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Sing praises to God, sing praises: Sing praises unto our King, sing praises. (Psalm 47:6.)
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“SING REDEEMING LOVE”
The Lord invited Emma Smith to “make a selection of sacred hymns” for use in the Church.
For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads. (D&C 25:11,12.)
The significance of music in heaven is a matter for reflection. The truth, as expressed in the verse above, is that when we sing sacred hymns from our heart, we pray. Please note that the revelation makes no mention of musical talent or of the song of the vocal cords. Any sacred thoughts that come from our hearts accompanied by worthy music ascend to heaven as prayers.
Alma referred to this kind of music in his sermon to the people of Zarahemla. He encouraged them to remember those who were in captivity in the Land of Nephi and who were rescued from sin and bondage by the goodness of God. “They were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.” (Alma 5:9, emphasis added.) The Anti-Nephi Lehies were also “brought to sing redeeming love” (Alma 26:13.)
It must be this longing to “sing redeeming love” that turns a song into a prayer. The scriptures are filled with examples. When Christ came among “an innumerable company of the spirits of the just” in the Spirit World to deliver them from the bands of death (D&C 138:12), “they sang praises to his holy name.” (D&C 138:24.) When Christ was about to depart from the room of the Last Supper to go the Garden of Gethsemene, he and his disciples sang a hymn. (see Matthew 26:30.) Isaiah instructed us to sing when we are resurrected. “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust . . . the earth shall cast out the dead.” (Isaiah 26:19.)
And the graves of the saints shall be opened; and they shall come forth and stand on the right hand of the Lamb, when he shall stand upon Mount Zion, and upon the holy city, the New Jerusalem; and they shall sing the song of the Lamb, day and night forever and ever. (D&C 133:56.)
Israel sang after they had crossed the Red Sea. “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously . . .” (Exodus 15:1.) The D&C gives the words of a song to be sung, a new song, when the time comes that “all shall know me, who remain, even from the least unto the greatest . . .” (D&C 84:98; the words of the song are in verses 99-102.)
MAKING SOUNDS; MAKING MUSIC
At least forty-six times the scriptures speak of singing praises to the Savior and other members of the Godhead.
And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end. (Mormon 7:7.)
We must not miss opportunities to sing redeeming love—to sing praises—because of how we sing. The quality that matters in music is why we sing.
I sang with the Utah State University Institute Choir at a session of General Conference many years ago. I had what I thought was the misfortune to be seated next to a young man who sang every note off-key and every note as loudly as he could! I am sorry to confess that I was offended. Even with my limited musical ability I recognized that I was making a much more useful contribution to the spirit of our music than he was. I have since learned that I had the matter exactly backwards.
Alexander Schreiner, one of the great Tabernacle organists, recalled a story about someone who asked a music director how he could stand to hear Brother Stanton bellow off-key at Church gatherings. The wise old leader replied: “Brother Stanton is one of our most devout worshippers, and when he bellows he is a supreme musician . . . . Don’t pay too much attention to the sounds he makes. If you do, you may miss the music.” (Music and the Gospel, p. 16; cited in the Ensign, March 2000, p. 19.)
I was so worried about the sounds I was hearing that I missed the music I was hearing. I am certain that our Father never pays too much attention to the sounds we make. If we are devout in our worship, God does not hear the missed notes or care about the dissonance. He hears the prayers.
When we listen to this choir . . . we listen to music, and music is truth. Good music is gracious praise of God. It is delightsome to the ear, and it is one of our most acceptable methods of worshipping God. And those who sing . . . should sing with the spirit and with the understanding. They should not sing merely because it is a profession, or because they have a good voice; but they should sing also because they have the spirit of it and can enter into the spirit of prayer and praise to God who gave them their sweet voices. (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, Oct. 1899, p. 69.)
The Old Testament contains a splendid story about an extraordinary use of music. When Jehosaphat was king in Jerusalem, an alliance of armies from Moab, Ammon, and Mount Seir came to battle against Judah. The king proclaimed a fast among his people, for he knew that his people had “no might against this great company . . .” (2 Chronicles 20:12.)
The Lord by revelation promised them protection. “Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude,” he encouraged. “Ye shall not need to fight battle: set yourselves, stand ye still . . .” (2 Chronicles 20:15,17.)
The next morning they arose and went to meet the invading forces, armed with music!
