“Sing, sing, sing, sing
Sing it out as hard as you can
Make 'em hear from L.A. to Japan
Don't let 'em bring you down
This is how we do it now
Go and roll them windows down and
Sing, sing, sing, sing,
Sing it with your hands in the sky
Light it up like it's the 4th of July
Don't let 'em bring you down
You know what I'm talking 'bout
A little bit louder now”
~ Pentatonix, “Sing”
When I was in Afghanistan with the Infantry, men sang. The most popular song was, of course, Lady Gaga’s “Telephone”, because a video of scantily clad women in prison, involving Beyonce, is an automatic win for US infantrymen. Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” was popular, in no small part because a group of operators made a hilarious parody video of the Miami Dolphins’ Cheerleaders’ video of the same song. When riding into a suspected battle, Disturbed’ s “Indestructible” led the way. These manly men sang.
Why? Well, aside from the visuals of those first two videos, they sang to reflect or bolster their emotions in the appropriate way. 4-chord pop music with a rapid beat generally makes you happy, or is an expression of happiness. Heavy metal, metal core, hard core music increases aggression, which is not only why I heard it all the time at war, but why you often hear it in the kinds of gyms that are also full of chalk, grunts, clanging metal and little, if any, mirrors. Music carries emotion, and singing reflects how we feel and impacts how we feel.
In his early 18th-century book that impacted a nation, “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life,” Anglican William Law writes:
“As singing is a natural effect of joy in the heart, so it has also a natural power of rendering the heart joyful. The soul and body are so united, that they have each of them power over one another in their actions. Certain thoughts and sentiments in the soul produce such and such motions and actions in the body; and, on the other hand, certain motions and actions of the body have the same power of raising such and such thoughts and sentiments in the soul. So that, as singing is the natural effect of joy in the mind, so it is as truly a natural cause of raising joy in the mind. As devotion of the heart naturally breaks out into outward acts of prayer; so outward acts of prayer are natural means of raising the devotion of the heart.”
Law knew well before modern neuroscience that behavior impacts thinking, just as thinking impacts behavior.
In my morning prayer routine, I have a number of songs (canticles) that can be read or sung. For while I simply silently read the entirety of the scheduled morning prayer. After some time, I went to saying them out loud. For the past few months, I have taken to singing the canticles (along with a recorded professional singer), but quietly.
I would have to say that Law is right. Singing (and saying aloud) your devotions makes your heart and mind turn toward Christ in a way that is exactly what we need. I am better postured to be faithful, positive, disciplined, and charitable than I was before. I look forward to the simple songs, and saying the scripture readings aloud helps me to remember them through the day, better than the silent reading.
So, let me encourage you to sing with your devotions, in family worship, and in corporate worship. I recommend the Daily Office, but even if you aren’t using it, find a way to include singing in your time of preparation. It doesn’t matter if you can carry a tune, and you can whisper-sing (which I typically have to do anyway, because no one is awake at my morning-prayer time). You’ll be glad you did.
*Men is used here in that historic “mankind” way, but also in recognition that, in our culture, men are less likely to sing at church than are women.