I am not a singer. For as long as I can remember, singing is an activity I have not particularly enjoyed. I don’t mind listening to great music, especially in a powerful worship setting. But singing for singing sake is not an option I will likely choose.
As a young boy, it was especially difficult for me. My heart was in the outdoors. I loved to run, climb, play, build, and explore. Sitting down indoors in a orderly fashion was nearly torture for me. I could do it, don’t get me wrong. But as I sat there, my mind would be someplace else riding my bike down a hill or hiking through the woods or shooting a basketball.
I’ll never forget the first day I felt pressure to sing. It was in children’s church. I’m sure it wasn’t the case, but it felt like every Sunday was a rehearsal for the next kid’s musical. At the beginning of the school year, we would practice songs for Christmas. Not long after the New Year, we would start on Easter songs. In the Spring, we were already working on songs for Vacation Bible School. As a kid and in my memory, children’s church seemed to be more of a choir practice than kids ministry.
I hated it. Every Sunday, we sat in neatly organized rows of chairs on a stage facing the piano. Each child was given a musical book with all the songs relevant to our current season. Over and over again, we would practice every song. I can’t tell you how many times we sang the same songs week in and week out. I am not even sure we had a lesson. We might have, but it is drowned out in my memory from all those songs.
I am not sure what I age I made the decision, but eventually I couldn’t take it any more. I refused to sing. I wasn’t vocal about it. I didn’t cause a scene. I am not sure I told anyone. Internally, I made a choice to sit quietly. No more singing for me. I had enough.
One Sunday morning I was discovered. The leader looked at me and said, “Why aren’t you singing? If you are going to be here, then you have to sing. It’s why we are here. If you can’t, then I will need to talk your parents.”
Begrudgingly, I forced myself to sing. If she was making it a rule, then I would have to follow it.
Three things. (1) Wow, I am so glad Children’s Ministry strategies have drastically changed since my youth. (2) I am not trying to dis worship music. Singing together in church holds great value. It can offer an amazing experience. (3) I believe the church of my youth and its leaders had pure intentions. They did their best with the passions and talents they possessed.
I wonder, still, “How did such a simple thing as a children’s musical turn into a form of legalism?” An innocent idea somehow turned into a law. Sing and you are a good boy and girl. Don’t sing and you are bad. It became its own form of performance evaluation.
As trivial as singing in children’s church may seem, it reminds me of God’s truth in my life. Following the rules can’t offer you transformation. Salvation only comes in believing in Jesus Christ and following the Holy Spirit. Redemption in your life and in our world comes through the power of God’s grace that rescues you from evil.
My faith in God didn’t come as a result of memorizing and singing songs. I discovered it at 4 years old in the adult worship service at the same church. The pastor gave the invitation for anyone to come forward to the altars and ask Jesus into their life. I didn’t even tell my parents. I slipped into the aisle unnoticed. I knelt on my knees and prayed for God to save me from sin. I haven’t turned back since.
The pressure or temptation to rely on the law hasn’t disappeared. Legalism has reared its ugly head through many forms in my journey. I imagine it always will. It is one the greatest tools of evil, to trick you into to thinking that you can save yourself. Follow the rules, indulge yourself on the law, and you will be good.
Galatians 3 tells a different story. Paul asks the churches in Galatia a poignant question: “The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard” (NRSV).
You can read the rest of the chapter to quickly find the answer. NO, the Spirit didn’t come through the law. You received it by believing God’s grace is enough. You didn’t work your way into a right relation with God. All of your ducks weren’t in a row the day you were saved. When you first experienced God’s love, it wasn’t perfect living that brought you to that moment. No. It was having something worth believing in that opened your heart to God’s Spirt. You believe Jesus gave himself for your sins to rescue you from evil. You trust Jesus.
If trusting in God’s grace saved you then, why trust in anything else to save you now? Finish the same way you started.
You cannot indulge yourself on the law (rules) and expect to be filled with the Spirit. Lose the law and lose yourself in God’s love.
Luckily, I do not have to sing to find freedom in God. Finding freedom in God gives me reason to sing.