It happens every Sunday in the mega-church, the middle-church, and the micro-church. Praise and worship time. One person or a team on the platform leads, and the audience stands to join them in song. Lyrics are often displayed on a big screen so the crowd can follow along.
I pre-existed personal computers, smart phones, Internet shopping, and Power-point projections. Back in the day we sang hymns. From hymnals. Some of those books were so well-used that the pages sagged. Occasionally a hymnal replacement drive would be launched where willing contributors might fund the purchase of a book and have a tribute label affixed inside the cover of that crisp new hymnal in memory of a loved one who had been promoted to glory.
As long as the new hymnals retained all the songs and page numbers the same most people would be OK with the progress. But there were those who thought that Moses carried the hymnals down the mountain along with the Authorized King James Version of the Bible and the stone tablets detailing the Big Ten. The song books, no matter their state of decay, must therefore remain in place forever.
A number of knock-down-drag-out church fights started over the color of hymnals like that really matters in light of eternity. And then some upstart with liberal tendencies attempted to swap familiar and well-loved hymnals for new ones which changed the text of the numbered Scripture readings in the back from the Authorized KJV to the NIV or heaven help us, the NASB. The sparks really flew.
Sadly, hymnals gather dust in many churches that still have them. Shawn and I have a red one (him-nal) and a blue one (her-nal) gleaned from a church’s “going out of business” sale. We sing through them, at least the songs we know, as part of our devotions. Hers is KJV, and mine is a blend of NASB, RSV, NIV and NKJV. We get along fine.
The words of the hymns are embedded in my memory, and my thoughts focus like a laser beam when I ponder the message. I think about God and His character and what He’s done. I think about my soul’s condition and how lost I would be without Him. Often I find a cracking voice and tears welling up as my heart is moved during our simple time of worship.
Remember this one?
Alas! and did my Savior bleed?
And did my Sov’reign die,
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
At the cross, at the cross where
I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!
Today’s praise and worship is a bit different, and admitting that we are worms as we sing might not fly well with some people. I struggle to adjust to some of the new stuff. Especially when we sing about love and I cannot discern from the words who we love or why. Or we pick seven or eight words out of the bunch and chant them a dozen times with increasing volume on each circuit. I’m thinking more about Excedrin than God in those moments. And after the sound fades I cannot recall the words.
Cotton candy works that way, a brief euphoria that quickly fades and leaves a headache in its wake.
Sing Amazing Grace twelve times, and I bet the meat and potatoes message sticks. In the church of my youth Just as I Am (page 198 in the blue hymnals) was on the docket nearly every Sunday. It may still be the invitational hymn on the corner of Ohio and Vine, I don’t know. The words hooked to your innards like Grandma’s biscuits and gravy. The message stuck. Permanently. Every now and then those words pop up and remind me where I heard them, why they were sung, and what I needed to do as result.
I have been knocked head over heels by some of the new worship songs I hear. It’s good worship music based on Scripture, and Scripture will always be the driving force behind true worship. I just have to pay attention, sing it to the Lord, and give it a chance to bond with my innards. And later that week when I’m turning compost in the garden or vacuuming floors I find myself singing at the top of my lungs. Let me share some examples.
I love the reminders of the relatively new 10,000 Reasons (2011) written by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin. Counting my blessings and acknowledging the God who gave them is preferable to living life in a depressed funk.
I can’t get the piercing questions of the lyrics of Is He Worthy (2018) by Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive out of my heart though I can’t keep straight when I’m supposed to sing and when I’m supposed to be silent. The Lion of Judah! Indeed. Jesus is Lord of all, and just as we are told in the Revelation He wins!
Michael Smith nailed it with his release of Sovereign Over Us (2014). The song was written by Bryan Brown, Aaron Keyes and Jack Mooring, and the words drive me straight to praise and worship. It’s my time to remind myself that my God can take the enemy’s best efforts for evil and turn them into good. Hallelujah!
In recent months I’ve observed the role of the worship leader in practice in the person of Aaron Jackson at Christ Baptist Church here in Raleigh as well as Aaron Kilian at The Shepherd’s Church in Cary. Both men lead deep pools of musical talent and strive to direct the music portion of the service into true worship. Not entertainment. The music is a blend of old, new, and freshly created arrangements, and I cannot imagine the preparation, planning, and practice that stands behind those few brief moments on Sunday morning. Truly my heart is blessed, but more importantly I find myself saying, “Thank you, Lord” as I listen and worship.
If you are blessed each Sunday by a hard-working minister of music (or whatever his title), why not pass him a Snicker’s bar or bag of Skittles, Give him a holy high-five. Let him know his work is having eternal impact.
I would love to hear what floats your boat in worship and how the experience is changing your relationship with God.