At our church, everyone shows up ready to sing with full hearts each Sunday morning. Nobody arrives after a tense car ride to church, or a difficult morning with children, or a late night of studying, or a long week of work. Everyone is well-rested and eager to make melody to God.
Except, not really.
Each Sunday, a good portion of our churches gather for worship with genuine anticipation for singing, praying, and hearing the word. But not everyone. Life is too real, and the ancient fall of Genesis 3 is still too valid, to think nobody walks into church with scars, shame, or even cold apathy.
But let’s be honest. Even the most stably enthusiastic in our gatherings have had Sundays when we wished our hearts burned more brightly. We experience an inner struggle in these moments. On the one hand, we know that we should sing because we’re at church. On the other, it’s good to be authentic and real, so it feels like a lie to sing when we don’t feel like it. Is it better to be honest and silent than an audible hypocrite?
Of course, we don’t want to portray something false about ourselves. Nevertheless, we have at least two good reasons for us to open our mouths and lift our voices even when we don’t feel like it.
You Have the Voice Your Neighbor Needs
People in every congregation have no voice at times. They’re not singing, but not because they don’t want to. They’re weak and worn, and in that hour they can hardly speak, much less sing. Maybe it’s a young woman who can’t sing “It Is Well” because that Sunday marks one year since her mother’s death, or a young couple who can’t sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” a few days after another miscarriage.
In God’s infinite love, he has not left these people alone. Instead, he has ordained for corporate worship to work not only vertically, but horizontally. In that moment, when the broken believer struggles to address God, we remember that God has told us to address one another with our songs (Ephesians 5:19).
When we don’t feel like singing, we have an opportunity to consider the interests of others and count them more significant than our own (Philippians 2:3–4). We have the privilege, in a way, to open our mouths for the mute (Proverbs 31:8). You may not want to sing, but the person next to you, in front of you, or behind you may need you to sing. The sight and sound of your singing may impress on them the truths of the gospel, or spur them to believe, with the psalmist, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:3).
The sight and sound of God’s people singing is a powerful, stirring exhortation for struggling hearts to believe the truths they hear sung around them. The next Sunday you’re inclined to keep quiet, remember your neighbors and sing their song.
Singing Bends Our Souls to God
Another reason to sing when we don’t feel like it is this: singing can be the best way to start feeling like it.
It is impossible for us to desire the right things all the time. Our wills and affections often lag behind our knowledge. I know I should exercise more, but the desire is sometimes absent. I know I should pray more, but my heart is often cold. Does that mean that when I do exercise or pray after some self-convincing, I’m not really exercising or praying? Of course not. It’s better to desire everything we ought, but we need not wait to feel rightly before we act rightly.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis articulates this with typical poignancy in regard to loving our neighbor when the desire isn’t there:
Though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. . . . The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets: When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.
So it is with our singing. Let’s not wait for our hearts to burn before we open our mouths. Opening our mouths can be an important part of kindling the fire.
This isn’t an up-by-the-bootstraps approach to corporate worship. Lifting your voice, when you’d rather not, can be an act of faith, believing that God’s word is true: “it is good to sing praises to our God” (Psalm 147:1). You may need to pray, “O Lord, open my lips” (Psalm 51:15), but before long, don’t be surprised to find your heart beginning to refill with thanks and praise.
Perhaps it will be this weekend. Another Sunday is coming when you will feel a cool disinterest toward the singing of the saints. When that happens, remember God’s promises, remember your neighbor, and remember what a privilege it is, and what a catalyst it can be, to sing to the one who has saved us.