January 1, 1986 Issue
by Paul Walker

    It happened last Lord's Day. The number for the final song in our worship service was announced. It was number 224 --"Take the Name of Jesus with You." The brother who led the song was not trained to lead singing, in a formal way. He didn't "pitch" the song, as we say; no hand gestures were seen; he simply started singing and we followed. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. Last Sunday it worked, for we all knew the song and it was easy to follow the leader. But the one thing that impressed me so, was the spirit with which the Brother in Christ sang as he led that lovely hymn. I must share with you what I saw and felt.

     First, I felt good about the fact that my fellow-worshiper had selected an appropriate song. He used wisdom. That is often not the case in our worship services. And having selected a fine closing song, he did not rush us through two stanzas as though the building was ablaze and we were in danger of burning to death. No-- he led all four stanzas! Approaching the chorus my brother did some thing that thrilled my heart; he lowered his songbook and lifted up his head, closed his eyes and with head swaying gently sang from memory, "Precious name, o how sweet! Hope of earth and joy of heaven; precious name..." Not for show. Not to be cute or clever! But because he felt the message of that song deep down in his soul. What a beautiful day, I thought, to end a Lord's Day worship service and a comforting message to leave with and to be benefited by as I faced another week on my path to heaven.

    Paul, in I Cor 14:15, expressed an attitude we should all possess in our Christian singing, "...I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also." To the Ephesians in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph 5:19). Still determined to impress upon the hearts of Christians the importance of proper singing the same apostle wrote, (Col 3:16) "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." Two important things are suggested by the man who wrote to the church about singing: (1) Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (2) Sing-- making melody in the heart. Is it possible for our singing to be "in vain" and displeasing to God? Yes, of course. Jesus, we remember, quoted the words of Isaiah to show some of his day the folly of vain worship: "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt 15:8-9). Since singing is part of our church worship, singing can be done in a vain manner--if our heart is not in it!

Did Jesus sing? Yes, I believe he did. The record says, "And when they had sung a hymn, they went out..." In the 14th chapter of Mark (the above verse is part of that chapter, verse 26) we find Jesus eating the Passover with his disciples for the last time before his suffering and death. There in the Upper Room our Lord, after observing the Passover meal, took a loaf of bread and a cup of the fruit of the vine and set in order the Lord's Supper. After eating the supper with them they all, as the custom was, sang a hymn Jesus joining right in, I'm convinced. Did he sing bass? Tenor? Or did he lead, maybe? That well never know. One thing, though, I do know-- he sang that hymn (psalm, probably) from the depth of his loving and tender heart. O, to have been with that small band and their Master that day in the shadow of the cross! If not with them in that tiny upper room, may be just outside the window --to 'have heard the rise and fall, the swelling joy, the deep feeling of that male chorus!

    Jesus found his earthly path hard and lonely. He needed all the encouragement he could get. His custom was to go into the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Luke 4:16) and stand up and read the scriptures. That act, though, was more than mere custom; he found strength in so doing. Too, when he stood up and sang with his close disciples back during his days of great heartache and suffering, it was more than mere custom it was affirming his and their faith and drawing from that ancient psalm a certain strength to go out into a hard, harsh, uncaring world! Some tend to think that singing offers nothing but nostalgia. That's not true; singing is for now. Singing helps us, as it helped our Lord and Master, in our immediate time-- to aid us today.

    Deep in the South many, many years ago, a religious service was in progress at a black church. It was a hot, steamy, summer night and the worshipers were well into a beautiful, joyous song service when suddenly the front door of the church was swung open by a mean, angry mob of men who brutally beat the innocent worshipers. Later, after the mob had left, one brother with tears and blood mingled rolling down his face sobbed: "This is what I got for praising my dear Jesus." That scene is sad; it is one that happened too many times in Americas past. Yet, a sadder scene still is the one Mark records: "...and they sang a hymn, and went out." Went out to face his enemies with a song in his heart. Soon our Master and Lord was mocked, hit, spit upon, forced to wear a crown of sharp thorns and finally crucified! Yes, the black brother said it right; sometimes we do get a raw deal for serving and following after our dear Jesus, but look what Jesus got after singing a song with his disciples then going out into the world. In comparison to what he suffered, our suffering is nothing. So, as our custom is, let us keep on singing-- for, like Jesus, we must leave the worship service to "go out" into a hard, cold, cruel world and we need all the encouragement we can get. As for me, I think I'll make it if my brothers in the church --like the brother last Sunday--will keep on leading "Take the name of Jesus with you, child of sorrow and of woe; it will joy and comfort give you: take it then where'er you go...Precious Name, O how sweet!"

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