Summary: Psalms 96

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Last week on a normal drizzling morning in Hong Kong a little friend outside my window woke me up from sleep. I consider it a blessing and a bonus to my flat summer sermon, which reminds me of a story.

A saintly woman who had suffered for many months due to a serious illness said to her pastor, ¡§I have such a lovely robin that sings outside my window. In the early morning as I lie there he serenades me.¡¨ Then she added with a smile, ¡§I like him, because he sings just the same when it rains. When the storm has silenced almost every other songbird, the robin sings on.¡¨

It¡¦s been said, ¡§Christianity is a singing faith.¡¨ Singing and music have always been part and parcel of the Christian faith. Psalms is part singing, part music, part poetry, and part recitation. Singing and song made their debut in Exodus 15:1, where Moses and the children of Israel first sang the same words ¡§I will sing unto the Lord¡¨ that are found in Psalms 96.

What has singing to do with worship? Who sings and who listens? What, when and why do we sing?

Praise the Creator

1 Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. 4 For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

A Swedish proverb says, ¡§Those who wish to sing always find a song.¡¨

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, asked a group of teenagers to perform three choral exercises ¡V humming, singing a hymn and chanting ¡V and monitored their heart rhythms during each. They showed that singing has a dramatic effect on heart rate variability, which is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. ¡§Song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing out occurs on the song phrases and inhaling takes place between these,¡¨ says Dr Björn Vickhoff. The Gothenburg researchers proved that with singing we can train our lungs to breathe better. Singing has also been shown to boost our immune system, reduce stress levels and, according to a report published in the Journal of Music Therapy in 2004, help patients cope with chronic pain. Ella Fitzgerald said, ¡§The only thing better than singing ¡V is more singing¡¨.

Singing releases endorphins, a hormone that is associated with feelings of pleasure, and oxytocin, another hormone which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress. Oxytocin also enhances feelings of trust and bonding, which may explain why still more studies have found that singing lessens feelings of depression and loneliness.

Psalms is not the most accurate translation of the Hebrew word for ¡§praise.¡¨ The English title is from the Greek translation, £r£\£f£g£jί psalmoi, meaning ¡§instrumental music¡¨ and, by extension, ¡§the words accompanying the music, but the Book of Psalms is simply ¡§Praises¡¨ (Hebrew: תְּהִלִּים or תהילים Tehillim meaning ¡§Praises¡¨). Over a third appears to be musical directions, addressed to the ¡§leader¡¨ or ¡§choirmaster,¡¨ including such statements as ¡§with stringed instruments ¡§ and ¡§according to lilies.¡¨ The theme of Psalms is not singing, melody, harmony, instruments, chant, but praising, worshipping, thanking and glorifying God.

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