To Those Of You Who Don’t Like To Sing On Sunday

SINGING

So you don’t like to sing when you go to church on Sunday. You’re not really the singing type. You’re quiet. Introverted. Stoic. Not prone to outward displays of emotion. You don’t like to wear your heart on your sleeve. Singing loudly and expressively just isn’t your thing. Neither is hand-raising, or kneeling, or any other outward display of emotion.

Despite the fact that I’ve been leading worship for many years, I can actually relate to you. I’m not a particularly emotional guy. I’m not prone to crying, except for that rare occasion when a child is born unto me. I tend to hold my cards kind of close to the vest. I process things internally, for the most part. All this to say, there are many Sundays when I don’t feel like singing to God, raising my hands, kneeling, or doing anything other than plopping my butt into my chair.

But here’s the thing: those of us who don’t want to sing to God are at odds with the rest of the universe.

Psalm 19:1-4 declares that the entire creation is singing the splendor and glory and wonder of God:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

The birds begin every day with loud, caucophonous praise to God. The little lizard who lives under my deck, who can change colors in a flash, loudly declares, “I was created by a brilliant God!” The sun, which is so blazing hot in Florida, proclaims, “Look at what God hath wrought!”

And it’s not just the creation that sings to God. All of the angels declare the glory of God as well. The angels who fly around the throne of God have one, constant refrain:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! (Isaiah 6:3)

As the angels behold God, in all his brilliant, blinding, terrifying splendor, they can’t help but explode in praise. They behold and they extol, behold and extol, behold and extol.

The saints in heaven are not silent either. Revelation 5:11-12 gives us a sneak peek into the worship that is taking place in heaven:

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

As the saints behold the glory of the Lamb of God, they erupt in thunderous, overwhelming praise. There is no stoicism in heaven. There is no introversion. There is only loud, glorious, heart-felt praise.

If all the universe sings loudly and passionately to God, maybe the problem is with us. When we don’t feel like singing, the problem isn’t a singing problem, but a seeing problem. 

If we could see God as he truly is, we would be utterly undone. We would be singing for joy, kneeling in adoration, and weeping in gratitude. If we saw Jesus in his resurrected, ascended glory, there would be no talk of, “Well, I’m more of the quiet type.”

So what should we do when we don’t feel like singing? Two things.

  • Before the Sunday worship begins, ask God to give you a fresh glimpse of his beauty, glory and splendor. Ask him to increase your faith and love. Ask him to give you eyes to see and ears to hear. God loves to answer that type of prayer.
  • Sing, whether you feel like it or not. Don’t analyze whether you feel like singing. Instead, sing out of obedience, knowing that God is always worthy of all our praise.

Why Worship Teams Should Seek To Play With Excellence

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Music is a wonderful gift from God. It’s one of God’s greatest blessings in my life. Last night at our Care Group Christmas party we played Christmas tunes in the background from Bing Crosby singing White Christmas to The Nutcracker Suite to A Charlie Brown Christmas to Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Monday night, while doing some oil painting with my 95 year-old Dad, we listened to Chuck Mangione’s jazz together. I loved music as a child, my mom told me, and my favorite song was “Turkey In the Straw” (see below). And I’ll never forget the night in 1964 when the Beatles made their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show and I knew my destiny was to be in a rock band and have girls chasing me down the street screaming (the girls not me).

Yes, music is a gift from God. There won’t be any music in hell. And heaven will resound and reverberate with incredible music, songs, angelic choirs and waterfall choruses of saints singing the glories of Jesus. Of course, in this fallen world, like every good gift, music is often misused and perverted. But it is still a wonderful gift from God.

Music has a power to stir our emotions. It can excite us. It can lift our spirits and energize us. Think of how different football games would be without music. Hundreds of TV commercials have music in the background or catchy jingles to remind you that the best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup, and other ditties. Music can make a long vacation drive more fun. We play music at work and workouts. Some say playing classical music in the background helps you concentrate.

Music can express a sense of majesty or sadness. It moves us. Certain movie soundtracks do this for me, like the theme to Jurassic Park or Saving Private Ryan. Music affects our emotions.

And what a gift to be able to sing God’s praises together. It’s one glorious way the Lord has given for us to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us, as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs together (Co 3:16).

