October 28, 2012
Somewhere along the line we discovered that Jonathan enjoyed a style of music that was not at all what we were used to. It would have been easy to reject or criticize that style of music and I probably made some comments along that line, but with him and others who enjoy that style of music, I have also engaged them in conversation about why they like the music and how it fits in with worship of God.
Churches have often had conflict and sometimes significant conflict when it comes to music. Most of us have fairly strong opinions about music including thoughts about what we like and the appropriateness of certain types of music. Liking certain types of music but respecting the likes of others can both be perspectives which we embrace in our relationships, so I appreciate that Jeremy has put together a time of worship that includes, as was advertised, music "new and old."
This evening, I would like to reflect a little bit about the place of new music in our lives and how we can encourage one another by listening to new music.
In Psalm 149:1 we read, "Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful." This is one of about 6 verses in the Psalms that speak about singing a new song to the Lord. What is the importance of a new song?
Why are we to sing a new song?
Psalm 98:1 helps us understand the importance of a new song when it says, “Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.”
What we learn from this verse is that a song is important because it expresses an experience of God. A song is required in order to give praise to God for his work in salvation.
But why does it have to be a new song? The story becomes more focused and personal in Psalm 40. There David expresses his personal experience of God. He himself discovered that as he waited for the Lord, God heard his cry, lifted him out of the slimy pit and set his feet upon a rock. Because of this new experience of deliverance, David goes on to say in verse 3 “He put a new song in my mouth.”
God’s mighty acts, as they are experienced by his people, need to be expressed and celebrated. A new song is required for each new act and each new experience of God’s mercy.
There are many stories in the Bible in which a new experience of God was celebrated with a new song. After Israel crossed the Red Sea and left the Egyptians stuck in the mud, they sang a new song recorded in Exodus 15:1-21.
In Judges 5 after Israel defeated the Canaanites, Deborah & Barak sang a new song of celebration for God's deliverance.
When Jesus was born, the angels sang a song in Luke 2:14. It was a new song of what God had done by sending Jesus to earth.
In the scene in heaven in Revelation 5:9 the angels sing a new song of God’s glorious redemption.
A new song is required with each experience of God’s mercy and powerful work.
But, why is it so important? Why not simply continue to sing the old songs? Don't they express the same ideas? One writer says, A new song "Comes from a new impluse of gratitude in the heart." Other statements from other writers express similar ideas. "His mercies are new every morning." "It is well to repeat the old; it is more useful to invent the new." "Novelty goes well with heartiness."
Here’s how I understand it. Songs are powerful ways of expressing the deepest things in our soul. They touch our mind and emotions, our will and our passions. When we experienced God, the songs that accompanied that experience of God went deep into our heart. Those songs continue to remind us of the specific way in which we experienced God’s mercy. That is why certain songs speak so deeply to us.
As you can see, in different times and with different experiences, different songs will accompany different experiences of God. For those who are older, the hymns you sang in your youth spoke powerfully to you and expressed your worship in a deep way. Their tunes, rhythms and words go deep into your heart. They were your new song, which expressed for you your new experience of God’s mercy. Another generation came along and it has its own experience of God’s mercy. The songs, rhythms and words of their songs go deep into their heart. The songs of this new generation are the new song for them as they have what is for them a new experience of God.
That is why the new song is so important. Each individual & each generation experiences God in a fresh way and needs to express that experience in a way that is new to them.
Revelation 14:3 speaks about the new song that only the redeemed will one day sing when the Lamb of God appears in victory. Am I ever looking forward to singing that new song, but I am glad that even today, I can sing a new song to the Lord.
So if singing a new song is so important, how do we respond when someone is singing their new song? If it is not a song that speaks to us or touches our heart, it may be tempting, but it seems to me not very Christ-like, to refuse to listen to their new song.
James 1:19 says, "You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger…" As true as this verse is in all of life, it is also true as we hear someone singing their new song or even when we are asked to sing their new song. Sometimes we get angry about the new songs, but James teaches us not to become angry but instead to listen.
Why is listening so important and how can we do it well?
Listening is important because it communicates compassion for another person. It is a great way to communicate God's love. When we listen to them, we do the very Christ-like thing of valuing them as a person.
If we listen well, it allows us to try to understand them rather than making assumptions about them. As we hear the music, we may be tempted to make assumptions about them because of the style of music, but until we listen to their song and the meaning of the song for them, we are in danger of judging them. Listening, therefore, removes any prejudices we may have and allows the other person to speak what is really in their heart.
Listening is important because it allows us to hear their experience of God. If we refuse to hear the new song, we miss out on a lot of what God is doing. Good listening is a selfless act. It draws us out of ourselves and causes us to acknowledge another person and what they are experiencing. The willingness to listen is also an act of trust that God is at work in the life of another. When we don't listen we set up our system of truth over another person and believe that God can only work in one way. If we listen, we open ourselves up to discover that God can work in different people in many different ways.
As we listen it does not mean that have to agree with everything they have said. We can still have our convictions about truth and we can still hold our understanding of truth firmly. Even as we remain true to our convictions, we can still listen and hear the heart of another.
So whenever someone sings a new song, it is important to listen to that new song and to hear what God is doing.
So let us listen to the new songs with a heart to discover what God is doing. Let us join in singing the new songs as a way of celebrating that God did not just work in the Old Testament or in the Middle Ages or when we were young, but that He continues to work in new ways, in new situations, in new people to bring glory to Himself. Every new song is a new story of what God has done. Let us learn to listen to one another sing the old songs and the new songs so that together we can bring glory to God.