James 5: 13
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.
I used to have a choirmaster who was very fond of saying, when the choir turned up on a miserable Thursday night and the last thing anyone wanted to do was sing, “I know you don’t feel like singing but that’s OK, we’ll just sing until you do”. The choir knew him well enough to know that he was absolutely right, and within quarter of an hour they had forgotten the howling tempest outside and were ‘ge’in it laldy’.
The Bible is littered with calls to sing, no less than 122 to be precise, from Exodus all the way to this one in James’ letter. The Psalms are basically the Temple hymn book and Paul time and again exhorts the faithful to sing psalms and hymns. Singing was especially recommended in times of trouble to uplift the spirits.
In the early 1900s near Stanley in Co Durham there was a massive roof collapse in one of the pits, a tiny passageway was cleared and one of the pit overseers crawled through to assess the damage and see who, if anyone, had survived. Quite a few had survived, and he set to starting an evacuation. Sadly though, after only two or three had escaped, the rubble shifted again and the passage way was again blocked. Several hours went by and the men started to lose hope and heart as the slippage was so bad they could not hear the rescuers digging towards them and these were all experienced miners who knew exactly what the situation was. The overseer, realising the slippage in morale, encouraged them to sing, but what to sing? Most had been regular attenders at the Methodist chapel so he chose hymns mainly because they would be well known but as the hours crept on he began to notice that it was the words that started to take precedence as the men came to understand perhaps for the first time that indeed Jesus, strong to save, was on their side, and they would conquer all. A little over 28 hours after the second rockfall the rescuers breached through to them and all were saved. I was once told by a Durham miner that story was the inspiration behind ‘Lead kindly light’ but that had actually been written 80 odd years before although it was undoubtedly sung that night.
Here James tells the faithful to sing if they are happy, in celebration of the joy that is in our lives and that is the magic of singing – it lifts our spirits when downcast and completes our joy when we are happy.
John Bell always tells his workshop groups “sing for you have the voice of an apprentice angel” and it is him I blame for all the suffering I have inflicted on those within earshot when I sing!
That choirmaster used to tell the junior choir “Smile when you sing, you cannot sing if you are not smiling”. Very true but possibly you cannot smile if you are not singing at least inwardly too.
Sing and rejoice for God is good!
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, for the gift of music we thank you, for the gift of singing we thank you, may we praise you always in heart and voice and deed.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,