Amazon Prime recently released a movie called “Freedom” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. And, wait for it… Jubilant Sykes! Yes that Jubilant Sykes. Overall, it was a great movie depicting a runaway slave’s journey to freedom that culminated in freedom not just from chains, but from sin. The movie also showed John Newton’s conversion, and in the movie it was Jubilant’s character that led him to the Lord. It was truly remarkable to think about the fact that both the runaway slave and the captain of a slave ship carrying slaves needed salvation despite the fact that one’s sin was more egregious than the other.
One thing that really stood out, and a wonderful reminder, was the singing. The trials these men and women experienced are unfathomable. It is difficult to describe the horrors of British and American slavery. How do you get through that? For many of the slaves, it came down to one word: singing. And not just any singing, but singing about Heaven, Jesus, and being with Him. Obviously singing about Jesus comes from knowing Him and loving Him above all.
One’s mind can’t help but travel to Philippi in Acts 16. As Paul and Silas sit in a jail cell with bloody and torn backs, awaiting their certain death, they feel led by the spirit to sing hymns. We don’t know what their intent was. Were they attempting to evangelize their fellow prisoners? If they were, it worked. Were they attempting to encourage one another? I’m sure that it was encouraging. Perhaps they didn’t know what to say, and were probably concerned that they were about to die, and the Holy Spirit inspired them to sing. Regardless, in the moment of deep pain and distress they resorted to hymns.
There are four reasons why, when our hearts are troubled, when we don’t know how to help someone who is in distress, sometimes fewer words and perhaps singing is the right answer. Here are four reasons why.
It is a command
We are commanded to sing. All over Scripture, the Bible tells us to sing. Psalm 96 says, “Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day”. Paul says in Ephesians 5:19-20, “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”
This is not a suggestion, but a command. When your heart is troubled, when you know not what to do, when you feel discouraged and are beginning to doubt, sing to the Lord, whether you want to or not.
It is soul lifting
The Bible shows us several places where singing brings joy. The most obvious example was with Saul and David. The Bible tells us that Saul would have David play the harp for him when he was in distress. Music, especially David’s music, had a way of soothing Saul. Paul and Silas certainly were lifted and encouraged as they sang. The words would have served them well, as discouragement was bound to set in, in being reminded about the glories of salvation.
When my family found out my grandma was dying of leukemia, we all gathered together in her home in Rome, and she requested that we sing some of her favorite songs. It was a sweet time of fellowship, one that I will not soon forget. Paul is convinced, in Ephesians 5:19-20, that singing to and with one another will produce thankfulness and growth in our Christian lives.
It is evangelistic
There are few things more powerful than watching someone sing who should be despairing. I can’t imagine how convicting the words that Paul and Silas sang were as they penetrated the hardened hearts of the criminals in the jail cell with them, and how they would also reach the merciless jailors’ ears. What an example of trust. It is supernatural to respond in song when you face a trial, and few things bring more glory to God than that.
When Christians sing with joy in all circumstances, not only does it encourage fellow Christians, but it causes unbelievers to want what they are obviously lacking. It is a wonderful opportunity to sing the Gospel, and then use the open door to preach it to those listening.
It is theological training
It’s so easy to despair. It’s even easier to forget truths we know so well. In the same way, it is so easy to memorize songs. My son, Nico, sings pretty much all day, and it is remarkable just how many songs he knows. At three years old, he knows dozens of songs. Sometimes, in a moment of confusion, when we can’t find the right words to say or the right words to think, songs can be a powerful God-given tool to remind us how to think and how to act.
We must prepare for trials. And theology is one way that we can do it. That’s why we should sing the deepest and richest of songs–so that we can respond the best when trials come. Theology can’t be learned on the fly, we must prepare for trials so that when they come we know how to respond. Of course, memorizing Scripture and reading good books is part of it, but memorizing songs is a wonderful way in which God helps us to face trials.
It is remarkable to know that the great Paul himself–writer of so much of the New Testament and a theological powerhouse–resorted to singing when he was in that dark prison in Philippi. I can’t wait to sing with Paul and Silas in Heaven as well as with so many of our brothers and sisters who suffered through slavery. But in the mean time It is imperative for us to follow suit. Sing often and sing good songs, and when trials come, you will have a powerful tool to help you please the Lord and grow in godliness.