We are all singers. We may not all be very good singers, but we are all created to be singers nonetheless. The psalmist sings, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:13–14). We have three young daughters, and it has surprised us with each of them how early they could sing. Simple melodies with mumbled words grew into phrases like “O sing happylujah,” or a bizarre mixture of “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” To sing is written into our human DNA; it is part of God’s design. Our desire to make musical instruments to accompany our singing is as old as our desire to fashion tools to aid us in our daily work (Gen. 4:21–22).
Throughout Scripture and through history, we see God’s people using this gift of song to praise Him, the Giver of it.
Your ability to sing is fearfully and wonderfully made. Around the twelve-week mark, the vocal cords of a baby growing in the womb are in place and have been shown to work long before the baby is born. We may sound different, but each of us has the same vocal apparatus (you, us, Bono, Pavarotti, Sinatra)—breath flowing up from our lungs, vibrating through vocal cords in our throat, and pushing sound out through the articulators of our mouths, tongues, and lips. Singing is not merely a happy by-product of God’s real intent of making us creatures who can speak. It is something we’re designed to be able to do.
But not only that, God designed our psyche for singing. When singing praise to God, so much more than just the vocal box is engaged. God has created our minds to judge pitch and lyric; to think through the concepts we sing; to engage the intellect, imagination, and memory; and to remember what is set to a tune (we are confident that, right now, 99 percent of this book’s readers can remember more lyrics set to music than can recite Scripture by rote). God has formed our hearts to be moved with depth of feeling and a whole range of emotion as the melody-carried truths of who God is and whose we are sink in.
What if I “Can’t Sing”?
Sometimes we meet people who say, “I can’t sing”—as in, “The sound that comes out of my mouth when I try to sing is not what I was hoping for.” Perhaps this is you, and you can recall an awkward conversation as a child when you were asked to mouth the words, rather than sing them; or when it was suggested that being a member of your school or church choir might not be the best fit for your gifts. But if you can speak, you can physically sing. Christian singing begins with the heart, not on the lips (Eph. 5:19).
The truth is that God designed you to sing and gave you everything you need to sing as well as He wants you to. He’s far less concerned with your tunefulness than your integrity.
Because they are very little and are at different stages of learning to sing, when our daughters sing together, the older is more confident than the middle one, who is in turn more fluent than the youngest. This may change as they all get older, but the point is this—to their parents’ ears, each voice is not only as important as the others but is as treasured as the others. Your heavenly Father cares whether and what you sing, but He does not mind how well you sing. While we may have choirs within our churches made up of voices who have expertise and ability, the congregation of a church is the ultimate choir, and it is without auditions—everyone can be in it and should be in it.
The true beauty of such a congregational choir is that our voices and our hearts are knit together in praise.
It is exhilarating to be part of a body of believers singing truth together. We recently met with a missionary to China who was home on furlough in America. After the singing, he said how wonderful it was to be able to sing freely with other believers again, for the part of China he lived in imposed heavy restrictions on such a thing. “Oh, how my heart misses the singing,” he said. Your voice may not be of professional standard, but it is of confessional standard.
It is worth adding, though, that the more we practice something, the better we become at it—and we seek to improve in what we truly value. “As with almost everything worthwhile in life, there is rarely just one day to do it.” To learn to walk takes time, and we first must learn to press down on our feet. To learn to speak takes time, and we must first open our mouths and make sounds. To praise God in tuneful song takes time, and we grow better at singing by singing. And once we’ve reached our peak, if it is still some way short of the tuneful heights, a sense of humor is a useful ally.
Some people do have a special gift of singing absolutely every note slightly off pitch (which is, ironically, very hard to do). Since we sing to encourage and praise, not to impress and earn praise, we can smile about that and sing anyway.
One of our band members, Zach White, recently told us of the inspiration his dad has been to him and his siblings when it comes to singing in church. Mr. White is always the most passionate singer in the congregation, despite only having three notes he can actually sing, and none of them in tune. But it never holds him back. He has grasped what congregational singing is, and is not, about.
Kristyn’s vocal coach for the last fourteen years, Kim Wood Sandusky, has several decades of experience in training professional singers across genres. She points out that “we are all singers. Some of us have talents that allow us to sing with beautiful tones and good pitch, while others have talents to sing with their soul. What a beautiful sound we all make as singers to our heavenly Father’s ears.”
There are those of us who may have vocal constrictions that come through health struggles or have been there since birth. If you cannot speak but sing by signing with your hands or through whatever means God has given you, you bless the community of believers as we join with one heart and one voice until the day all tongues will sing to Him. We are so grateful for the work of signers who enable the whole congregation to so meaningfully engage in the lyrics we sing.
Excerpted with permission from Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church. Copyright 2017, B&H Publishing Group.