A Refuge regular, MaryLynn Spear, was able to attend an invigorating conference in Nashville in September, and brings back this encouraging and edifying report to our church and friends.
“The song that rules your heart will rule your life, will set the agenda for your relationships. Surrender your song to the greater song of the Redeemer–the beauty of eternity to come and the healing of all. That Savior has placed that song in your heart for Him to sing through you.” This is how a man known for speaking primarily on finding health in our most significant relationships, Paul Tripp, came to be a keynote speaker at a music conference in Nashville.
Four thousand people gathered to discuss our worship before a holy God. As the brainchild of Keith and Kristyn Getty, the Sing! Conference gathered well-known theologians, pastors, worship leaders, and lay people to discuss how the music we sing on Sunday mornings, and sing in the shower or car from Monday through Saturday, is either informing us truly about who God is, who we are, and ultimate reality in all its avenues, or it is misleading us to worship falsely, construct a god in our own image, and make more of ourselves than our dust-to-dust sinful selves deserve.
Impossible to capture is the sensation of singing with 4000 voices (5000 at the grand Ole’ Opry); but unspeakably joyful is what awaits us in heaven when we will join with more than that in praising Christ for His suffering and victory on our behalf, in the presence of believers who too have fought the good fight and finished the race, and all this in the very Presence of our Creator God. This time gave a glimpse, and it is real.
People came from across the globe. Men from at least ten countries spoke on what God is doing among their churches, and gave warning that whatever we are singing here, true or false, is immediately influencing the hearts and minds of those Christians in their countries. Live-stream went off and all cell phones put down when a pastor from a country where to be a Christian is to die, sang in his national tongue and then spoke of being imprisoned with an execution date set. Before he was executed for his crimes against the State, the judge himself died suddenly, and he was set free. He’s voraciously studying God’s Word to take back when he re-enters this hostile place.
Love of the Word was one of three powerful “tangibles” in discussing music: is our sustaining power coming from the Word each day? Is our heart tuned to these Words from God to us, pointing to Christ? Are these Words informing the lyrics we write, the music that brings the lyrics alive, and the response of our hearts lifted in worship on Sunday mornings? Each of these persons has the same temptations and struggles that I, and you, experience: calendars spilling over, the lethargy of our earthbound nature, and the call of the next episode of White Collar. Yet they do daily battle with the flesh to treasure the Word supreme in their schedules, and what they reap is glorious and life-giving to those around them.
The songwriters’ humility, earnestly pursued, was a second powerful “tangible” we experienced. A number of the composers of songs we sing were present and speaking: Bob Kauflin, Matt Merker, Laura Story, (Tripp Lee and Stuart Townsend were scheduled and unable to come last-minute), and of course the Getty’s. They all repeated the refrain: If our music, the creating and the singing of it, does not point to Christ, does not help us all to know God the Father more, then it is an epic fail. Worse, the sin of seeking honor for oneself that belongs to God is most terrible.
Which leads to the third and most important “tangible”: Christ preeminent in praise, worship, and creative expression. Christ only deserves the place of honor: as we decrease He increases. Only grace, through His Spirit, accomplishes the work of the soul, not our designs. The Word alone instructs us. Only through faith can we worship truly. And to God, The Spirit, and the Son be all glory. Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria.
Prominent theologian DA Carson reminded us that the structure of theology is layered into our soul by what we sing. We are what we think, and Scripture says much about actively cultivating our minds, transformed by the gospel with His Word lest our thinking become futile, sin abound, and our relationships suffer. Conversely, we can be so intoxicated by ideas we fail to adore God.
Joni Erickson-Tada warned, stay away from songs that lead you to despair; choose songs that shape hope, faith, truth, confession, and comfort. Singing with our mind is a way of informing our faith…reconciling His promises with our reality. Singing hymns goes where no medicine, no doctor, no surgery can go. God is good, not because He gives us answers, but because He gives us Himself. And she ended by saying, “I cannot wait for that day of joy when I enter the thunderous Niagara Falls that is the Trinity!”
Back to Paul Tripp: “The church belongs to the Savior for His purposes so His presence and person would be known. The church is not the consumer of the thing, they are the thing. You have a calling. You’re the look on His face, the tone of His voice, your life is ministry….Are you better at sharing your opinion than the beautiful truths of the gospel of Jesus?…If your eyes see and your ears hear the sin, weakness, and failure of the person next to you, God will reveal that need to you so you can pray for and minister to that person: welcome to your identity in the body of Christ.” Colossians says love is expressed to others in this way: the peace of Christ ruling our hearts (3:15), and the message of Christ dwelling among us richly as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude (3:16).
Not our first thought when we got up this morning.
David Platt focused on giving voice to the glory of our God. “If we are serious about the mission of God, we must be serious about the glory of God, sing the glory of God. People who are captivated by the glory of God will give, even lose their lives for the glory of God…Why do we gather together to sing? Because we have a God who is worthy of glory. He is strong, He provides for His people. Worship is not a spectator sport. It is a participation activity. We come together to engage with one another, encourage one another in our faith, express our unity. We are in a long line of worshipers throughout history. We must faithfully pass the torch of congregational singing to those who come after us.”
Alastair Begg chose Psalm 100: Make a joyful noise: ‘noise’ in the Hebraic means the deafening shouts of welcome to a king when he is coming to take His rightful throne. “The Psalm expresses a progressive nearness, as we enter His presence…We neglect Jesus’ hymnbook to our impoverishment…How we sing affects our congregational praise; the way we sing to one another is absolutely vital. The purpose of worship is to proclaim the greatness of God…But the Psalms also allow us to lament…Entering royal gates required a password. Our password? THANK YOU. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. It took a long time for the longing of the Psalms to find their fullness in Jesus. We have this treasure now. Sing!”
In final reflection, it’s a Christian “thing”, in this culture going so badly on a number of fronts, to pray for revival. Indeed, many of us most sincerely do. But what God has instead granted—the good he has given, (if you’ve read CS Lewis’s Perelandra)—is reformation, in our time. A seismic re-working at the foundations, slow, sometimes tedious, and without glamor. Raising up men and women who rightly understand the supremacy of the Word, of the gospel, and who are willing to boldly proclaim that anything not from these headwaters and not flowing to Christ alone is false. We could say there’s an unprecedented number of wisdom voices and pens in these times of outward chaos in our nation and across the world. Giants are once again in the land.
Sing! Conference next year: John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, John MacArthur, Ligon Duncan, Alastair Begg, Tim Keller, Stuart Townsend, Andrew Peterson, Shane and Shane, on and on. Who needs Disneyland or Hawaii?
SING! Images from https://www.facebook.com/gettymusic/