When the Song Begins
There is a saying, that in Oriental countries the birds never sing, the flowers have no fragrance, and the women never smile. Heathen religions put no sweetness into life, kindle no joy in the heart, start no songs. They do not comfort sorrow nor wipe away tears. But the religion of the God of the Bible is one of gladness. It teaches us to sing, not only on the happy days, but on the dark days as well.
The Old Testament has much music in it. Then the New Testament is full of song. It opens with an overture by a great choir of angels. The first message to the shepherds, announcing the birth of the Savior, told of joy for all who would accept it. Christ marked out the way of joy in all His teaching. He offered rest of soul to all who would come to Him, take His yoke upon them and learn of Him. He said He would give His own peace to those who would let it into their hearts. He expressed a desire that His joy might be fulfilled in the lives of His friends. He bade His followers be of good cheer, because He had overcome the world.
Then after the Resurrection and Ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we find the church to be a company of rejoicing people. “They took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God.” (Acts 2:46-47)ASV They met persecution and suffering, but nothing could silence their songs. Their joy was quenchless. Paul, the greatest sufferer of all, was likewise the most joyous of all. No chains, no dungeons, no scourgings, no losses, could stop his singing. Out of his prison life he wrote to one of the churches, “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)ASV
But what is the secret? When does the song begin? What is it that gives to the believer in God this quenchless joy?
In the record of the opening of the temple by Hezekiah we find a sentence which suggests the answer. All was cleansed and in readiness according to the Word of the Lord. At the same time the great temple choir was waiting, ready to break forth into song. But not a note was heard until the sacrifices began to burn upon the altar. The record is that “when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also.” (2 Chronicles 29:27) The moment the offering was laid upon the altar and the holy fire began to consume it, the great choir began to sing.
These ancient burnt offerings were an expression of personal devotion and consecration to God. It is when this surrender of our lives to God is made, and not until then, that the song begins in our hearts.
Yet somehow a good many people seem to think a pious life cannot be a joyous life. They get the idea that devotion requires a life of self-sacrifice, but they cannot think of self-sacrifice as joyous. One man said to another, referring to something they were talking about, “I suppose it must be my duty, because I hate it so.” That is the way many people think about duty. But really there is no other life so full of deep, abiding joy, as the life of self-sacrifice in the service of Christ.
It is well worthwhile for us to learn this lesson. Work is immeasurably harder if we do it only as taskwork, because we must. No one can ever make much of his life if he works reluctantly, perfunctorily. Joy gives strength and skill. Even the lowliest tasks may be made a delight if only we embrace them as part of God’s will for us. No doubt Jesus was an enthusiastic carpenter, going out each morning to His day’s tasks with a song. It ought to help other carpenters and all of us in our common vocations to work gladly if we but remember that our Master toiled too, working with His hands, and did it cheerfully, sweetly, songfully!
There are transforming motives if only we can get them into our hearts. Love has power to transfigure dreary tasks into delights.
Perhaps you have seen a young girl, light-hearted, carefree, with scarcely ever a serious thought in her mind. She seemed to think only of herself. She was self-indulgent, never denying herself anything she wanted. She never sacrificed her own comfort for another. By and by you saw her a mother, with a baby in her arms. Now her life was altogether changed. Love for another had taken root in her heart until it had blossomed out and possessed her. She cared now for her child with intense and self-forgetful devotion. She thought no longer of her own ease or comfort. There was no longer in her any spirit of self-indulgence. Then she did everything, the dreariest task, gladly, joyously. There was no complaint, no fretting. Love had taught her the lesson of self-devotion, and her heart sang as she wrought!
There are some men who once had little interest in their work, who did it only because they must, who were indolent, self-indulgent, extravagant. By and by they became heads of little families, for whose needs they must provide. Then all was changed. They went to their tasks with a new zest. Love had found a home in their hearts, where it put energy into their spirit, strength into their arms, and skill into their fingers. They never had known such happiness before. “When the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also.”
Men do not always realize how much of their enthusiasm in bearing their burdens, in enduring their struggles, in meeting obstacles, in overcoming difficulties, is inspired by love for the dear ones in their homes, for whose care, comfort, and protection they are responsible. It is this love that puts the song into their hearts.
