I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13–14)
We may not always remember that the Psalms were written to be sung — that a melody accompanied many of our favorite chapters in the Bible.
Psalm 27:4, for instance, rings with the beauty of poetry (even in our English translations): “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” That beauty is made all the more moving when you imagine faith-filled people gathering to sing it together — to seek him together.
Like so many psalms, however, the beauty is deepened and intensified by the circumstances in which these lines were sung. While we might read and recite verses like the one above in the comfort of relative safety and freedom, these saints often sang them in the raging storms of oppression and affliction. Singing was a way of surviving, because singing reminded them of the unseen God who fought for them.
When Evil Assails Me
Staying with Psalm 27, notice just how much adversity King David was experiencing. Verse 2: “When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh . . .” Verse 3: “Though an army encamp against me . . . though war arise against me . . .” Verse 6: “My enemies all around me . . .” And then even more personally, in verse 10: “My father and my mother have forsaken me . . .” Lastly, in verse 12: “False witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.” Have we ever felt such hostility, such betrayal, such cruelty? If you did, how would you respond?
David sang. He didn’t merely run to a quiet place to pray or entrust himself to faithful counselors and friends (though surely he did both of those too). No, he lifted his heart out of the shadows of his distress, looked up by faith to his heavenly Father, and he sang. What king fights like this? A king who knows where true strength lies. What people goes to war wielding a melody and a chorus? People who know the most important wars are not won by swords and shields, but by prayers and praise.
Stronghold of My Life
As King David sang, his enemies grew smaller, his fears faded and fell, and his confidence soared. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). Whom shall you fear, David? Literally, everyone — even your father and mother. Is there anyone you should not fear? And yet he feared not, because he had known a God greater than any fear, a light brighter than any darkness, a stronghold that could withstand any enemy.
Listen to those familiar and beautiful lines of Psalm 27:4 again, this time through the dark lens of David’s affliction (and through the dark lens of your own affliction):
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
His suffering does not diminish the beauty; it only magnifies it all the more. It draws deeper, more vivid colors out of his confidence in God. The sorrow and futility of life in this fallen world provoked in him a more intense hunger for the healing and happiness of the life to come. Does your suffering do that for you? If not, maybe you should try singing more.
We Survive by Singing
Songs like David’s live to remind us that no valley is too deep, no shadow is too wide, no path too dark as long as the Lord is our light and salvation.
All of this is one of many reasons why Christians, in every place and across all times, sing. Not every religion does. Have you ever stopped to ask why we sing to God? Well, first, because he is worthy of more than words. We want to express more than mere sentences can express. Music, of course, falls short too, but it often rises much higher than prose.
Secondly, we sing because God commands us to sing:
· “Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy” (Psalm 5:11).
· “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day” (Psalm 96:1–2).
· “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:18–19).
But, lastly, as we see in Psalm 27, we sing because those who hope in God survive by singing. Singing to God is our God-given way of clinging to God.