For most of history, the call to love our neighbor has almost always meant drawing near to people . . . until now. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems the most loving thing we can do for our neighbor is keep our distance. But that distance and isolation can breed fear as our churches attempt to navigate an unprecedented season of crisis, anxiety, and even helplessness. Most congregations have been regulated to meeting online or in small community or family groups.
During this unfamiliar time, however, God has given his people a familiar gift we cannot forget—singing. Over and over again, the psalmists instruct the people of the Lord to sing in every circumstance. If listening to music is healing to the soul, then singing is like a resurrection—it brings life to dead places in our hearts. It gives voice to our joys and our fears, and it reminds us of truths that are so easily forgotten during anxious times—namely, that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
During this unfamiliar time for the church, God has given his people a familiar gift that we cannot forget—singing.
The church needs to sing. We might not be able to draw near to our neighbors, but we can sing the love of God to a world filled with fear. Here are 12 songs that churches, worship leaders, families, and individuals can sing during this time of suffering.
1) “This Is My Father’s World” is a hymn written by Maltbie D. Babcock at the turn of the century in 1901. It’s easy to believe that our world belongs to the pain and sorrow that so often inhabits it, but that could not be further from the truth. “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” This is our Father’s world. He holds it with care, and he has promised to come back one day and make it new. Listen on Spotify.
2) “God’s Highway” (Sandra McCracken) can be traced back to Isaiah 40:3: “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The beginning of Isaiah 40 is the beautiful proclamation that God will bring comfort to his people with the coming of the Messiah. As one of the song’s lyrics says, “Fear not, keep on, watch and pray. Walk in the light of God’s highway.” Listen on Spotify.
3) “It Is Well with My Soul” was written by Horatio Spafford after losing his four daughters on a shipwreck over the North Atlantic Ocean. “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’” This hymn wrestles with suffering while pointing us to the hope of a future glory in Christ: “The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend; even so, it is well with my soul.” Listen on Spotify.
4) “Jesus with Thy Church Abide” might be one of the timeliest hymns on this list. This song by Thomas B. Pollock begins as a prayer that Christ would stay with his church when “her faith is tried.” It ends as a cry that Jesus would take his church outside the walls of the sanctuary to a world that needs his love: “May she guide the poor and blind, seek the lost until she find, and the broken-hearted bind. We beseech thee, hear us.” Would we Christians be bold enough to pray that prayer right now? Listen on Spotify.
5) “We Labor Unto Glory” is a more recent song written by Isaac Wardell and Craig Harris of the Porter’s Gate, sung by Liz Vice. Similar to “Jesus with Thy Church Abide,” this song urges Christians to “labor unto glory until God’s kingdom comes.” The crisis we face today is an opportunity for God’s people to find creative ways to labor and love, even if from a distance. Listen on Spotify.
6) “The Lord Is Good” is actually a song I wrote for RYM Worship based on a passage in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When the children discover Aslan is a lion, Susan asks, “Is he safe?” Mr. Beaver answers, “Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.” God is many things at once—love and wrath, mercy and judgment, both frightening and full of comfort. The life he’s called us to is not a safe life because he is not a safe God—but he is good. He’s the King. Listen on Spotify.
7) “God with Us” (All Sons and Daughters) works well as an advent song, but just as well in times of crises as we remember that we live in between two different advents. We look back to Immanuel’s first coming as we look forward to his next, and we walk in the light of his last words to the disciples in Matthew 28:20: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Listen on Spotify.
8) “Now Thank We All Our God” is an older hymn written by Martin Rinkart during the Thirty Years’ War in Germany. In 1637, Rinkart was the only clergy left in the walled city of Eilenberg. Hundreds were dying every week due to famine, siege and disease, and Rinkart was performing 40 to 50 burial services a day, one of which was for his wife. During this time of isolation, he penned a hymn of prayer, encouraging his congregation to give thanks in the midst of their fears: “Keep us in your grace, and guide us when perplexed. Free us from all ills of this world and the next.” Listen on Spotify.
9) “All Things New” is one of the few upbeat songs on this list because, as much as I love a good dirge, we also need music that lifts our souls. Andrew Peterson echoes the refrain of Revelation 21:5 with a call to those who suffer: “Come broken and weary, come battered and bruised; my Jesus makes all things new.” Helpful words to remind us during this crisis that things will not always be this way. Listen on Spotify.
10) “I Shall Not Want” (Audrey Assad) is a beautiful adaptation of Psalm 23. If I’m honest, I struggle with the phrase, “I shall not want.” It’s difficult to wrap my mind around trusting Jesus to the point where I’m no longer in want, especially during a season when all I want is comfort, security, health, and perhaps most of all, a plan. But this song reminds me that the Shepherd provides for his sheep, and “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Listen on Spotify.
11) “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” by 18th-century hymn writer Anne Steele is, I believe, one of the most honest hymns ever written. The lyrics are like a bucket scraping the bottom of an empty well. It’s a song for all who are dry and weary and confused. “But oh, when gloomy doubts prevail, I fear to call thee mine. The springs of comfort seem to fail, and all my hopes decline.” In that place of fear and weariness Lord meets us as our refuge. Listen on Spotify.
12) “Be Still My Soul” was written almost three centuries ago by Kathrina von Schlegel, yet it might be the most fitting song for us to sing in 2020. This time of “social distancing” throughout the world is going to cause everyone to do something we’re not especially good at—slow down and be still. But it’s not just our bodies that need to be still. We need to sing to our own hearts, “Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; leave to your God to order and provide; in every change he faithful will remain.” Listen on Spotify.