But when I stepped up to the microphone, I heard it
It was the voices of the brothers by my side
They were singing out my songs when the song in me had died
- Andrew Peterson, Shine Your Light On Me
and my mouth with declare Your praise.
Sometimes I sing.
Sometimes I sing for others.
Sometimes I need others to sing for me.
My family and I walked into church, late, just as the worship band was finishing the first congregational song. We found open seats near the back of the sanctuary, slipping into them like stealth agents during the opening prayer.
Looking past the crowd to the stage, I was happy to see that a good friend of mine was sitting behind the drum kit. The Sundays when he plays always have an added bonus for me. I enjoy his drumming because I know his heart – I know why he is there on stage. Drums are his voice. The rhythm is his praise to God. And as he and the other band members worship, the rest of us are drawn in to join their song. There is one drum beat, one heartbeat of a community in common.
After the prayer, the band played another song. I looked up to the screen for the lyrics, but I continued to listen to the drums. I marked the skill, and I delighted in the excellence of the music we were making together, echoes of the offering our hearts were lifting to God. Yet even as I became aware of the beauty of such a moment, I also could not help but notice that my heart was largely unaffected by it all. My singing was stale, unmoved; I had not yet noticed the boys standing two rows in front of us.
The older brother stood erect, a couple of inches taller than the boy at his side. They both faced forward, the older boy with his perfect posture, and the younger boy with his wobbling. With a casual interest in the boys, I continued my attempt at singing until I could no longer. At what I saw next, my voice trembled, caught, and then fell silent.
The older brother put his arm around the younger, giving him a gentle hug and rub of the arm, a protective tenderness I have witnessed in my own children toward our foster baby. He then turned to face his younger brother, singing with great expression as one would to a young child. I could not view the face of the younger brother, but at this, he turned himself just enough for me to see that his smiling lips were not singing the song lyrics. His older brother was singing, not only for himself, but for them both.
And then another revelation came. The awkward bouncing of the younger brother was not unintentional or clumsy. He was moving with the music, his body attempting what his voice could not. He, too, was listening to the drums, and he was joining in the communal rhythm. Now his older brother joined with him in the joyful bouncing, and as he did, I could see him sing for them:
I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small.
Child of weakness, watch and pray. Find in Me thine all in all.”
I sometimes need others to sing for me, not because I need to be entertained, not because I myself do not wish to sing, but because my heart has lost its voice. My own selfishness, pride, and lusts can insulate my heart, muting its tender longing for God and drowning out the rhythms of His grace. These are moments when I am keenly aware of both the song-inspiring beauty of God and my paralyzing inability to join the melody. My mouth is disjointed, awkward and silent. I need someone to remind me of the words. I need friends with better rhythm to bring me back into cadence. I need a big Brother to turn to me, face next to mine, and allow me to share in His song of praise to our God. I see, from the back row of my gathered worship community, that Jesus is this beloved Brother. As He sings, His song becomes mine – not because my skill matches His, but because it never will.
Sometimes I sing. I sing with a full heart and full abandon. I sing with wet eyes and streams of emotion.
Sometimes I sing for others. I chart out rhythms of my own experience of God’s beauty and grace, and I hope that others will be moved to listen and sing along. And I hope that in these times of overflow and creativity, God will be pleased. Perhaps He is pleased – pleased in the way a parent is pleased with their toddler's attempts at creating or performing a masterpiece – pleased, but never impressed.
The greater reality is that I need someone to sing for me, even when I am at my best. There I stand, bouncing, grinning, reveling in the rhythm and rejoicing in the One standing by my side, the One who all at once gives me words to sing and also receives them:
O praise the One who paid my debt
And raised this life up from the dead!
I hear my own voice, but the Father hears one better. My big Brother is singing for me.