My Suffering Savior Taught Me to Sing

Did Jesus Sing?

Have you ever wondered when Jesus sang? We can be sure he did in synagogue during Shabbat or at religious festivals in Jerusalem—I can see him as a boy standing with his family in the temple court, gazing up at the Levites who led everyone in song. Certainly he was taught to sing the Hallel during Jewish Passover—every good Jewish boy sang those psalms. Singing must have come naturally to Jesus.

Did he hum a psalm when he worked in his father’s carpenter shop? Surely he knew scores of hymns written by Asaph, David’s choirmaster. Walking with his disciples in a stiff sea breeze along the shores of Galilee, was Jesus the one who’d first strike up a tune? Did the others chime in? What about when his heart filled with so much joy that he had to spread his arms wide and let loose with a song?

There is only one place in the Bible where it is recorded that Jesus sang. The scene is not on a sunny hillside, not at a joy-filled wedding; it is not as Jesus crossed the sea in a boat with his friends, or as he took a solitary walk up a hill in the cool of early dawn. Rather, the scene for the song was in the upper room the night he was betrayed.

Songs of Suffering

Joni Eareckson Tada

This beautifully designed book includes 25 hymns chosen by Joni Eareckson Tada with accompanying devotions and photography designed to spark hope in the midst of hardship.

Matthew 26:30 describes the moment. It happened when Jesus gave his disciples the bread and wine. After that, “when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Of all the times and places that God chose to have us remember his Son singing, it is when he was led to his death. This was the one horrible moment—recorded for posterity—when our Savior sang. Consider the implications for us:

He was on the brink of that great depth of misery into which he was about to plunge, and yet he would have them sing a hymn. What does he teach us by it? Does he not say to each of us, his followers, “I, your Master, by my example would instruct you to sing even when the last solemn hour is come. I am your singing-master . . . in which my dying voice shall lead you: notwithstanding all the griefs which overwhelm my heart, I will play the chief musician, and be to you the sweet singer of Israel.”1

It is no coincidence that a hymn echoed in Jesus’s heart as he stared into the jaws of incomprehensible suffering. And God boldly asks us to do the same when our time of great affliction arrives. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).

My Song in Suffering

I have lived with quadriplegia for more than half a century and have wrestled with chronic pain for much of that time. I struggle with breathing problems and am in an ongoing battle against cancer. All this makes for a perfect storm for discouragement.

Yet when my hip and back are frozen in pain, or it’s simply another weary day of plain paralysis, I strengthen myself with Jesus’s example in the upper room. My suffering Savior has taught me to always choose a song—a song that fortifies my faith against discouragement and breathes hope into my heart. And so I daily take up my cross to the tune of a hymn.

But not just any tune or lyrics. The song must possess enough spiritual muscle to barge into my soul and shake awake a hopeful response. It must be a hymn whose lyrics raise me onto a different plane spiritually; it must summon in me the emotional wherewithal to remember my station in life so that I can rise above my circumstances. A well-crafted song of suffering—filled with truths about life and God—has power to do that. It grinds biblical truth into our souls, like a pestle grinding powder in a crucible.

Singing songs of suffering is not an option for Christ-followers. It is not a mere invitation. When Christians in Colossae were struggling to survive under the reign of the madman Nero, Paul ordered them, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). When the Ephesians were being persecuted and threatened with torture, Paul commanded them to encourage “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19). Paul himself takes his own advice when—bloodied, bruised, and shackled in jail—he boisterously sings a hymn at midnight, proving that spiritual songs can provide powerful ammunition for embattled Christians! (Acts 16:25).

Life is war. I wake up every morning feeling besieged by various afflictions. Nevertheless, I see myself in the choir of Levites who marched onto the battlefield in front of Jehoshaphat’s troops, singing, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever” (2 Chron. 20:21–22).