It is not the fashion to idealize fathers. Mothers are idealized, and rightly so. Of all holy human passions, mother-love is most like God’s love. Everywhere, you can find mothers who devote themselves to the care of their children and sacrifice their ease and strength with complete self-abandonment, that they may give these children what they need. They lose their rest. They give up their own comfort. They pour out their very life in love’s ministering.
No one needs to ask the motive of this holy serving and self-sacrificing. It is found in the sacredness of the home, in the little child’s sickroom, in the nursery, where there always are tasks and needs. God bless these mothers. They deserve highest honor. A mother who recognizes the value of her sacred responsibility can go through all love’s services and sacrifices with gladness in her heart. When the self-sacrifice begins, the song begins, too! And as the burdens grow heavier and the need for self-denial grows greater, the song becomes louder and richer in its melody!
There is perhaps less poetry in father-love, yet there is much in it that is very sacred and ofttimes heroic. There are fathers who live for their children with noble self-abandonment. There are men who have made a splendid success of their lives, building up a business, growing to honor in their profession, rising to noble character and influence—and the secret of all their energy, skill, and achievement, can be found in the quiet homes to which they hurry each evening when their work is done. As the responsibility of love came upon them, the song began, and they went each day to take up the growing burden with increasing joy in their hearts. Love makes true men laugh at hard tasks and exhausting toil.
Human love marvelously transfigures dreary things, difficult duties, dull tasks. It wakes up the best that is in life, and calls out its sweetest songs. But there is another love which has still more wondrous power—love for Christ! “Whom not having seen, [we] love.” (1 Peter 1:8) If only we can get this mighty motive into our hearts, it will change everything in life for us. It surpasses all earthly love in its power to inspire service, sacrifice, and song. If we have not learned to sing at our work, to make monotonous duty a delight, to find joy in self-sacrifice, we need but to look at the face of Christ, remembering His love and infinite sacrifice for us. Then accept that these things which seem so dreary, so hard, so costly in self-denial and sacrifice, are simply His biddings, bits of His will for us. When we believe Him, love for our Savior and Master will spring up in our hearts and all will be transformed and transfigured!
A singer told the story of how all had been changed for her. She had once sung only for ambition, because she hoped to gather fame and wealth. But one Sunday she went to sing in a prison, after the minister had preached. Among the convicts was one with strangely sad and hungry eyes. “I sang to that one man,” the singer said, “and as I sang, a power that was never mine before, was given me. The tears rained down the man’s cheeks as he listened. Faces all about him began to soften.” It was a holy moment for the singer. She had risen out of mere professionalism, and her soul had been touched and thrilled by the love of Christ. From that day, all was new for her.
When does the song begin in time of sorrow? “Ah,” someone says, “I cannot sing then. Surely it is not expected that I shall sing when my dead are lying before me.”
Yes, the Christian is always to sing. “Rejoice… always,” means on the day when death-crape is on the door, as well as on the day when all is bright within. Someday we shall know that every sorrow in our lives held a secret of joy for us. However, the song only begins when we submit ourselves to God in our grief, submitting without questioning His will, and opening our hearts to receive whatever blessing He has sent to us in the sorrow. Job had learned this lesson when he said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.” (Job 1:21) The words imply perfect trust, and at once the song began in the patriarch’s life, for he added, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” So always, even in the deepest grief, when we can say and mean it, “Not my will, but thine, be done,” (Luke 22:42) the song begins.
One of the worst perils of Christian lives lies in the line of self-indulgence. We take too good care of ourselves. We keep ourselves back from hard tasks and stern self-denials. We choose the easy things. Consequently, we do not find the joy that is possible in Christian living. Some never seem to learn the lesson at all. They go through a course of formal service, but they are never happy in it, they are never enthusiastic followers of Christ. The trouble is, they have just a little religion, enough to make life harder in the way of restraint and limitation, but not enough to start the song. They measure their piety, they calculate their service, they know nothing of full abandonment to Christ. They always go the one required mile—but never go the second mile of love. There will never be any song in such Christian living. Only in entire surrender and devotion to Christ can we learn to sing the new song. If we would find joy in our religion, we must abandon ourselves altogether to Christ.
Many of us serve Christ so daintily, so delicately, with so much self-reserve and withholding of ourselves from sacrifice, that we never learn the reality of the joy of Christ. When we devote ourselves to Him wholly, the song will begin!