Story Holders and Life Shapers

Psalm 96 and Congregational Song

As a musician and former teacher, I’m not surprised by studies that show that singing helps us learn. Our brains are wired to better collect and retain knowledge when coupled with rhythm and notes. We teach our children the words of Scripture through song because decades later, sometimes even out of the fog of dementia, the songs still resonate on our lips.

Singing shapes us more deeply than simple memorization. Lois Lowry, author of the young adult novel The Giver, created a character known as the Singer. In a culture where there was no written history, the Singer’s job was to learn the story of the people and then lead the community in singing their song. They sang to remember, they sang to tell others who did not know, and they sang because, in repeating the stories in song, they themselves were shaped into community, knowing they belonged.

As a community called into worship by God, we have the same responsibility as the Singer. Our songs hold the stories of God. So we sing them to remember the stories—not just the facts and details, but the character and actions of the God who saves, protects, guides, comforts, and loves us. We sing together because joining our voices unites our spirits, and we lift our songs to tell those who don’t yet know that our only comfort is that we belong.

Psalm 96 provides a template for singing three specific faith stories: salvation, power, and hope. The psalmist also gives us a mandate to sing with intent and delight to give back to God all that is in our hearts in response to all that God has done for us.

We sing because our songs hold our stories, and singing our stories shapes us.

This service could be ordered in different ways. The version included here highlights how the various actions in worship are related (read the blue headings on their own). I have preached the same sermon but put it closer to the beginning of the service, allowing for more singing in response to the message. I could also imagine singing after each section of the sermon.

As we are called into worship, . . .


Adoration Song

“Cantai ao Senhor / O Sing to the Lord” Brazilian, LUYH 493, GtG 637, SSS 429

God greets us . . .


and we greet one another, . . .

Mutual Greeting

joining our voices in adoration and praise.

“Sing to the LORD, Sing His Praise” Psalter, LUYH 515, PH 96, PfAS 96B

“Ten Thousand Reasons” Myrin and Redman, LUYH 559, SSS 440

“How Great Is Our God” Tomlin, Reeves, and Cash, LUYH 574, SSS 458 with chorus of “How Great Thou Art” Hine, LUYH 553, GtG 625, SSS 14

In the presence of our Holy God we confess our sins, . . .

Prayer of Confession:

Lord, we owe you an apology. We are sorry for the ways we hold back in worship. We do not approach your throne with awe, and we yawn at the miraculous stories of salvation, power, and hope.

We worry about what people around us will think if we sing with too much exuberance, or even if we are moved to tears. Forgive us for forgetting that you gave us our minds and our bodies and our emotions, and help us to worship you with our whole selves. Help us give back to you the reverence and celebration that is due to you.

Today we pray for ourselves as your worshiping people. Form us, shape us into the kind of people who remember your story and who sing it with full throats and voices—and who sing kindly and comfortingly for others who need hope.

Spirit of God, infuse our hearts and voices with your power and vibrancy so that we can ascribe to you our love with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

“My God, How Wonderful You Are” Faber, LUYH 548, PsH 499

receive God’s pardon, . . .

Assurance of Pardon

and commit ourselves to obedient living.

“Love the Lord Your God” Strathdee, GtG 62

God speaks to us in his word.

Scripture Reading: Psalm 96

Sermon: “Give It Back!”

Sermon Notes:

We sing because songs hold our stories.

Stories of salvation (v. 2):

Notice that in the Bible, whenever God does something incredible, people respond to God with a song about how God saved them. Examples include Miriam, Deborah, Joshua, and Gideon.

If God has saved us, we sing about it. If we need God’s saving, we sing about it.

Stories of power (vs. 3–6):

We sing because our songs hold stories of God’s power, which has already saved us, and they hold stories of anticipation that God has the power to save us again.

Even our songs of lament reflect God’s salvation and power. When we weep with frustration over injustice and disunity, we are singing in tune with salvation stories and power stories because we are asking God to do again what God did in all those other stories.

Stories of hope (vs. 9–13):

These verses grow in a crescendo of hopefulness that whatever comes, “The LORD reigns.” God is gracious and righteous and faithful and will make all things right again. We need to sing hope for ourselves, both for a doubting world and for those who stand near us each week in church. Note that the imperative is plural. Worship singing is done in community.

Ascribe (vs. 7–8):

The English translation, “to credit or attribute,” lacks the energy and force of the Chinese translation 歸還 (“gui huan”), which means to give it back! Whatever God has given us we give back to God in prayer and life and song. If God has blessed us, we sing a song of praise back to God. If God has permitted hardship in our lives, even that we give back to God in our songs of lament.

We respond in a time of reflection, . . .

After the message, allow for a few moments of silent reflection or another appropriate response. In this case it may be most appropriate to respond by singing.

in song, . . .

“O Worship the King” Grant, LUYH 2, GtG 41, SSS 2

the profession of our faith, . . .

Consider using the contemporary testimony Our World Belongs to God, paragraphs 55–58 (

the celebration of communion, . . .

If celebrating communion it would be appropriate to highlight how we feast in anticipation of the heavenly banquet.

offering our gifts to God, . . .


and our prayers.

Congregational Prayer

God sends us out with God’s blessing.

Zephaniah 3:14–17

We go, confidently joining in the eternal song of adoration.

“By the Sea of Crystal” Kuipers, LUYH 489, SSS 374, PsH 620


Rev. Joy Engelsman is a multivocational pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. She preaches frequently in Denver-area congregations, provides ministry coaching throughout North America, and serves as a missionary with Youth for Christ/Africa developing staff and leaders.

Reformed Worship 140 © June 2021, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.