In the morning, I tune my heart with a hymn. And at night when pain keeps me awake, when I cannot reposition myself and I don’t want to bother my husband a third time, when my mind is so foggy I can barely put two sentences together in prayer, I lean on Scripture. But I also lean on stanzas of great hymns I’ve memorized over the years.

All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me on the living Bread.
When my weary soul may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo, a Spring of joy I see!2

Let the Song Dwell in You Richly

Before you sing it, you must know it. And know it by heart. My husband often brags about me to friends, saying, “Just hum a line from a 60s song; something by the Beatles or the Beach Boys—anything— and believe me, Joni will know it!” That is nothing to boast about, but Ken is fascinated that I know all these old songs by heart. Growing up with older sisters who were glued to their transistor radios, my mind could not help but be saturated with songs by Elvis Presley or the Supremes. I unwittingly memorized scores of Top 40 hits by simply sharing a bedroom with my siblings.

Take heart! Soon you will sing a different song of suffering.

There are far better anthems for our lives than frivolous songs that cater to the flesh, dull the spirit, or dig up tarnished memories and old regrets. There are courageous, celestial anthems to learn—hymns that carry us from strength to strength, from faith to faith, and from grace to grace. Brave songs that shore up our hearts for life’s battles.

It is why hymns should be memorized. You’ve heard it said, “We are what we eat,” but I say, “We are what we sing.” Even now, I work hard to retrain my memory as I uproot those old pop tunes with their lyrics as worthless as cotton candy. In their place, I have hardwired my brain to default to valiant hymns. They now comprise the musical score for my life. Why give the precious real estate of my brain cells to things that weigh my spirit down rather than elevate it?

Memorizing hymns gives a head start in grasping Christian doctrine, and their melodies enrich us more than we realize. Our minds are programmed to remember patterns in music better than we remember patterns in words alone. “Every culture has songs and rhymes to help children learn the alphabet, numbers, and other lists. Even as adults, we are limited in our ability to memorize series or to hold them in mind unless we use [musical] patterns—and the most powerful of these devices are rhyme, meter, and song.”3

God himself used music to help his people remember his words. As Israel was about to enter the promised land, God instructed Moses in Deuteronomy 31 to teach his people a song so that they would remember not only his promises but also his dire warnings. The lesson is clear: focus on singing words that God wants you to remember.

Your Songs of Suffering

You [may be] suffering. Whether physically or emotionally, it hurts bad and it’s hard. You need a song. The music has drained from your heart, and you need bold, celestial anthems to fill the void. Songs that will help you go from strength to strength. I want to be your song leader.

Take heart! Soon you will sing a different song of suffering. You will gladly sing it on that day when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). John Piper describes this glorious song: “We will sing about suffering through eternity—not our suffering, but Christ’s. We will remember that he was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, and our hearts will overflow with a song of praise to the Lamb who endured the ultimate pain to redeem us.”4

We will glorify our gallant Lord for choosing to sing on the night of his betrayal. We will lionize him for marching to his death with that same song reverberating in his heart. Join me in following in his steps. Turn up the wattage on the glory of your singing Savior, the man of sorrows who paved the way for you as he lifted a song before he lifted his cross. Oh, may we do the same.


  1. Charles Spurgeon, “The Memorable Hymn, No. 2982,” Spurgeon Gems, April 5, 1906,
  2. Fanny Crosby, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” 1875.
  3. Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (New York: Knopf, 2007), 158.
  4. John Piper, “Singing, Suffering, and Scripture: How God Keeps Us through Song,” message delivered at Sing! Global Conference, September 2, 2020, Nashville, TN; emphasis added.

This article is adapted from Songs of Suffering: 25 Hymns and Devotions for Weary Souls by Joni Eareckson Tada.

Related Articles

4 Questions about Our Suffering

Mark Talbot

Why are we to rejoice in our suffering? Why do we suffer in the ways that we do, and why do some suffer much more than others? Why doesn’t God usually answer our prayers for him to end our suffering?

Related Resources

Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at