And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever.
And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. (2 Chronicles 20:21,22.)
The scriptures make it clear that there is singing in heaven. Both Lehi and Alma saw multitudes of angels “in the attitude of singing and praising their God.” (I Nephi 1:8; Alma 36:22.) Instrumental music must be a part of this, even in celestial regions. It also seems clear that in mortality instrumental music played from the heart to praise and proclaim redemption becomes a prayer.
Melvin DeWitt, a wonderful man and a fine musician shared a missionary experience in a stake conference which I attended.
Elder Henry D. Moyle of the Quorum of the Twelve had heard Elder DeWitt play his violin in a missionary meeting. He invited Elder DeWitt to tour the mission with him and his wife and play the violin.
He explained that his wife was too timid to speak, but loved to participate by contributing musically in the conference, and accompanying me on the violin would make it appropriate for her.
Elder DeWitt was pleased to accept that assignment. During a testimony meeting with the missionaries of the St. Louis District in the basement of a government building, Elder DeWitt had just decided to stand and express his feelings when Elder Moyle stood and said to him, “Elder DeWitt, will you please bear your testimony on the violin?” Elder DeWitt wrote,
This startled me and I wondered at first what he meant. Then the thought came clear to me—Yes, this is what you actually do when you play from your heart . . . While I was puzzling in my mind what to play (alone without accompaniment—for there was no piano there) Brother Moyle suggested that I play “Oh, My Father.” He said he would like to hold the hymn book for me to play from. . . . The Holy Ghost came to me and filled my whole being with the most heavenly influence. I began to play and I never heard such sounds come from my violin. Tears of joy began to roll down my cheeks. I also saw tears running off Brother Moyle’s cheeks. There came to my awareness that a heavenly orchestra was accompanying me, so wonderful and completely beyond anything musical you would ever hear on this mortal earth. . . .
[Then] Brother Moyle began to speak and bore witness that we were entertained by heavenly beings . . . (by Elder Melvin K. DeWitt; personal correspondence to the author.)
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told of an inactive man who was reclaimed by an experience in the shed behind his house. In terror he had fled there, although he did not know the source of his fear. For the first time in half a century, he fell to his knees and prayed: “O Lord, save me from whatever it is that terrifies me so.”
Quaking, trembling, perspiring on his knees in this shed out behind his home, he continued his prayer. He said, “I was lisping like a child the only prayers I knew, when there came into my heart the words of a song that I had not heard nor sung for that half century. I think I did not ever know the words, and I surely do not know them now. But I heard them with symphonic accompaniment and angelic choirs. I heard them, music and word, in that shed behind my home in the middle of that night.
The hymn was “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.”
The man said, “I heard the angels sing. I’ve never missed a church meeting since that day. I’ve never smoked a cigarette, and I’ve tried to do everything I should have done for all those years. But I want you to know that I did not then, and probably do not now know, the words to the hymn that I heard sung that night in a shed behind my home with celestial symphony and an angelic choir.” (From a speech by Jeffrey Holland, “Remembered and Nourished by the Good Word of God,” given at the Marriott Center, BYU, Sept. 26, 1976.)
PRAYING IN UNISON
Music allows us to pray together, as do our congregational and family prayers.
I will now ask this congregation, how many of you thought of mentally repeating my prayer as the words came to your ears? Did you realize that the order of prayer required you to mentally follow the words of the person who was praying? With us every one should mentally repeat the same words and ask for the same things as does the one who leads vocally, and let all say, amen. There are times and places when all should vocally repeat the words spoken, but in our prayer meetings and in our family circles let every heart be united with the one who takes the lead by being mouth before the Lord, and let every person mentally repeat the prayers, and all unite in whatever is asked for, and the Lord will not withhold, but will give to such persons the things which they ask for and rightly need. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol III, p. 53.)
“ANSWERED WITH A BLESSING”
The First Presidency, in the introduction to our hymn book, said this:
Brothers and Sisters, let us use the hymns to invite the Spirit of the Lord into our congregations, our homes, and our personal lives. Let us memorize and ponder them, recite and sing them, and partake of their spiritual nourishment. Know that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto our Father in Heaven, “and will be answered with a blessing upon [your] heads.” (Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985, p. x.)
This article was adapted from chapter 8 of the author’s book, Put off Thy Shoes. The book can be found by following the links at tedgibbons.com.