Last time we looked at the Formats of songs used for worship – Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. And we noted that the lyrics were of primary importance.
So, how do we determine lyrical depth? Where does the line lie between God honoring emotion and pleasure-seeking emotionalism?
I would contend the lyrics should be un-confusing Biblical truth that magnifies the character of God and ultimately points toward the Gospel of Christ.
(I understand the poetic nature of song, but redefining words to be catchy can be worrisome if not down-right heretical.)
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Recent “celebrity Christian de-conversions” or “reconstruction of faith” stories have spread quickly across the internet. I pray for these people, and I wonder how much of their ‘faith’ was based upon an emotional experience rather than an encounter with and a solid grounding in the Word of God as proven, reliable, truth by His Spirit, to the glory of Christ Jesus.
This is not the blog to address that, but I will say this – if you have become firmly convinced that Jesus was and is who He said He was, there is no turning back or away. Sin may tempt or derail, but nothing can convince you otherwise.
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One of the most profound theological questions I’ve been asked in ministry came from a high school student decades ago at a weekend conference. He asked this: – “How do I know (during music) if I’m loving God or if I’m just loving the musical worship time?”
I told him the fact that he was asking was a good indicator that his heart was in the right place.
Now I would add – that if His love for Christ moved Him to sing in the valley as well as on the mountaintop that is an indicator of where His true Love lies.
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Rather than asking how we know if a song is “deep enough”, we should ask about the content of the worship service overall.
Will a guest leave our time of gathered worship having heard the Gospel?
(If not, we have an entirely different discussion)
We should use BOTH deep songs and simple ones. The Psalms in the Bible show this – you have Psalm 119 and Psalm 117. In fact, in some churches today, if Psalm 117’s words were set to music it would be discarded as being “vacuous.” The very Word of God!
Some will argue that a formal liturgy helps to ensure this – but any manmade series of boxes to be ticked can exclude the richness of God’s nature and be turned to dusty head-knowledge.
The Puritans often get a bad knock for not engaging their emotions (untrue btw if you’ve read almost anything they wrote), yet Puritan author John Owen said,
“Where the light of revelation is not accompanied by spiritual experience and power in our souls, then it will end either in outward formality or atheism.”
God doesn’t want an ocean’s width of Jesus followers who are just a centimeter deep in their knowledge, experience, and relationship of who He is.
God neither desires those with an outward formality of facts (see any interaction Jesus had with the Pharisees)
Our times of worship should be likened to a family meal – from infants to mature, let’s let’s not only offer milk.
And not only offer chewy calamari and over-done (aka leathery) steak.
(Heb 5:12-14; Heb 6:1; 1 Pet 2:2-3)
As a church, if we are growing in Christ, we should expect our worship gatherings to include people new to the faith along with those walking with Christ for decades.
Again, our songs are not a doctoral thesis set to tunes – but they should be songs filled with message of the Gospel.
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I reject the idea that an unconverted person should be able during our worship time and know fully the depth of the character of God and the richness and fulness of the Gospel if they hear just one song.
That’s like saying the preaching pastor must do the same in poetic, heart-moving fashion every 4 minutes!
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But when espousing truth, are emotions OK in a worship service? Joyful tears, tears of remorse, applauding God’s character, brokenness over sin, movement to the rhythm, clapping along, shouts of joy, smiles…delight?
Bob Kaufiln helpfully writes in his wonderful book, Worship Matters:
“Music stirs up and expresses God-glorifying emotion. Our deepest, strongest, purest affections should be reserved for God himself, and he gave us singing to help us express them. Halfhearted praise is an oxymoron. It doesn’t make sense. Listen to Jonathan Edwards on this:
‘The duty of singing praise to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections. There is no other reason why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose ad with music, except that these things have a tendency to move our affections.’
Some Christians repress their emotions as they sing. They fear feeling anything too strongly and think maturity means holding back. But the problem is emotionalism not emotions. Emotionalism pursues feelings as an end in themselves. It’s wanting to feel something with no regard for how that feeling is produced or its ultimate purpose. Emotionalism can also view heightened emotions as the infallible sign that God is present.
In contrast, the emotions that singing is meant to evoke are a response to who God is and what he’s done. Vibrant singing truth enables us to combine truth about God seamlessly with passion for God. Doctrine and devotion. Mind and heart.”
Worship Matters., pg 98 & 99 (emphases original)
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God is not looking for outward formality or atheism.
Our God is not a stoic god devoid of emotion and He does not call us to stoicism – he is not a Vulcan from Star Trek repressing emotions in favor of logic and He does not call us to be either.
Consider the parable he tells of the runaway son. (Luke 15:11-32). How does the father react when his child comes home?
Zeph 3:14-17… which in the original language could be translated as:
“Sing for joy, Daughter Zion; shout loudly, Israel!
Be glad and celebrate with all your heart,
The Lord has removed your punishment; he has turned back your enemy.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is among you;
you need no longer fear harm.
On that day it will be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not fear; Zion, do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is among you,a warrior who saves.
He will [spin and dance] over you with gladness.
He will [renew you] in his love.
He will delight over you with [loud shouting songs].”
We do not serve a God of formal, quiet, dignified reserve.
Long and short, deep and simple – God is after all of who we are – heart, soul, mind and strength.
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more on outward expressions next time….
PS – check out The TEN shortest Psalms in the Bible – Psalm 117; Psalm 134; Psalm 131; Psalm 133; Psalm 123; Psalm 93; Psalm 15; Psalm 125; Psalm 70; Psalm 127; Psalm 43