By Mike Harland
The children of God have many stories to tell, and each church has its own story that characterizes God’s work among that congregation through the years.
I love to hear my pastor tell the story of how years ago a small group of laypeople meeting in the basement of the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home passed around a yellow legal pad and signed up for their own portion of the debt to finance the church’s first building.
That legal pad was taken to a nearby bank, and the construction project was funded. It encourages me every time I think about that moment in our church’s history and the faith of those charter members.
Ministries that understand the link between testimony and worship will always find room for the stories of their people. A beautiful example of this can be found in Psalm 107.
It begins, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever” (Psalms 107:1).
Then, over the course of the psalm, four different stories emerge of people that cried out to God in their distress: the lost (vv. 4–9), the imprisoned (vv. 10–16), the foolish (vv. 11–22), and those overwhelmed by a storm (vv. 23–32).
In every case, they “cried out to the Lord in their trouble,” and God heard and delivered them. When they were rescued, each one gave “thanks to the Lord for his faithful love” (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31).
The psalm closes with the testimony shared by them all: “But he lifts the needy out of their suffering” (v. 41). Psalm 107 beautifully illustrates the testimony of praise that flows out of hearts that have been set free.
Sharing our stories—the testimonies of God’s grace in our lives, the experiences of his faithfulness, and the foundational truths of his Word we have seen at work in our daily living—is an important attribute of a healthy worshipping culture.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is teaching a vital message to the church. He calls for unity and patience from all as each one works out their faith using their different gifts for the benefit of all.
He compels his brothers and sisters to walk in love for each other and to consistently display an attitude of mutual submission.
Right in the middle of the letter, he instructs the church to “be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18–19).
Theologians have debated the nuances of the different meanings of the three types of expressions found in this verse—psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
I have nothing to offer here that adds to that discussion, but I do understand the meaning of “speaking,” and I’m fairly confident I understand, “singing and making music in your heart to the Lord.”
With certainty, we can derive from this text that there are multiple ways to give utterance to the story, and we should use them all for that purpose.
The community of faith is a testifying community for the benefit of everyone in it. Believers encourage and exhort each other with the testimonies we share with each other.
We do that with singing, but we also do that by speaking to one another. As a matter of fact, taken literally, the text seems to say that the “music” happens in the heart of the singer. There’s nothing here that says others hear it.
All of this is contingent on a pretext: “being filled with the Spirit.” In other words, in communities of faith, where the people are Spirit-filled, there will be speech and song that is shared openly with each other.
Somewhere along the way, we have seemed to accept that singing is for singers, but the Bible clearly says that believers will testify to each other from hearts that are filled with music.
Healthy worship cultures know this reality. The church doesn’t gather to watch something or to hear something. It gathers to “do something.” And that “something” is telling their stories of faith for the benefit of all.