Born to sing for God

The Creator hears the voice of the people

Jun 19, 2017 by

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The song leader raised his hands to heaven. “Lift up this evening,” he implored. Or prayed? Fifty thousand voices responded with shouts of joy. An electric guitar chimed a prelude to a plea and a praise: “Digging up my soul now, going down, excavation. Lift me up out of these blues. Won’t you tell me something true? I believe in you. You make me feel like I can fly. El–e–va–tion!”

Was the song sacred or secular? It was sacred if you wanted it to be. The song leader was Bono of the band U2, and when Bono sings, “I was born to sing for you,” the “you” is God.

The “I” isn’t just Bono. Talented or tone deaf, each of us was born to sing for God.

How many in the vast congregation singing along at Soldier Field in Chicago on June 3 thought of their concert experience in that way? It’s impossible to say. But anyone who pays attention to songs that quote Psalm 40 or describe Jacob wrestling an angel or hail “the victory Jesus won” knows the Irish quartet still makes deeply spiritual music 30 years after attaining the pinnacle of success.

U2 songs lift the spirit as all good music can. How it happens is the mystery. Elevation occurs in the interplay of word and sound. But sound carries greater emotional power, reaching a deeper part of the soul. Lyrics may prove a song is spiritual, but a pianist offers no less praise than a singer. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” lifts hearts to God even without the words that make it a hymn.

If each of us was born to sing for God, some of us do it by making a violin sing. For most, though, our voice is the instrument. Singing is the best way to get everyone involved in the spiritual act of making music. When the members of U2 let their instruments fall silent while Bono urges the audience to sing his lines, a rock concert crowd can feel the power of unaccompanied singing as much as a church congregation.

A congregation’s voice is a treasure — and an endangered one. In our culture, we listen to music but don’t make it. Music goes into our ears, not out of our mouths.

But churchgoers are different. Or ought to be. In some settings, the congregation’s voice is lost. Worshipers become no more than an audience. A amplified band can turn worship into a performance, drowning out those who try to sing along. An organist might do that too, but bands especially have to guard against the congregation lapsing into passivity. The musicians on stage need to think of themselves as accompanists, respecting the congregation’s voice.

A band that enhances rather than replaces the voice of the people brings a valuable gift, expanding church music beyond traditional hymns. God’s people should be able to speak multiple musical languages. Yet someone who wouldn’t dream of denigrating someone else’s spoken language feels entitled to declare a musical language unfit for church. Both traditional and contemporary forms of music bless our worship. Failing to appreciate anything old is as bad as refusing to accept anything new.

Musical diversity continues to grow in Mennonite congregations and on larger stages. At its concerts this year, the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus featured a bluegrass band and a blues band along with traditional fare. A banjo, electric guitar, drums and trumpets expanded the range of musical styles alongside the 300-voice chorus. All were uplifting.

There are many musical gifts but one Spirit who elevates our souls when we sing.

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