Shouting the Gospel: The Triumphant Faith of Betty and Mahalia

Shouting the Gospel: The Triumphant Faith of Betty and Mahalia

by: Kyra Riley

My granny Betty would shout during church services. When the Holy Spirit moved her, she raised her arm and waved her hand among a crowd of witnesses. She responded to the preacher's words and to the choir with loud praise. She had a voice that filled the entire congregation. Her common phrase was, "Thank you! Glory, glory, hallelujah!" Her shout was not only loud, but it was also rhythmic. Betty was a lover of the gospel blues genre. So her shout was full of pregnant pauses, grit, power, and tenderness. Her praise conveyed unspeakable gratitude and joy. It was a shout of a woman who had endured hardship and knew the strength of the Lord.

Betty grew up in Georgia during the Jim Crow era, working as a sharecropper at a young age. Her family feared the threat of the Ku Klux Klan and struggled under poor economic opportunities. Despite the hard times, she persisted in the faith.

Thinking about my granny's worship also leads me to reflect on the legendary gospel blues singer Mahalia Jackson. Mahalia was an influential vocalist during an intense time of racial segregation. She had a raw and commanding voice that hits your soul like a glass of cold water to your face. At the same time, her voice was easy, comforting the listener with her steady and unshakable tone. Mahalia began her career in 1928 and eventually became widely popular. She performed for international and secular audiences. She even sang at John F. Kennedy's inaugural ball in 1961 and the March on Washington in 1963. Mahalia brought the gospel blues to every venue. She always shouted praises to the Lord through her singing.

In her version of the song, "How I Got Over," Mahalia declared the victory of the gospel and the exuberance of our eternal hope in Christ. She did not ignore present problems but called her mouth to "shout all her troubles over." It was as if she was telling her listeners that shouting the Lord's goodness would surely silence the darkness and help anyone to overcome whatever they face. Though she passed away 50 years ago this year, Mahalia's faith still inspires believers.

Scripture depicts shouting as a way to praise the Lord and even commands us to do so. Psalm 100:1–5 states, "Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to the Lord! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Acknowledge that the Lord is God. He made us, and we are his –his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name. For the Lord is good, and his faithful love endures forever; his faithfulness, through all generations." The psalmist presents the supremacy, sovereignty, lordship, and benevolence of God. Our God is certainly due to all the honor. The Lord deserves a multitude of shouts. He deserves a grand orchestra that offers up a harmonious song before His throne.

From Genesis to Revelation, we see the Lord's hand at work to save us from sin. The eternal Son of God, Jesus, lived an obedient life as a man, died in our place, and rose from the grave. His saving work reconciles us to the Father and gives us life in His presence. This is a truth that should be shouted daily. It should be declared to the ends of the earth.

Shouting is also the sound of Christ's return. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 states, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel's voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first." When Jesus comes again to fully establish His good kingdom, it will not be quiet. At the return of our King, the trumpets will boom, and the angels will rejoice. Jesus will come with a powerful voice because He will completely vanquish sin and evil. Jesus's shout will be unlike anything we have ever heard. It will cause the dead in faith to join Him in the resurrection. His shout will lead us into eternal life. At that moment, all believers will do what Mahalia sang when she said, "I'm gon' join the heavenly choir (oh yes)/ I'm gonna sing and never get tired."

If you are like me, you may struggle with vocalizing your joy to the Lord with a shout. Perhaps wondering what others think or avoiding embarrassment, you keep your praise quiet. While silent praise is also a part of worship, we must boldly declare Jesus. Like He did with Betty and Mahalia, the Holy Spirit can help us to overcome fear and shout the gospel. We can allow Him to stir up a praise that our mouths cannot contain.

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