Surely, this is a post only a Presbyterian needs to write. For I speak of the blank and even dour looks often seen on people’s faces when they are singing in worship.
In other ecclesiastical settings, they probably do not have to even address this matter. Seeing other churches worship, whether it is one in another denomination, country, or culture, often shows them singing with smiles radiating from their faces. But in my circles, not so much. Indeed, if you were simply looking at a snapshot of a typical Presbyterian and Reformed service where the people are singing, the facial expressions may look more suited to a funeral than a celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
I know this post will meet with protest. (After all, that’s what makes Presbyterians Protestant.) Some will say that I’m off base, as surely people are smiling in their congregation. Others will maintain that coming into the presence of the holy God in worship means we need to be sober-minded and serious, so that accounts for the severe countenances. Similarly, still others might say that having an awareness of the depths of our sin should be reflected on our faces.
I am not denying there are exceptions to these observations where individuals or certain congregations sing with gladness. Nor am I saying there is no need to lament at times in worship. Yet let me just say I have spoken with others over the years who stand regularly in front of all varieties of Reformed and Presbyterian congregations, and it’s safe to say we could use some help in expressing Christian joy as we sing. Our “frozen chosen” label may not accurately reflect our doctrine, but it could our singing. We should admit that we could use some encouragement in singing, not only in the regular places that we address, such as in practicing our harmonies or using the psalms, but also in expressing joy. Thankfully, the Scriptures offer us such encouragement that should help us beam a bit more as we belt out His praises.
Believe in sincere faith that God’s face shines on you as you worship in Christ. When you worship the living God, how do you perceive Him as you stand before Him? If you believe He is frowning or looking disapprovingly at you, then undoubtedly that will sadden your countenance as you worship. However, the opposite is true as well.
For worship is seeking God, even seeking His face. “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek’” (Ps. 27:8). As we come to God through His Son and by His Spirit, He welcomes us not only with open arms but with the smiling, loving face as our Father in heaven. His countenance of wrath was removed in Christ! And now, even when we sin, when we return we can know that He will bless us with His countenance. “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” (Ps. 80:3). I find the time that joy exudes the most from me when I sing is when I am mindful of the inseparable love of God for me in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:37-39).
Obey – not only sing – the words. So often as we praise God, the very words we are singing are to direct our countenances. How can we sing, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Ps. 32:11) without that rejoicing and shouting being seen on our faces? You are to “shout for joy” over God’s salvation (Ps. 20:5), to tell God that you are “glad with the joy of your presence” (Ps. 21:6), and to have a thrice-fold exhibition of your joy, for “the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!” (Ps. 68:3). Pretty difficult to obey each “shall” with a bland, dumpy look on your face!
Look at others around you as you sing. Our singing is not to only be vertical but horizontal. For Paul told the church at Colossae, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). I do not know a teacher who teaches without looking at his or her students, or a coach that admonishes his players without eyeballing them. So if we are addressing one another with our singing, we should not only look at our songbook but around us at least some of the time at our spiritual family. Just as we smile as we greet one another before or after worship, so will a smile naturally come to our faces as we look on those we love in the sanctuary.
Remember you are calling the whole earth to rejoice in God. Every Lord’s Day, as we assemble, a call is to go out by the church for every person throughout the world to worship God as well. The shortest psalms says, “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, all you nations. Extol Him, extol Him, all you peoples!” (Ps. 117B in The Book of Psalms for Worship). Again, the hundredth psalm says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!” (Ps. 100:3). So universal is this call that it is to echo in the heavens and throughout the earth (Ps. 96:11-12), resulting in the following:
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.
How then we should radiate with joy as we sing these words and anticipate even greater response throughout the world to the Lord who is coming!
Ephesians 5:18-19, having similar instructions to Colossians 3:16 quoted above regarding singing, begins with the admonition “be filled with the Spirit.” Can we really be filled with the salvation, words, and fruit of the Holy Spirit without it showing on our faces as we sing? Sing with your faces, dear Christians!