In an early Methodist hymnal entitled Select Hymns, John Wesley included seven admonitions called "Directions for Singing." Welsey realized that when the Church sings together, they form a physical representation of the spiritual unity that all Christians have through Christ. I want to look at his seven directions because they help us understand the importance of lending our voices in praise.
I. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please. - From John Wesley's Select Hymns, 1761
This is a curious statement and one that is hard for us to really understand as we read through our 21st-century lenses. Why would Wesley care that Methodists learn the particular songs in this collection?
Martin Luther once said that church music should be the "handmaiden of theology." That in itself seems like another weird thing to say, but what he meant was that the songs we sing as Christ's body should be expressions of deep, rich theological truth. By singing such words, Luther, and Wesley as well, hoped that Christians would grow in their understanding of their faith. And, as I've said before, true worship starts with knowledge, and the more we know about our faith and our God, the more our hearts can be stirred and warmed by the Holy Spirit. When this happens, our whole lives begin to look different. We begin to live with a deep love for God and a rich, heartfelt desire to serve Him.
So when Wesley tells us to learn these tunes, I believe he's telling us to become so familiar with the music that, when we sing hymns, our hearts can be warmed by the truth in the hymn text. So, as you sing with your congregation, do your best to follow along and learn what is being sung, so that the Spirit can refresh and renew your devotion for Almighty God.