By Rhett Burns
Several weeks ago, I wrote here that feasting is fighting. But bread and wine and forks are not our only weapons as we aim to take the planet for King Jesus. We also have organs, guitars, drums, pianos, cellos, and those two ligaments in the larynx responsible for producing the human voice. Singing is slaying, and every Sunday God’s people take up arms against principalities and powers when they stand for the congregational songs.
It seems odd that singing would be so powerful. We often associate singing with the softer things: lullabies and love songs, for example. But Scripture’s songs are not so delicate. Taking Moses’ song at the sea in Exodus 15 as a representative sample, what makes for powerful Christian singing? Songs about God and his great acts of victory, salvation, and conquest—“The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name” (Ex 15:3). Songs about God’s future grace and the victories to come for those who are loyal to him (Ex 15:13-17). Songs about his universal kingship—“The Lord will reign forever and ever” (Ex 15:18).
Christians sing because the Lord has triumphed gloriously. He is our strength and our song, and he has become our salvation. He is our God, and we will praise him. He is our fathers’ God, and we will exalt him (Ex 15:1-2). And when the people of God sing like this, the enemies of God are defeated.
When Israel took Jericho, they did not scale the walls or launch a traditional attack. Rather, they marched around the city seven times on the seventh day, sounded trumpets, and lifted their voices. When foreign armies came against Jehoshaphat, he did not rely on the archers or the horsemen and their chariots. Instead, he assembled the people of Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children for a worship service. He prayed, gave thanks, and turned the battle over to the choir:
“And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.” And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.”— 2 Chronicles 20:21-22
At first, it makes little sense that songs should have such potency. But we then remember that in the beginning it was God’s voice that first carved the mountains and hung the stars in the sky. His voice made the lions and the bears, the iron and the gold. He spoke the violent waters of the rivers and assembled the armies of the trees. The world he made, the world he spoke, is resplendent and glorious—it is poetry incarnate. In fact, in The Magician’s Nephew, Lewis depicted the creation of Narnia as a song:
“Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out – single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.”
When we sing, we join the song of the stars and sing of our great joy in God. And that joy is our strength. That joy is weapons-grade, putting foreign armies to flight. Even our children get in on the action, for through the songs of babies and infants God has established strength to still the enemy and the avenger (Psalm 8:2)
Even when all seems lost, amid suffering, the song of the Christian is a potent witness. Nik Ripken, who has spent thousands of hours interviewing believers living in persecution, tells the story of Dmitri, a pastor imprisoned in the old Soviet Union. Every morning, the only Christian in a prison of fifteen hundred hardened Russian criminals, he stood beside his bed, faced the east, and sang a song of praise to our God. He did this for seventeen years. Every time Dmitri found a scrap of paper, he would write, in as tiny writing as possible, as much Scripture as he could remember upon it, and then slap it high upon the damp concrete wall in his cell as his offering to Jesus. For this act guards beat him many times over the years.
One day, after finding and filling up a whole sheet of paper—rare contraband, indeed—and posting his offering upon the wall, the guards frogmarched him for execution. But as he neared the door, fifteen hundred prisoners stood beside their beds, faced the east, and sang Dmitri’s song of praise. The guards dropped him, asking who he was. Dimitri replied with boldness, “I am a son of the Living God, and Jesus is his name.”
The song of the suffering is a powerful witness to both the past and future victory of God. Because the Lord has triumphed gloriously in the past, we have a sure hope that He will triumph in the future. Therefore, we sing.
And when God’s people sing with faith and with gusto, the enemies of God are put to the run and routed.