"How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land?"
This morning, our mind is still centered on the thoughts of singing, and one of
the blessed things about singing is the wondrous reviving it does for the soul.
One of the things that I tell the folks at home quite frequently is that while
it is not a Scriptural mandate to sing first, pray, and have preaching last, I
am quite fond of that tradition. We are commanded to have those elements present
in worship, but the liberty of how to conduct services is bound only in the
principle of doing things decently and in order. (I Corinthians 14:40)
Therefore, if someone desired to have preaching precede singing, there is
nothing Scripturally wrong with that, but my preference is the way that we
currently do it. The reason is that singing revives the spirit to prepare for
the word that is to be sown. Ground becomes better prepared for the sowing
during a Spirit-filled song service. The sower becomes better prepared to sow
during a Spirit-filled song
service. One of my mother's favourite lines from a hymn comes from "Awake and
Sing the Song," which says, "Sing, till we feel our heart ascending with our
tongue; Sing till the love of sin depart, and grace inspires our song." Surely,
no better preparation for the gospel than in poetic rapture could be found.
The verse above is from a very woeful Psalm that begins by showing captivity.
While the author of the Psalm is not credited above the text (as it is in many
of the other Psalms), it is my personal belief that it was penned after the
children of Judah were led into Babylonian captivity (based on the language).
The former inhabitants of Zion were asked to sing one of Zion's songs, and the
reply (in the form of a question) was how could one do so? How can one sing the
LORD'S song in a strange land? A truly painful experience for me is to try to
put my mind in frame (in song) while labouring in the world. Indeed our
circumstance is not comparable to the Jews that were bound by the Chaldeans in
captivity, but at times, we find ourselves struggling to sing Zion's songs in a
strange land. As pilgrims and strangers on this earth with no continuing city,
certainly the heavenly frame is found through the fellowship of fellow pilgrims,
which is where we
desire to center our thoughts on the verse.
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to sing "How Firm a Foundation" while on
the job by yourself? How difficult is it to sing with the same fervor alone as
it is with the lovely band of saints adoring and praising the Lamb through song?
When gathered together with the saints, singing is easy, for we have been
blessed to eat and sit together with the Master at His table. When the love
flows from breast to breast and faith to faith, the voice is lifted in frame
with the heart to ascend to heights unknown and worlds not seen or made with
hands. The children of Judah who literally inhabited the city of Zion were
unable to sing Zion's songs away from Zion. We do not have to be in some
particular plot of ground to be in Zion, for Zion is found in the gathering of
His saints. This is one of the reasons that I defy anyone to declare that "I can
be just as close with God doing (fill in the blank) as I can in church." On
cannot feel the closeness of Zion
away from this gathering together.
The reason that Zion's saints gathered together in assembly is a special place
is that God Himself comes and tabernacles with them, and knocks on the door of
fellowship for them. (Revelation 3:20) During this time, we are still standing
upon the literal sands of earth, but our fellowship is in a country above the
world: an embassy if you will. Paul told the Corinthians that he was an
ambassador for Christ (II Corinthians 5:19-20), and where does an ambassador
dwell? He dwells in the embassy, which is a part of the home country. The United
States embassy in whatever foreign land is just as lawful a part of the United
States as any region of the homeland. When God's saints are gathered together in
spirit and in truth, this is the very residue of heaven's pure world being
poured out unto us. During these times, singing the songs of Zion is easy, for
we are not in a strange land. The Lord's song (song of the Lamb) flows from the
heart and lips of joy
and gladness at the beauty of holiness in the city of the Great King.
We mentioned last week that it is a blessed privilege to sing to THE KING!
Indeed, one of the most joyful times in an embassy setting is when the ruler of
the home country pays them a visit. I have been told of citizens living in
foreign countries turning out in droves to hear a proclamation by their ruler
when he came to the embassy. We need to remember that at church our Ruler is
paying us a visit that requires our very best and all that we have in meeting
with Him. (Matthew 13:44)
While we must indeed live in the world (not of the world or out of the world),
the moments in Zion are worth more than any of the world's riches. The songs of
Zion sung by His saints are sweeter than any choired or instrumented group that
has ever been mustered. The fellowship of His saints, with persecutions, is
better than all the accolades man could offer. But what happens when we depart
the assembly? We carry a portion of His kingdom within us (Luke 17:20), but we
should also carry with us the memory of the occasion for strength and
nourishment in the desert of life. The next verse says that if we forget
Jerusalem we should forget the cunning of our right hand and have our tongue
cleave to the roof of our mouth. May the memory of His visitation stay with us
as the nourishment of an oasis in a desert land.
May our songs of mirth and gladness to our King resound within the halls of Zion
with the praise and honour being of Him. During the desert scenes, may we
remember the last oasis and look forward to the next. If a desert-traveller knew
where the next oasis was, surely that would be foremost in his mind. If we know
when our next journey into the pastures of His goodness is to be found, may that
be above our chiefest joy here. One of the times (other than church) when
singing is easy is when service is near. Oh how our hearts yearn for that time,
as we anticipate the heart-felt strings of song being tuned to offer Him the
praise of our lips and thank offerings. I know that my own experience is
littered with times of hanging my harp (heart) upon the willows by the rivers of
Babylon as I seemed to sink in ruined despair, but oh the time when the harp was
restrung to sing His praise as I heard the glad song:
To thy temple we repair;
Lord, we love to worship there;
While to thee our prayers ascend
Let thine ear in love attend;
While thy glorious name is sung,
Tune our lips, inspire our tongue;
Then our joyful souls shall bless
Christ, the Lord our Righteousness.
While thy word is heard with awe,
While we tremble at thy law,
Let thy gospel's wondrous love
Every doubt and fear remove.
From thy house when we return,
Let our hearts within us burn;
Then, at evening, we may say,
We have walked with God to-day.