I love worship music. There are so many great songs that have been written, songs that are full of truths that exalt God’s name and make my heart soar. I love the old songs, but new songs are being written every day, all expressing in fresh ways how Great our God is. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the new material!
When I listen to new worship records, I process the songs differently than I used to. There was a time when the “vibe” or “sound” of the song was all that really mattered to me. I was paying attention to how the music made me feel, imagining how much fun I would have playing the song or leading it with my congregation.
But experience and reflection (along with my studies at IWS) have helped to broaden my perspective when I listen to songs. Instead of listening primarily for the emotional content of the song, I am listening to how well the songs tell the whole story of the Trinity, the Gospel and the Church.
Sadly, many songs miss the opportunity to include these important aspects of worship. Here are some examples: The trend these days is to focus on what Jesus/the cross/the Bible/God/light etc. are to me and how my soul responds to what God has done for me. The use of the personal pronoun is staggering! Many songs tend to focus on Jesus alone (heresy you say!) and neglect the aspect of the Father’s will to send and the impartation and role of the Spirit after Jesus’ ascension. Some songs would lead you to believe that John 3:16 is a typo and what it really meant to say was that “God so loved ME that he gave his only begotten Son…”
Now I’m not trying to be harsh, and I’m being a bit facetious. I am certainly NOT saying that any song that is short on any one of these qualities should be erased from CCLI’s database forever. I love the new songs and fresh sounds that so many songwriters are continuing to produce, and without them we’d be in a terrible spot!
But I wonder sometimes why we choose to limit ourselves in our worship of a limitless God? Think of it less as criticism and more as a challenge to take advantage of the opportunity we have as we worship and lead others. Perhaps an analogy would help.
If you’ve ever been to Washington D.C. you know that there are about a hundred and ten things to do downtown. Monuments, museums, and historic sites galore, enough to easily keep you occupied for weeks on end. Imagine visiting such a place every year but only going to the Library of Congress and the Lincoln Memorial. Every year, over and over, all you see are those two attractions. Let me tell you, you’d be missing out! There is more to see, and you would head home from your trip with a truer experience of D.C. if you saw it all (well, as much as you could).
And we are presented with an even greater opportunity when we approach God in worship! We only limit ourselves and miss out on knowing the richness of our God when we are selective worshippers. “Feelings first” might be the easy, comfortable approach, but it will leave you empty in the end. Chasing a feeling is an exhausting and distracting deterrent to authentic worship.
My advice (to myself as much as anyone else) is to try to our best to get a sense of God’s story, the whole story, and take it all in when you worship. He is an endless attraction that will leave you breathless if you step out and explore. He would be too small of a God if all he came to give us was personal fulfillment (Is. 46:9). He came for the life of the world! (John 3:16; Col. 1:20)