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by Dr. C. L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, May 2, 2015

“Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob” (Psalm 81:1).

Real revival is always associated with real and spiritual singing. Sometimes the singing comes during the revival, and sometimes the revival comes in the singing itself! The heart must be turned to God in singing if we want to have revival. Our pastor, Dr. Hymers, said, “There is no such thing as revival without singing in the Spirit!” Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. He saw true revival under his ministry. Dr. Lloyd-Jones said this:

Revivals always lead to hymns and spiritual songs. But I can even say this: sometimes the order is reversed, and hymns lead to revival. I am thinking of one notable instance. In 1763 after going through drought and spiritual dearth in the church in Wales, William Williams wrote the hymn translated “O’er the Gloomy Hills of Darkness.” At the time he published the volume of hymns and spiritual songs, and the people began to sing them, it led immediately and directly to an outpouring of the Spirit of God (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Singing to the Lord, Bryntirion Press, 2003, pp. 23, 24).

One of the greatest revivals in history was the First Great Awakening (1730-1760). John Wesley was one of the major preachers in that revival. He founded the Methodist Church as it once was. In 1761 he gave several points on singing. I will give them here and add some notes to explain them. John Wesley said this:

1.  Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing. [Come to all the meetings of the church, even if you are tired or busy, and sing every song in the service with all your strength and all your power.]

2.  Sing [with strong feeling], and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan. [Sing out loud and strong. Don’t sing with a dead or sleepy voice. Be as loud when you sing in church as you were when you cheered at a basketball game!]

3.  Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. [Look at the person who is leading the song, and follow him. Do not sing faster or slower than the song leader. If he changes in the middle of a song and begins to sing faster or slower, follow him and sing the way he leads you.]

4.  Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven. [Sing to God. Try to sing in a way that will please God. Think about what you sing. Don’t just make a sound. Turn your attention to God and sing to Him.]

“Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob” (Psalm 81:1).

No wonder the early Methodists were known for their singing! No wonder they had powerful revival! Now I’m going to give you John Wesley’s ideas in my own words. I’m going to give you a few points that will help you sing in church.

First, sing loud. Yes, sing loud! In our text, the Psalmist Asaph tells us, “Sing aloud unto God our strength.” The right way to sing in church is to sing loud and strong to God! The Hebrew word translated “aloud” in this verse is “rawnan.” It means “to shout...for joy, cry out [yell!]” (Strong’s Concordance #7442). No mumbling here! When you sing, shout aloud for joy. Cry out to God! You shout and cheer really loud at a basketball game, don’t you! So why not do at least as much when you sing to God Himself?

Some people don’t really sing in church, or they sing just a little bit. They mumble the hymn softly, looking this way and that, not thinking about the words of the song. They do not sing to God. They go through the words because it’s what people do in that part of the service. They’re faking it! People who sing softly and mumble the words don’t love God! See, they really don’t love God. If they loved God they would sing like the old-time Methodists and Baptists!

“Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob” (Psalm 81:1).

The word “aloud” doesn’t mean singing softly! It means making a loud sound! It means “shout…aloud for joy, cry out” – the opposite of softly saying the words! “Shout aloud for joy, cry out.” David said,

“I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy”
       (Psalm 59:16).

Next, sing with all your heart. The Bible tells us to do that in everything we do, not just singing. The Bible says,

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might
       (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

Again, the Bible says,

Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23).

Sing with all your heart and all your strength. The Bible commands you to!

And this verse tells you to sing “heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” If you’re singing to God, doing it for God, you’ll sing with all your heart and strength. The ones who whisper a few words are singing “unto men,” singing because the people around them are doing it, because that’s what the church does, because that’s what is expected. That’s singing “unto men.” It has nothing to do with God. Who are you singing to? Are you singing to the Lord God or to men? “Do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” Sing with all your heart!

Put yourself into the song. Dr. Hymers’ pastor at the Chinese church for many years was Dr. Timothy Lin. Dr. Lin taught the people to sing “into” a hymn. It doesn’t always happen, but when the Holy Spirit comes down, the congregation may sing a hymn over and over again in the Spirit, and this can be more powerful than a sermon. At the First Chinese Baptist Church, Dr. Hymers remembers the power of God coming down in revival as the people sang “into” the hymns. He says, “We sang and sang. The Spirit of God came down and people confessed their sins and were saved as a direct result of the impression made upon them in the singing.” One of the hymns God has used in this way is Charles Wesley’s great hymn,

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.
   (“Jesus, Lover of My Soul” by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

Oh, what power came down when they sang that in times of revival!

