I have just a few memories of church growing up. I specifically remember coloring pictures of Noah's ark and performing on stage around Christmas time. I vaguely recollect singing "Jesus Loves Me" but it wasn't until I was an adult that I learned all the correct words to the song. I also remember not wanting to go into childcare with the other kids, sitting in the big church next to my cousin, and passing notes back and forth with him. So, when I was in high school and I was invited me to youth group at a local church, I really didn't know what to expect.
Arriving a few minutes early, I was met with friendly faces, both new and familiar. And then the music began. Immediately, the room erupted into a mosh pit of teenagers cheering, jumping, singing and dancing. The joy in the room was contagious. Soon I was joining in with everyone, catching on to the repetitive choruses and hand motions. I first embraced the exuberant mood that the band and crowd was emanating. Then, as I listened carefully, I heard the words to the songs the band was singing. And I sang along as best as I could, though I did not always understand what I was singing at that time.
I came again the next week, too. And the next and the next. Mainly because of the music...and that feeling that I got during what the kids were calling "worship." I now had a weekly commitment on my schedule to go to church. Months after attending youth group, I admitted that I was a sinner, sought forgiveness from God, and chose to die to my old self and rise up to be a follower of Christ. I was beginning to understand worship as a way to honor and glorify our heavenly Father. I sang and danced with all my heart... well, as much as my young, immature heart knew to give.
As an adult, though, worship was... different. If the band wasn't loud enough, I was self conscious about other people hearing me sing. If it was too loud, it felt more like I was at a concert listening to a band rather than joining with fellow believers in worshipping our God. And if no one else had their hands up, then I most certainly wouldn't raise mine. And was it my imagination, or were people really just singing the words on the screen without any emotion or feeling? I mean, we're singing to God, y'all! He kind of, you know... created music. Yet, as an adult, there was a certain discomfort to singing out loud for others to hear.
I had to re-teach myself, how to worship. Just like back in my youth group days when it was in tune with my joy and beat from my heart, I had to invite the Holy Spirit in and remind myself that the ears and eyes around me were not the ones to whom I was singing.
God doesn't expect us to sing on pitch or even in the same key as everyone else. He doesn't judge our musical abilities. He hears the intensity of our hearts. He knows our fervor and recognizes our enthusiasm and zeal as passion for Him.
God does expect you to make a joyful noise. It is a sound that comes not from your vocal chords, but from your heart. It is an honor and a privilege for us to be able to joyfully sing to the One who created everything from the stars in the sky to the dew on the leaves.
So stop right now if you are...
- ...judging the voices of those singing around you. They are not singing for your pleasure. They are worshipping our Creator.
- ...worried about what those around you may think of your voice. You are not singing to them, you are singing to your Father.
I confess that I have been both of those before. In both instances, my heart could not even begin to make a joyful noise unto our Lord. Retrain your heart to worship. Invite the Holy Spirit into worship with you. Summon your joy while you sing and release your heart to Him. Join in with the other voices around you and come united as one body to rejoice and celebrate our God!
1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
2 The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
8 Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
9 before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
Psalm 98 (ESV)
God wants the whole earth to shout His praises! In 2016, when we went on our first mission trip to Haiti, our team sang the song "How Great is Our God" at a church service. By the time the chorus started, the Haitian church began to sing with us "Kijan Bondye Gran." The sound of our voices and languages melding together, singing joyfully the wonderful praises of our Father is what I imagine will be the first thing we hear when we arrive in heaven. Joy crosses language barrier. It penetrates the hearts of those around you and is oh, so beautiful to our God. And for that person next to you who has yet to know Jesus? Let your joyful noise overflow and maybe, just maybe, they'll be back for more!