The first time I sang on a pastoral call was in a bustling respiratory care unit. We had no privacy. Nurses, technicians, and doctors were moving all around us. Ginny, a saint from our church, was lying there unresponsive. I didn’t know what to do. Usually, I’d read Scripture, but I was pretty sure it wouldn’t register with her. The Lord whispered to me, “Sing for her.” Here? With all these people around? “Yes,” he insisted. “Sing.” So I took a deep breath, took hold of Ginny’s hand, and started singing, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Then other songs. I forgot the words once and started too high another time, but I sang. Not because I’m a great singer but because it seemed like the pastoral thing to do.
The ministry of singing seems to have become the sole province of worship leaders and the people with mics. But singing can be good pastoral care, especially in a hospital room, a nursing home, a time of weeping or parting, or even in a counseling session. Maybe you’re thinking, “I can’t sing.” Could be true. But most of us can carry a tune. Not well enough for public consumption, perhaps, but well enough to minister to or fellowship with a brother or sister.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Col. 3:16)
Worship isn’t the only reason we sing. Christians sing in order to pray, to edify, to fellowship. The Psalms were sung and think of all the spiritual territory they cover. God sings over us with joy. We mistakenly think that music only ministers if it is done well. But our ordinary, average singing can be medicine and even a hint of heaven.
If the whole idea is too much for you, bring someone with you. If nothing else, play some songs on your phone and sing along. You’re not singing solos here. You’re pastoring. Singing with a fellow believer is a way of synching up our hearts. Once I sang with a Christian brother afflicted with Alzheimer’s yet he sang every verse of an old hymn with me, strong and true.
A woman who lived far away called to ask if I’d visit her dying father and present the gospel to him one more time. He’d owned a bar and, so far as she knew, he had never darkened a church door. I stood nervously at his hospital bed and tried to talk about Jesus but I saw no reaction whatever. So I started to sing the old Sunday School song, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” To my astonishment, his lips began to move with the words. When we finished, I spoke the gospel to him and when I asked if he wanted to trust Christ, he squeezed my hand twice as I’d asked him to do. Make of that what you will.
I visited a dear saint who had Huntington’s Disease and was completely unresponsive. Again, I felt so helpless, so wordless, so I just sang for a while. As I was leaving the nurse said, “You know, when you sang, her blood pressure went down.”
Bob was in the ICU for a long time. Each time I visited him we’d talk and I’d sing. One time I said, “I’m sorry Bob, but I have to leave now.” “That’s ok,” he said, “When you’re not here, I hear you singing.”
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.