I recently encouraged and thanked our worship team for pursuing musical excellence as they lead us in singing to the Lord together. Though they are not seeking to perform or show off their talents, when they play with excellence, it helps us worship. Not that we need instruments to worship, but the music stirs us. Many come into a Sunday meeting distracted, harried, stressed, discouraged or worn out from a long week. Beautiful and energetic music can lift our spirits and help us engage with the song lyrics, which are the most important part. Glorious music conveys something of the glory of Jesus expressed in our lyrics.

Lyrics are critical and central, for they contain “the word of Christ,” yet God has given us “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” to convey that word, and music lets it dwell richly in us. If God didn’t want us to enjoy his wonderful gift of music, he would have told us to simply read the lyrics together, like we read poems or Scripture. But God said “Sing!”

A couple in our church came from a denomination that forbids the use of instruments in church. You can go to a concert and enjoy the violins, French horns, oboes and kettle drums, but when you come to church it’s vocals only. Yet even in their former church the congregation sang incredible harmonies together, and those harmonies would stir and move them.

I’m so grateful God has given us all kinds of instruments, from electric guitar to oboe. I’m even grateful for synthesizers (just kidding – I have an ongoing joke that guitars are better than keyboards). I personally would have a hard time in a vocals-only church, although I love the moments when our worship team selectively stops playing and we all lift our voices together. A church can certainly glorify God without instruments, but they help me in my worship. They enhance it for me. They stir me to worship. Every Sunday I tell one of our guitarists I want him to play me a face-melting lead. I say this jokingly, because he’s an incredible guitarist and he doesn’t want to show off or put himself forward, so for years he was reluctant to do too much other than play the chords, and I want him to add creative licks in places. He hasn’t melted my face off yet, but he really adds to the arrangements which enhances the worship.

So if you’re on a worship team, play with excellence. Sing with excellence. Not for it’s own sake, but for the glory of God. Not to entertain, but to help folks connect with the lyrics and with Jesus. Try not to be distracted and overly focused on the music, but play as well as you can. You’re expressing Jesus’s beauty and glory. Music is a gift of God’s grace to the world and especially his church.

If you’re not on a worship team, thank your singers and musicians for their hard work to enhance your worship.

I love music. I’m so grateful to God for it. Well, I’m off — as I go I’m humming Turkey in the Straw.

*If you don’t know Turkey in the Straw, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0DsPX26_60

They play it with excellence!

Why Is It So Critical That We Sing Together?

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Why is it so important that we sing together on Sundays? Why can’t I just go out in the woods and sing or just light up a fire in my fireplace and sing to God by myself in the cozy comfort of my den?

Isn’t our Sunday worship just a warm up for the message? A way to gather everyone together for the preaching? Why can’t we just skip the singing together and get to the real meat?

Our times of worship together are critical. And unless we are unable to make it, we should not neglect to sing together with other believers. Not that God doesn’t love our songs to him at home. But something unique happens when we sing together. The word of Christ dwells in us richly.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

All of us need to regularly soak in “the word of Christ,” or the gospel. We need to be reminded of Christ and his work over and over again. We’re so prone to slipping into condemnation or a subtle works mentality. We need to be reminded again and again we’re justified by Jesus’ blood. Of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. We need fresh encouragement that though there is tribulation in the world, Christ has overcome the world. We need to turn the diamond of the gospel around and around and examine it from every angle.

The gospel dwells in us richly through teaching, preaching and admonishment. But Colossians tells us the word of Christ also dwells in us richly when we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness together. Our weekly times of corporate singing are times of steeping in the gospel. Times of meditating on all God has done for us through Jesus. Times to refocus our minds on Christ.

And music does this in a way that preaching can’t. In songs phrases are repeated and tied to music. This makes them more memorable. Singing is a way of meditating on God’s word. It’s mulling it over. It’s chewing on it, rolling it over, chewing some more. The word of Christ dwelling richly. Music is powerful in this way. I can still remember lyrics I sang in high school and college. Advertisers know the power of linking lyrics to music. A lyrical hook tied to a musical hook will have you singing about toothpaste or beer or home repairs when you’re walking down the street or cleaning your basement. I can still sing the jingle for Pepsodent Toothpaste I heard as a kid, and I don’t even know if that toothpaste exists any more.

Here’s the power of lyrics tied to music. Shortly after I was married I found myself singing Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” without even thinking about it. “You just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan, you don’t need to be coy, Roy, just get yourself free….must be 50 ways to leave your lover….” Suddenly I caught myself. “What the heck am I singing? I don’t want to be singing that. I just got married!”

