The Biblical Imperative We Love to Ignore
Sing a new song to the LORD!
Let the whole earth sing to the LORD!
Psalm 96 begins with a simple imperative: “Sing a new song to the LORD!” If you look up all of the Hebrew words that underlie this command, you find that they really mean “Sing a new song to the LORD!”
Fine. But here’s the problem: We don’t like to sing new songs to the Lord, at least not for the most part. Oh, I suppose we don’t mind a new song every now and then. But, by and large, people like to sing to the Lord the songs they know already.
I confess to being one of these people. Recently, I found myself worshiping in a church I hadn’t attended before. I knew about half of the hymns and songs used in the worship service. The others were new to me. I found myself feeling uncomfortable. I was critical of some of the words of the songs. Mostly, I wished that I could just sing to the Lord rather than trying to figure out the unfamiliar tunes and rhythms. I felt rather cranky. Then I felt guilty for turning worship into a matter of my preferences rather than God’s glory.
Commentators on Psalm 96:1 will sometimes point out that “a new song” could be a familiar song sung with new meaning and vigor. I expect that’s true. But, when God’s people experience God’s goodness in fresh ways, the more poetic and musically inclined among us tend to write new songs. If we’re open to these songs and hymns and spiritual songs, they can help us to be renewed in our relationship with the Lord and to express our worship in new ways.
I’m not saying that every new song is a good one. But I am saying that I need to learn to be more open to new ways of worshiping the Lord, even as I continue to use the songs and hymns I love. In the end, I must remember that worship is not about me. It’s about God and the people of God offering themselves to him. Surely I can do this sometimes with a new song.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond when you have to sing a new song in church? If you love new songs, why? If you resist new songs, why? How can you put Psalm 96:1 into practice in your life?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, your Word is clear. We’re to sing to you a new song. But, to be honest, there are times I’d much rather sing an old song, times when I am hypercritical of the new song, times when I’m so wrapped up in what I like and dislike that I completely forget about worshiping you. Forgive me, Lord.
Give me an open spirit, one that welcomes new expressions of love for you. Help me to be stretched by new songs, so that I might offer worship to you in a new key. May I learn to offer worship to you without getting caught in the web of criticism and critique.
All praise be to you, O God. May the whole world sing to you a new song! Amen.
Here’s how . . . .
This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God (www.thehighcalling.org). You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.