalms if you don’t agree:
For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations,
and sing praises to your name. Psalm 18:49
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations. Psalm 57:9
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations. Psalm 108:3
Does this mean I need to walk downtown and start belting out Amazing Grace? Maybe…but not necessarily! After thinking about this for a while, I have come up with some ways that this idea of singing among the nations could be applied practically.
- Song choice
I am more convinced now that our worship songs should contain words that describe God in a way that non-Christians can also understand. We talk about contextualizing the Gospel, what about contextualizing the songs we sing on Sundays? How do the songs we sing convict the sinner? Humble the proud? Explain God’s works? Invite the unbeliever to trust in Jesus? There are already lots of fantastic songs that do this but worship leaders should be intentional in choosing them.
- Consider singing in other languages
This is a tricky one I know, but if done correctly it could be helpful within the right context. Firstly, there is nothing quite like worshipping God in your mother tongue. I have begun to realize this more now by living in Japan. It is difficult to worship while wondering about the meaning and grammar of the words right! Consider people in your congregation who might be struggling with this. But more than that, consider how singing in a different language displays God as the supreme God who welcomes all nations. If we only sing in one language whilst there are many among us who do not share that same language, is it really showing practically that they are welcome? This is by no means an easy thing to implement, it does not fit every situation, and I am aware of many impracticalities BUT it is one very strong way for a church to actively demonstrate how God welcomes and calls to praise all living creatures.
- Reaching out through music
Singing and music can be powerful tools for evangelism, let me share a few examples.
In Japan, thanks to the movie Sister Act, Gospel Choir music has taken off. These choirs are made up of Christians and non-Christians; through the music and friendships in the group, there are ample opportunities for the good news to be shared.
Last month our church hosted a music outreach event and a number of new people came as a result. The youth band, choir, and a member from Night Delight (Christian band in Sapporo) performed. The pastor then presented the gospel by playing the piano and sharing a children’s story with photos being displayed on the projector. He played scary music, dramatic music, happy music, all according to what was going on in the story. It was beautifully contextualized, included Scripture, and gave clear and understandable teaching on sin, Christ, and the way of salvation. I myself was moved in my own walk with God when I realized – The Gospel story is being sung in Japan!
When I was working in South Africa, we hosted a children’s holiday club every year. For 5 days we play games, share Bible stories, and sing Gospel songs with children. The songs normally have catchy tunes so kids learn them fast and repeat them often! Parents told me that their children come home and sing these songs to their families, some of these families were not believers. The Gospel story was sung by kids!
Next month I will be travelling to a fellow missionaries’ church to lead a music evening along with two young guys from our church in Japan. A number of non-Christians are being invited and we are trusting that God will use our efforts to sing among the nations.
God calls us to be singers as well as preachers. In what ways can you can sing amongst the nations? I would be very interested to hear your stories or ways in which you or your church sings amongst the nations. Please share your thoughts and ideas!
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.” Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness