If I’m honest, I think one of the downsides of being a pastor is that I don’t often get to sit in the pews. I know pews aren’t always the most comfortable and the sweat stains on the back of ours may cause some people to wonder why sitting in them would be such a blessing. But there’s something about standing side-by-side with the people of God as they worship. There’s a certain connection that can seem lacking when you’re standing alone at the pulpit.
I was thinking of this when I attended a funeral at our church a couple of weeks ago. I was able to sit in the pews; something I hadn’t done since becoming pastor. And it was a blessing. But what really left an indelible impression on me was the singing of the Psalms. The Apostle Paul said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16). The Puritan Thomas Manton observed that we sing Psalms primarily to glorify God, but also to mutually edify one another. He wrote, “It is not meant of teaching from the psalms, but teaching in the psalms; while we are singing, we are teaching one another the tenor of the doctrine of godliness.” That is to say, we make a melody to the Lord, and at the same time, we sing to each other: we sing both to one another and to the Lord.
This struck me in a profound way as the congregation was singing Psalm 23. As I sang those well known verses, I reflected on my own experience of Jehovah’s shepherding hand. The words, “The Lord’s my Shepherd; I’ll not want; He makes me down to lie, in pastures green; He leadeth me, The quiet waters by,” conveyed deep memories about God’s sovereign goodness to me. But as I sang, I also listened. There was an older gentleman sitting directly behind me who, though soft-spoken in normal conversation, I could easily hear. I suppose that’s one of the practical benefits of singing a capella. And as I listened, one stanza after another, I heard this man giving thanks for everything to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, this man had also experienced the shepherding care of Jehovah through his many decades of life. I would have given much in that moment to know what gracious provisions lifted his praises to God–different struggles than mine, different joys, trials, gains, losses, victories, temptations, sorrows, etc. And yet, remarkably, he was using the same words I was to celebrate and express confidence in God. As I listened to him sing, “Goodness and mercy all my life, Shall surely follow me; And in God’s house for evermore, My dwelling place shall be,” I heard the voice of age and wisdom. Here, during this song, I was being addressed with the words of Christ, I was being taught, I was being admonished in the Psalms.
I may not be able to strain my ears to hear individual voices in the congregation as I stand on the pulpit, but every Lord’s Day as we gather for worship, husbands will be teaching wives; wives will be admonishing husbands; parents will be addressing children; children instructing parents; and the whole congregation, filled with the Spirit and with the word of Christ dwelling richly in them, will be speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We need to sing in each other’s hearing, and we need to sing in order to be heard by one another. What a blessing to be in the midst of God’s people as they worship, “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting” (Psalm 147:1).