Sometimes we find a passage of Scripture that has not really stood out to us before, although we may have read it many times. As I was studying this passage I realized this command is largely absent in the lives of most Christians I know. The word translated "merry" carries the idea of keeping up courage or being cheerful. It is in contrast to the person who is in trouble in James 5:13a. James says that when we are cheerful we should sing to the Lord. The term translated "sing psalms" means to sing praises to the Lord, not only the Psalms of the Old Testament. In other words, just as Christians should pray when they have troubles, they should praise when they enjoy the blessings of God.
This practice is strikingly absent among many who profess to be believers in Christ. As Christians we have been influenced by our culture’s view of music. Our culture sees music as something one listens to not something one participates in. This is evident in the fact that children are rarely heard singing anymore. In passed generations children were known to love singing. Today that has changed considerably. It is difficult to get elementary aged children to sing anymore. They do not sing at home and they do not see their parents sing often. I believe this is part of the reason we do not see Christians singing very often. We, like our culture, have given up on singing. This carries over to congregational singing in our churches. Many Christians believe that solos and prepared music are the focal point of worship in the church. However, this reflects more the entertainment culture of America, than the worship emphasis of Scripture. Congregational singing is the most important element of our corporate worship in music.
More directly this passage is talking about personally singing praises to God. How often do we find our selves singing as an act of worship during our day? I know that many of the godly men and women who have had an impact on my life often walked around singing (not always well, I may add). However, that served as a great example to me. It was not a show; it was something they did spontaneously because of their joy in Christ. We would do well to obey this command of James and restore singing praises to the Lord to our Christian lives.