TO CHEW ON: "Your statutes have been my songs
In the house of my pilgrimage." Psalm 119:54
Why do we sing?
Some of us sing almost unconsciously, in a habitual sort of way. Sometimes we hum or sing along with the catchy tunes on the radio or our listening device; we know the words and the melodies and rhythms make us feel good. Sometimes we sing the songs of our childhood to entertain grandchildren, and the songs of our youth to remember the past. And we sing in church.
I would submit that the last singing—in church—may be the most unemotional, mechanical kind of singing we do. It’s what’s done there so whether we enter into the message and emotion of the song or not, we sing.
Here the psalmist talks about singing God's statutes. Were these the Mosaic laws set to music? Did he sing them to help him memorize and review the myriad commandments contained in the code? Perhaps. But they seem meant also to bolster his faith and remind him that God is right there beside him in his pilgrimage life. We get the sense that he turns to these songs when life gets puzzling and discouraging, singing them to remind himself of what and who is his focus.
Or perhaps he didn't literally put God's commandments to music but he is using music here as a metaphor for how God's laws put joy into him in the same way a song would.
Eugene Peterson says about joy:
"Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence. It is not what we have to acquire in order to experience life in Christ; it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience. ... Joy is a product of abundance; it is the overflow of vitality. It is life working together harmoniously...I think that's what the psalm writer is doing here: living in response to God's lavishness, in an environment of an alive God, centering himself in God with music the reminder and overflow of such a life.
Peterson goes on to say that when we feel joyless, we may try to rouse joy artificially with entertainment. But though a comedian or movie may amuse us for a time, the joy they give is never permanent. However, he says, there is a way to live that taps into genuine joy.
"We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to centre ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab." A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 96-97 (emphasis added).
I ask myself, how can I do that today? How can you? Singing to remind ourselves of God's goodness and to express our gratitude—outside of church, and in—is a good place to start.
PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to focus on Your abundance, to centre myself in You, to live in Your environment to the extent that songs of faith, hope and joy will well up inside. Amen.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.