“To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.” This quotation was from a man who observed lethargy and unenthusiastic engagement in congregational singing. He decried a lack of apparent passion and zeal for God and spiritual things in this act of worship that is meant to be profound and transforming. The observer, as far as is known, was not a New Testament Christian, but he was responsible for giving us “Joy to the World,” “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross,” and over 500 more hymns. He complained about the lifeless hymns being sung in his day, and his father, who would be jailed for dissenting from the Church of England, challenged him to come up with a solution. All those hymns, which he started writing in adolescence, was his answer. Isaac Watts can be considered an expert on religious hymns, and he revolutionized congregational singing for especially English speakers. The fact that we still sing some of his hymns demonstrates that.
But, his observation in later life about indifference, negligence, and thoughtlessness from those presumably worshipping is a fair challenge to each of us. Especially when we are singing songs so familiar to us, which we know by heart, we must guard against lips that say one thing and hearts which do not necessarily reflect those words. Is it possible to sing about Jesus’ death on the cross or God’s great love or the amazing hope of heaven or an examination of my Christian life and commitment without reflecting and contemplating? Could I be thinking about something while singing something else? The gamut might run from empty religion to understandable distraction, but we must challenge ourselves to keep our hearts and minds on the words and meaning of those psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). Let us cultivate desire in the heart that bubbles from the lips as we praise God and encourage one another in our song service.