Read Isaiah 42:1-13 here.
Last night I was privileged to speak at Rochester’s Church of Christ Area Wide Worship Service (RCoCAWW). The theme for the night was “Sing a New Song” which we took to heart with song leaders from half a dozen congregations leading our singing. I always find these events encouraging as churches with different worship styles, theological emphases, and racial mix, come together to praise God.
Given the diverse audience, many of whom had never heard of me before, I worked to keep my presentation upbeat and entertaining. This meant I didn’t get bogged down in a lot of exegesis and included plenty of “fluff” to keep people engaged. But I believe my topic still had an important message that I hope people will relate to.
The phrase “sing a new song” occurs several times in the Psalms (33, 40, 96, 98, 144, & 149), Isaiah 42, and Revelation (5:9 & 14:3). The Isaiah passage seems to give the most context to this phrase, so that’s where my talk was concentrated.
The first 9 verses of the chapter describe the changes God is going to bring upon the world through His servant. He’s going to restore justice (v1, 3-4), open blind eyes, free captives, release those who sit in darkness (v7). Verse 9 provides a succinct summary of the preceding verses, “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare.” God continues to redeem His people and His creation.
In the context of God’s creative and redemptive activity the appropriate response of His people is to “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth.” It seems to me that the new actions of God require new songs of praise from His people. Our worship should respond and react to the presence and activity of God in our lives. This may seem like a fairly simple conclusion but I think it has some practical application.
Just as I’m a fan of Bible translations that use contemporary English, I believe that if our songs are to be meaningful to us they should reflect God’s working among us today. While we might comprehend the imagery of lighthouses, anchors, and lifelines, are they natural ways for us to express our relationship with God? For me to worship genuinely from the heart, I need to use words and experiences that reflect my thoughts, not just the range of my vocabulary.
This is not just a rant against traditionalism. I have observed that songs from different generations have different emphases. While hymns from the the late 1800’s and early 1900’s often praise God for his actions, very few of them actually thank Him. Many hymns written during WWI and the Great Depression look forward to eternity and heavenly reunion with loved ones.
Contemporary praise and worship songs also have gaps in their repertoire. While many songs express our love to God, there is shortage of recent songs appropriate for communion. I also have a hard time recalling many songs that encourage the church to reach out to a lost world in the way that the old “Throw Out the Lifeline” does.
So the application of this exhortation to “sing a new song” involves a thoughtful selection of songs that prompt the worshiper to consider God’s involvement in his or her life. Sometimes this older songs will best accomplish this purpose, but sometimes God’s new activity requires new songs. The church needs to embrace our modern songwriters who speak of and for God…even if the styles or repetition of lyrics don’t always seem natural to us at first.
Of course, there’s a whole lot more to be written on this topic, eg. How does the above discussion apply to music styles? Can music styles prevent us from singing from the heart? It is also distinctly possible to apply this “new song” instruction to simply transitioning from a lament to praise as we witness God at work. It does not necessarily mean each of us should compose a new song each week.
At the end of the day I believe the principle of “singing a new song” means that our worship is to interact with and respond to God’s movement in our lives. I have previously written an article discussing how our regular monetary offering to God can be similarly interactive. So I guess I’m 2 down with 3 to go.
Discuss how song selection impacts your worship experience. Do some songs make your worship less heartfelt than others? Do you find that the effort of learning new songs is worthwhile? Can you recall an occasion that a new song has spoken to you? I’d love to read your comments?