Sunday, June 26, 2005

Worship or Singing about Worship?

I was moved this morning as our choir led us in worship in a very simple yet powerfully profound song. They sang "To Him Who Sits On The Throne," echoing the words of "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!'” (Revelation 5:13).

The choir sang the words again, and again, and again - just as these worshippers in heaven did and are doing even now as you read this.

As I thought about this, I remembered something I read a while back. It's truly moving to participate in the actual worship of God because so many of our songs talk ABOUT worship instead of actually worshipping. At times, it seems we have begun to worship worship!

D.A. Carson
wrote Worship by the Book and in the introductory chapter wrote, "This point is acknowledged in a praise chorus like 'Let's forget about ourselves, and magnify the Lord, and worship him.' The trouble is that after you have sung this repetitious chorus three of four times, you are no farther ahead. The way you forget about yourself is by focusing on God – not by singing about doing it, but by doing it."

A familiar song is "I Will Worship" and the lyrics really lead to nowhere:

I will worship (I will worship)
With all of my heart (with all of my heart)
I will praise You (I will praise You)
With all of my strength (all my strength)
I will seek You (I will seek You)
All of my days (all of my days)
And I will follow (I will follow)
All of Your ways (all Your ways)

I will give You all my worship. I will give You all my praise.
You alone I long to worship. You alone are worthy of my praise.

I will bow down (I will bow down)
Hail You as king (hail You as king)
And I will serve You (I will serve You)
Give You everything (give You everything)
I will lift up (I will lift up)
My eyes to Your throne (my eyes to Your throne)
And I will trust You (I will trust You)
I will trust You alone (trust You alone)

What has been accomplished here? Have we worshipped the Lord? I think not. I think we have just sang ABOUT worshipping. We are proclaiming that we will worship, we will praise, we will bow down. But we are doing NONE of that!

Tim Challies wrote, "We do not worship God by telling Him that we will, at some point in the future, worship Him. It is akin to a husband heading to work and instead of telling his wife that he loves her, telling her that he will express his love for her at some other time. That is not an expression of love!"

To put it negatively they are songs of procrastination. To put it positively, they are "notices of intent" to worship. The trouble is that so many modern praise songs make it is easy to sing a string of "notices of intent" and call it a day. I am thankful for our worship leader who does such a good job of leading us in the worship of our King.


Bruce Roberts said...

True worship is in the heart and is manifested out of the mouth in song and in fact obedience to God's commands is an act of worship. It's not limited to the time of singing in church (or at Carowinds as I worshipped with a bunch of sweaty youth and adults this weekend). I don't want to downplay the importance of the lyrics we sing because they are important in worship, but you can sing the most worshipful of words while not moving anywhere nearer to our awesome God than if you were singing the latest pop 40 hit on the radio. On the flip side, I believe that you can truly worship God in a song like "I Will Worship" if your heart is committed to him fully. I see that song as a commitment to walk out a life of worship to God in everything I do, beyond just the next 3 minutes while this song is playing. That's what's in my heart as I sing it. While we're being nit picky about worship, I think of sings in 2 categories, songs sung about God and songs sung to God. There is a place to sing about the wonderful things of God (as if proclaiming them to someone else), but we must not neglect turning our hearts toward God and singing TO him. We sang "Awesome God" in church yesterday. This is probably one of the most powerful modern worship songs, but as it's written is more like something you should say to someone else not something you would say to God. I found myself actually singing "My God, you're an awesome God, you reign from heaven above, with wisdom, power, and love, my God, you're an awesome God." My heart was focused on Him, exalting Him, proclaiming to Him how aweseome He is. I don't think that the others around me who were singing it as it was written were not worshipping or that I was being "more worshipful", it's just that I like to sing TO God, not just about Him.

Chuck said...

I have to agree with Bruce here. Maybe it's just perception of the listener but I always viewed "I Will Worship" as a song that proclaimed to God a commitment, and in doing so it IS a song of worship because that is precisely what you are doing when you sing it. After all, you are singing it directly to God.

Using the standards you used to disect "I Will Worship" then Amazing Grace wouldn't be an acceptable song for worship either.

Let's look at the lyrics

Amazing Grace

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

T'was Grace that taught...
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear...
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares...
we have already come.
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far...
and Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me...
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be...
as long as life endures.

When we've been here ten thousand years...
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise...
then when we've first begun.

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

Clearly it is not singing directly to God, or for the most part about God, but more specifically about an individual(or group of individual's) salvation.

It even says "we've no less days to sing God's praise..." that's not even accurate...using these standards. If you spent the day singing Amazing Grace you have one less day to sing God's praise than those who spent the day singing "How Great Thou Art".

I think it's a battle over semantics. Praise, Worship, whatever, we're to make a joyful noise to the Lord and all three songs fit the bill.