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We spend a lot of time singing in church. But when we sing, are we really singing from our heart to God? Or are we only saying words? Quite a few years ago someone noticed that everyone when they sang in church tended to have their heads buried in the hymnals even when they knew the songs. So, many churches came up with the idea of projecting the words on a screen. So instead of people staring at the hymnals they stared at the screen even if they knew the songs. Singing in church should be more than just reading words and notes. It should be a time that we worship God from our heart. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to think about what we are singing, and discipline our minds to focus on God.
Psalm 98 gives us wonderful instruction on how to come to God with a song in our heart. The psalm is divided into 3 sections of 3 verses apiece. Verses 1-3 tell us what we are to sing, verses 4-6 show us how we are to sing, and verses 7-9 reveal who should sing.
What are we to sing (verses 1-3)
Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! For He has done marvelous things; his right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.
We are to sing to the Lord not out of habit or routine, but out of gratitude and worship for all the things God has done for us. John Wesley wrote, "Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength."
We are also encouraged to sing a new song. Old songs are good because we know them so well and they mean a lot to us. But new songs are good because they express our feelings in a new way.
Notice the psalmist says God has done marvelous things. As we sing, we need to reflect on all the marvelous things God has done for us. Many songs tell about the wonderful works of God. As we sing them, let us think of what God has done in our life how he has helped us, strengthened us, and comforted us.
Next, the psalmist says God has gained the victory. We are not defeated. God has gained for us the victory. When we sing songs of triumph, let us reflect on all those times that God has rescued us from danger, from sickness, from mental anguish.
The Lord has made known His salvation; his righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.
This verse tells us the Lord has made known his salvation. He has saved us. We are to sing songs of salvation. When we sing songs that speak about salvation, let us thank God for his saving grace that reached down to us. Let us consider where we were and where God has brought us. Let us consider all the love and mercy that God has shown us.
Spurgeon comments, "The Lord is to be praised not only for effecting human salvation, but also for making it known, for man would never have discovered it for himself...."
Next the psalmist says that God has revealed his righteousness. He is a holy God. There are some songs that speak of the divine holiness. As we sing them, let our hearts be awed by his holy presence. Let us sing with the seraphim in Isaiah 6:3, "...Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!"
He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
The psalmist tells us that God has remembered. He keeps his promises. Let us sing about Gods word and about his promises. Psalm 119:105 says, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." As we sing songs about Gods word, let us thank him for being faithful in keeping those promises to us.
Next the psalmist talks about Gods mercy and his faithfulness. Let us sing about Gods amazing grace and songs that extol the great faithfulness of our God. As we sing these songs, let us remember Gods mercy to us, and his faithfulness every day throughout the year.
How are we to sing (verses 4-6)
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
This one verse gives us much instruction on how we are to sing to God. It starts off by instructing us to shout joyfully to the Lord. We are to sing to God with joy in our hearts. This is not always easy to do especially if we have been having problems in our life, on the job, or with our family. But we need to learn to enter the song service joyfully.
Spurgeon exhorts us, "Every tongue must applaud, and that with the vigour which joy of heart alone can arouse to action. As men shout when they welcome a king, so must we. Loud hosannas, full of happiness, must be lifted up. If ever men shout for joy it should be when the Lord comes among them...."
Next the psalmist says, break forth in song. When we sing, let it come from the depths of our heart. Lets not just go through the motions, but enter into genuine worship.
The psalmist also says we need to rejoice. As we worship God, it should be a time of rejoicing. We should rejoice that we are saved, rejoice that we are forgiven, rejoice that God is with us, rejoice that Christ died for us, and rejoice that the Holy Spirit is here to minister to us.
Finally, the psalmist says, sing praises. Our songs should be songs of praise. We are not just singing words and melody, we are singing praises to our Lord and God. Let our whole heart join in praising God. As Psalm 103:1 tells us, "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!"
Sing to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of a psalm.
The Hebrew word used here < rwOn@ki> kinnowr refers to any stringed instrument, but its usually translated harp or lyre. I think of this verse today as saying: sing to the Lord with the guitar or the piano! We are to sing a psalm unto God. What were the psalms? They were Israels songs of prayer and praise.
With trumpets and the sound of a horn; shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.
We can praise God with the trumpet and the horn. In other words let us not be afraid to use our talents for God. What can you use to praise God? We can all use our voices. Do you know how to play a musical instrument? Use it to praise God.
Next, the psalmist tells us to shout joyfully before the Lord. When we are singing in church, we are not simply mouthing the words, but we are singing before the Lord. We are in his presence. Let us sing joyfully unto him. How many times have you seen people singing and they look so serious. Judging by the expression on their face, they look like their dog just died. We have much to be grateful for. Allow that joy to enter into your worship of God.
Who should sing (verses 7-9)
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell in it.
The psalmist begins this verse with, Let the sea roar and all its fulness. Singing to the Lord is not supposed to be a quiet time. We can sing like the sound of sea roaring in the fullness of our voices. Lets not be afraid to sing our worship to our God.
Who should sing to God? The psalmist says the world and those who dwell in it. Let every person everywhere sing praises to God. As Psalm 150:6 exhorts, "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!" That means everyone in the church too. Whether young or old, whether bold or shy, whether an extrovert or an introvert, whether loud or quiet; let us all praise the Lord with our song.
Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the Lord.
The rivers clap their hands. Have you ever noticed how the sound of the river beating against the rocks sounds like clapping? As the rivers clap their hands, so can we. We dont have to be afraid of entering into worship with our whole being. We talked earlier about those who can play their musical instruments to praise God. Well not all of us can play a ten-stringed instrument, but we all have a ten-fingered instrument. We applaud the opera, the symphony, the play. We applaud the home run, the touchdown, and the goal. Its all right to also applaud God.
The psalmist says, Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord. Let us not be afraid of expressing our joy before God. Whether we are happy or sad, let us be joyful together before the Lord.
For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity.
Now the psalmist gives us one final reason to praise God with our song. He is the righteous judge and he treats all people with fairness and equity. He doesnt love me more than you or you more than me. He does not think that Im more special than you or youre more special than me. He loves us all equally. He shows no favorites. For that we can all thank him with all of our hearts. Who is to praise God? All those throughout the world that he treats equitably.
This psalmist tells us what we are to sing, how we are to sing, and who should sing. God wants everyone everywhere worshipping him in their body, in their soul, and in their spirit. He doesnt want us to only be singing without thinking of what we are singing. He wants us to involve our hearts as well as our voices. When we sing in church, may it be a time of genuine worship as we enter together into Gods presence.
Macartney wrote, "When a congregation sing together, speaking to themselves, to one another, and to God in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and making melody in their hearts to the Lord then come to the surface all the great traditions of the past, all the great convictions of the present, and all the glorious hopes for the future."