Hebrews 10:17 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross forever made the old sacrificial system obsolete. However, there are still sacrifices to continually bring, namely the sacrifice of praise with the fruit of our lips. Our words are like fruit. We feed ourselves and others with the produce from our mouth. In the sacrifice of praise, we put to death our desire to moan and groan. We surrender our opportunity to gripe and complain. What a tremendous sacrifice that can be! Instead, we take the fruit of our lips, our words and songs, and offer praise to God.
In the book Make Your Bed, by US Navy Admiral Bill McRaven, he shares a memory from his time in Seal training that helps us understand the sacrifice of praise. The most challenging part of Seal training is “Hell Week”, a six-day period of no sleep, mental harassment, and continual physical exercise. On Wednesday of Hell Week McRaven and the others paddled their rafts to the Mud Flats between San Diego and Tijuana. At this location is a large patch of thick, swampy, earthy sludge. They spent the entire evening and night in the freezing mud trying to survive. Within the first hour, each man was covered from head to toe.
On this most challenging night, because of some violation, Admiral McRaven and his team were forced to spend more time in the mud. Clothed in brown slime, the whites of their eyes shown in the night. With the wind howling, the instructor holding a bullhorn, informed them they could leave and head for a warm fire if just five would give up. If only five would quit, they all could escape the icy mud and wicked wind.
As they all sat and contemplated their fate, some were ready to throw in the towel. Admiral McRaven writes what happened next.
“The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything and then, one voice began to echo through the night — one voice raised in song. The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two and two became three and before long everyone in the class was singing. We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well.
The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singing — but the singing persisted. And somehow — the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.”
A few observations come to mind. Everything in that awful experience told them not to sing, and yet they chose to do it anyway. While the song had a horrendous tonal quality, it was belted out with great enthusiasm. The decision of just one to rejoice in song stirred everyone else, and together their defiant chorus created a transformation. The mud was not so cold and the wind not as harsh. Their unified chorus drowned out the tempting offer to surrender to defeat.
These brave men experienced the scientifically verified, biological benefits that come from singing. When we sing powerful mood-altering hormones are released. Endorphins, responsible for feelings of pleasure, go to work. The hormone oxytocin, responsible for calming anxiety and stress, sets us at ease. While singing alone is good, singing in groups is much better. There is an unmistakable calming effect that comes from sending out a sound from deep within and then hearing that sound in harmony with others around you.
Beyond the basic biological advantages, there are tremendous spiritual benefits that come when we offer a sacrifice of praise to God. On Sundays, as we gather to worship, we’ve all come through the mud of a difficult week. Our hearts are frostbitten, and we feel distant from God. That’s the time to link arms and lift a defiant chorus of praise.