Put yourself into the singing. Lean into it. Don’t hold yourself back. As people say, “get into it.” When others hear you sing, make sure they say, “He’s really into it!” Jesus said,

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30).

Show how much you love God when you sing. Put your heart and soul into it. Put your mind into it. Put your strength into it. Try to go “into” the song. When you sing well, you are giving worship and honor to God. You are serving God in your singing.

And you will receive more than you give! You will experience the hymns. You will be “in” the song and what it means, with your heart and soul and mind. It will be a real experience, a real worship! You will feel it, you will enjoy it, and it will bless you. It will bless others! And it will bless God!  

Next, sing to God. Our text says, “Sing aloud unto God our strength.” Direct your singing to God just as you would give your attention to anyone you were talking to. You may think, “Of course we’re singing to God.” But most singing in church is not sung to God at all! It’s just words. People who sing like that aren’t thinking about God. In real singing to God, you consciously and deliberately and intentionally focus your mind and attention on God. You point your singing at God. You aim your singing at Him. You want to sing the hymn to Him.

In this way, singing is like prayer. True prayer is made to God. It isn’t just saying religious words, like some people do when they recite the Lord’s Prayer. In real prayer, you are asking God – a real Person – to do something. God is a Person, isn’t He? In prayer, you are talking to Him, asking Him, making a request to Him. If you’re not addressing God in prayer, thinking about Him, directing your prayer to Him, it isn’t a real prayer at all. You can’t expect God to answer that kind of prayer.

Like prayer, singing must be directed to God, not mumbled to yourself. God is a Person, isn’t He? Who are you singing to? To yourself? To the people next to you who can see you? To the wall? To the air? No, you should sing to God. Don’t sing to Almighty God with less attention than when you talk to someone here on earth. When you sing, direct yourself to God. Think of Him. Turn your attention and your voice to Him. Sing to Him. That is the right way to sing.

When you sing, think about the words of the song. Think about what it means. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I will sing with the understanding” (I Corinthians 14:15). The person who wrote the song thought about the words when he wrote them! He wanted the song to mean something. In our church we don’t sing weird choruses with no meaning like “you, you...ooh, ooh, Lord, you, you.” We sing the great hymns of the church – songs that mean something. Think of the words of this hymn by Charles Wesley.

And can it be that I should gain
   An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain;
   For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
   That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
   That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
(“And Can It Be?” by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

That song is saying something very important. There’s a lot of meaning in just that one stanza. The Saviour died for me, and shed His Blood for me – a sinner who caused His pain and death. And I can be saved by His Blood. That’s amazing love! The Gospel of Christ is in the words of that hymn. Thinking about the words will make you think about the Gospel. This will be a blessing if you are a Christian. And if you are not yet converted, it will make you think about what Jesus did for you, and prepare you to hear the Gospel when it is preached in the sermon. That’s what this very song did for Dr. Hymers when he sang it the day he was converted! Dr. Hymers sang, “Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” It moved him to tears and he trusted Jesus that morning in 1961. When you sing, don’t just say the words. Think about what you are singing.

Finally, before you sing, come into the service ready to sing. Why not sing in the car before you get to church? Anything worth doing is worth preparing for. If you haven’t sung before you get to church your throat will not be lubricated and ready to sing. Why not sing the “Doxology” over and over several times while you are driving to church? That will get you ready to sing! If you have new people in the car, just tell them, “Now I’m going to sing for a few minutes.” That will not “blow away” anyone who is elect. It will bless them.

Come into the church service rejoicing and ready to sing! Plan to sing. Get ready to sing. When you see the deacons sit down on the platform behind the pulpit, you know we will be singing in a couple of minutes. Stop talking to the people around you. Face forward. Take the song sheet in your hand. Look at the song we will sing. Get ready.

Then stand up and sing! Sing to God. Think about what you are singing! And sing out loud and strong! Forget all about the people next to you. Forget about them and sing as loud as you can to God! Do it tomorrow in both services – and every time you sing! 

O God, I pray that Thou wouldst help us to worship and honor Thee well in our singing tomorrow. May we sing until revival comes! Lord God, help us to do it! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“I Will Praise Him” (by Margaret J. Harris, 1865-1919).