To understand how singing in corporate worship shapes the hearts of the covenant people I have to relay a story from my childhood. I still remember as a young boy singing the refrain of an old hymn based on Psalm 1 as a liturgical response one Sunday morning. “Like a tree that’s planted by the water we shall not be moved.” We only sang it one Sunday morning once when I was a child. The reason we sang it was because new pages had been added to the denominational hymnal to create fresh liturgies to be used in worship. Our organist wanted to try them out. The experiment went the way of so many new attempts at livening up worship – we only did it once. But that one time, singing this short refrain between each of the psalm’s verses, it has stuck with me ever since. I have never been able to forget that moment of truly corporate worship singing. We sang toward each other that we were all trees – a virtual forest – planted and unable to be moved. Jack Collins gets at this sense that he is “as one grafted in and a partaker of the rich root of the olive tree” (Rom 11:17) when he says,
[T]he Psalms should mean the same thing to me as they did to a faithful Israelite, allowing for developments in redemptive history. After all, I like they am a participant in God’s covenant of grace, and one of the chief privileges of such participation is corporate worship which is the doorway between heaven and earth.
Alone or with others, in my car or home alone, from time to time this refrain comes back to me. What would have happened if we had sung this psalm for a month of Sundays? What would have happened if we had sang together toward each other about the ultimate distinction between the righteous and the wicked? I wonder what sins would have been brought to light and repented of? I wonder what marriages may have been saved. I wonder what friends would have been reconciled. The power of singing together in any context is intense. The power of the righteous singing of covenant instruction together can only multiply that affect intensely. How exactly this takes place may only be known by the Holy Spirit, but the results are seen among all the saints in the world today.