A JOYFUL SHOUT
by Wayne S. Walker
"Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob" (Psalm 81:1). Isaac Watts was one of the greatest hymn writers of the English language. When he was a boy, the common custom in most English speaking churches was to sing only metrical versions of the Old Testament Psalms, and after two hundred years of doing nothing but that, the singing had grown rather dull in many places. One Sunday afternoon following the morning service, when he was but a teenage boy, he complained to his family about the singing, saying that there was no music in the Psalms, at least as they were being sung. His angered father challenged him, telling him, "Give us something better, young man!"
That afternoon, Isaac wrote his first hymn. "Behold the glories of the Lamb Amidst His Father’s throne; Prepare new honors for His name, And songs before unknown." That evening, the congregation sung it and went wild. Unfortunately, that particular hymn by Watts has not been in any of our books, but others that came afterwards have. He is responsible for such beloved classics as, "Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed," "Come We That Love the Lord," and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," among others. Watts later wrote, "The singing of God’s praise is the part of worship nighest heaven, and its performance among us is the worst on earth."
I think that I have been in some services such as Watts described. It is not my intention to criticize good brothers and sisters who are trying to do the best that they can in singing praise to God. However, it has been my experience that in some places the singing in worship sounds weak and listless, almost as if it were a distasteful chore to be dispsensed with as soon as possible. God does not expect musical expertise, flawless performance, or beautiful voices. He does expect joy and enthusiasm in rendering psalms and hymns and spiritual songs from the heart (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). The Psalmist encourages us to sing "aloud," not as quietly as possible, and to make a "joyful shout" to God, not a half-hearted squeak. Let it be so among us.