New songs

Thu, 23/07/2015 - 17:01 -- James Oakley

Psalm 33:3 says this:

Sing to him a new song; play skilfully, and shout for joy.

Note the three ingredients here of how we are instructed to sing to God.

  • A new song. Caution is needed here. Elsewhere, the appeal to sing new songs stems from God doing new acts of deliverance. For the Christian church, all God's great saving acts are in the past, so we don't need newness in the sense of new things for which to praise God. Yet at the same time, the Psalm urges a "freshness" (Kidner, page 136) to our singing. We mustn't praise God in ways that are tired, only singing what we sang yesterday. God's mercies are new every morning, so our praises should reflect this, carrying the joy and freshness that would come if we'd just discovered God for the first time.
  • Skilful. The quality of the music matters. Churches use the gifts Christ has given them, and some churches struggle to find even one live musician. But we should sing and play to the best of our ability. We want words and music that are good quality writing, and we want them played and sung as well as we can.
  • Joyful. We are to "shout for joy". If you look on the faces of Christians singing God's praise, they shouldn't look bored, miserable even. We should be belting out our praises. As the rest of Psalm 33 makes clear, God's deeds are truly amazing. If we've been blessed by God in such amazing ways, we should open our lungs, our faces should light up, and praising God will be an exercise in joyful noise that nearly blows the roof off the building.

And we are instructed to do all 3. If I were to anticipate some of the objections to these 3 points, they might be along the lines that it's wrong to ask people to stress this component of our praise, because surely it's important to have that. Be careful asking people to sing skillfully, I might be told: You wouldn't want people's focus on quality to take all the joy out of it.

Quite right too. Fresh. Skilful. Joyful. All 3. Not either / or.

Yet maintaining all 3 is challenging.

  • Often new music lacks quality. The old hymns we sing have survived the test of time for a reason. I don't doubt that there were many hymns written at the same time as "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing", ... but there's a reason why lots of the others did not survive into our own day. So we want new songs to sing, without sacrificing the quality.
  • Often quality music lacks joy. If we're not careful, it turns into a performance, where getting it right matters more to us than putting our heart and soul into the singing. Music that is a polished performance, but where the heart is not in it as an expression of praise, is a tragedy.
  • Often, joyful music is not new. We know what we like and we like what we know. It's harder to pick up new songs, so in our desire to sing what we really enjoy we sing the same songs year after year. There's nothing wrong with still loving the songs we used to sing in the youth group when we were teenagers, ... but they shouldn't be the only thing we sing. If God is always showing us new depths to his character, we will constantly need fresh music to sing of what we see today, and not just singing out of the relationship we had with him 20 years ago.

Sing to him a new song; play skilfully, and shout for joy.


The Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever.

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