I’ve noticed for a long time now that I feel a lot better after the first ten or fifteen minutes in church, when we sing several songs in a row. Sometimes they are new praise songs I really like or hymns with solid lyrics, musically updated by our band. Other times they are songs I don’t like, (too saccharin or simple for my taste, say.) But even then, as long as I commit to singing them, I feel better. I feel a little happier, more clear headed, more in touch with God, more focused on what is true and less inclined to have my mind wander in dumb selfish directions.
I used to wonder why the Bible actually commands us to sing. It does so over thirty times, such as in Colossians 3:16, where it says to “…sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God,” or in Ephesians 5:19, which adds, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”
Now I get it. When we sing, there’s a head-heart connection. Something about the physical commitment of breathing deeply and employing the vocal chords, plus the pleasure of making melody and harmony, drives the true words we’re singing down into our hearts, and we believe them more deeply.
Author of “Imperfect Harmony – Finding Happiness in Singing with Others,” Stacy Horn, wrote, “When you sing, musical vibrations move through you, altering your physical and emotional landscape. Group singing, for those who have done it, is the most exhilarating and transformative of all. It takes something incredibly intimate, a sound that begins inside you, shares it with a roomful of people and it comes back as something even more thrilling: harmony.”
There’s actually a rise in the popularity of group singing in the last few years, and a growing body of research that it is super good for us. The findings include:
- Singing causes the release of endorphins in the brain, which results in increased positive feelings and increased pain tolerance. ( National Center for Biotechnology Information.)
- Another study from the same source found that oxytocin is also released when we sing, a hormone that reduces anxiety, promoting a sense of relaxation and security, plus increased energy.
- Singing in groups lessens loneliness and depression by contributing to social bonds, according to an analysis of a group of studies, published by the American Psychological Association.
- A Harvard/Yale study demonstrated that group singing increased life expectancy in the population of New Haven, Connecticut.
- Singing over time produced lowering levels of cortisol (which indicates stress reduction and improved mood) in another NCBI study of an amateur singing group.
Add to all these benefits the reality that when we sing scriptural songs that praise God or otherwise proclaim truth, we’re doing everything for each other that good preaching or poetry does – admonishing, affirming, convincing, convicting, directing, delighting, instructing, informing, reminding, recentering – we do all those things for each other when we sing together.
Lots of people, even the ones who do come to church, don’t sing. I notice this especially with young guys. Maybe this performance-oriented culture makes us more self-conscious. Maybe all those gushy lyrics and swelling tunes are too emotional for the stoic. Many churches do not have enough music chosen by young people.
Nevertheless, we’re commanded to sing, and wonderful things happen in and between us when we sing. So really, let’s all just suck it up and sing together in church.