Because our Sunday singing is an opportunity for the word of Christ, or gospel to dwell in us richly, we should always include songs about what Jesus has done for us on the cross. We should sing about God’s glorious attributes – his holiness, greatness, love, mercy, and faithfulness. But like Paul, we should root all in the gospel – the birth, life, substitutionary death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Sing of God’s holiness – but remember we can only come before a holy God because of the cross. Sing of God’s love – he loves us so much he sent Christ for us. Sing of God’s mercy – the supreme example: the cross. Sing of God’s generosity – he gave his Son. Not that every single song needs to be about the cross, but I tell our worship team to make sure we have at least one every Sunday.

Every word counts. We want “the word of Christ” to dwell in us richly. Make sure every song you sing on Sunday is full of sound doctrine. There have been times we haven’t done a song because of one line. Though I value creative song lyrics, sometimes in an effort to be creative, the meaning of a line may be vague or unclear. Don’t do those songs. There are plenty of creative, beautiful, clear songs.

Sing the gospel together. Let it ruminate and roll around in your heart and fill you with joy.

Skin For Skin: Will You Keep Praising God?

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”  Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason?  Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:8-11)

One day God called Satan’s attention to Job, an outstanding servant of God. Satan said Of course he’s a great servant. You think he serves you for nothing? All you do is bless and protect him. But break his stuff, take away some of those blessings you’ve heaped on him, like his children, for example, and he’ll curse you to your face..

And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:12).

Shortly after this in one day four tragedies struck Job’s family, flocks and properties in rapid succession – a raid by Sabeans, fire from heaven, a raid by Chaldeans, and a desert windstorm – leaving Job’s children dead and Job financially ruined. Yet look how Job responded.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”  In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22)

What? Job gets devastating news that his children have all been killed and his flocks and property have been demolished and he…worships! He worships in deep grief – head shaved, torn robe – yet he worships. Then he expresses this incredible truth – “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.”  I came into this world empty-handed and that’s how I’ll leave. All I ever had was a gift from God and belongs to God. My life and possessions aren’t my own – it’s all from the Lord. He gives and he has a right to take away. I will worship him as good and righteous: “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And “in all this” – in the most devastating suffering imaginable, especially the loss of your children – Job does not sin – he doesn’t turn to sin for comfort or distraction. And he doesn’t charge God with wrong.

Later God points out Job to Satan again.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.”  Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life.  But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” (Job 2:3-6)

God says “Look Satan, Job is still walking in integrity, still trusting and worshiping me even though he’s lost everything. But Satan says, “Skin for skin! Of course he’s still praising you. He’s healthy and strong. But touch his bone and his flesh – give him some real pain – and he’ll curse you to your face.” So God says, “Go for it. Do whatever you like short of killing him.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.  And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. (7-8)

Now even Job’s wife chimes in. Instead of supporting her husband in his misery, she takes up a Satanic taunt:

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (9).

“How can you praise God?” she says. “Curse God and get this over with.”

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (10)

What an answer Job gives. “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” He knows that God is ultimately in control and that all we receive, good and bad, is measured out by his loving hand of providence. He says we’re glad to receive good from God. It’s easy to worship him when he prospers us. But what about when we are afflicted? Will we only praise God when he blesses us? Amazingly, in the throes of his sadness and excruciating pain, Job doesn’t sin with his lips, but glorifies God with his mouth.

A few years ago, this passage inspired me to write a song, “As Long As You Are Glorified.” We sang it yesterday morning in our church meeting. I hope it encouraged folks and encourages you. If you’d like, you can listen to it or purchase it at Sovereign Grace Music.

As Long As You Are Glorified

VERSE 1
Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt

CHORUS
Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified

VERSE 2
Are You good only when I prosper
And true only when I’m filled
Are You King only when I’m carefree
And God only when I’m well
You are good when I’m poor and needy
You are true when I’m parched and dry
You still reign in the deepest valley
You’re still God in the darkest night

BRIDGE
So quiet my restless heart
Quiet my restless heart
Quiet my restless heart in You

© 2008 Integrity’s Praise! Music/Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)

Worship Trumps Unbelief

Last Sunday I preached at my church on God’s covenant faithfulness. Monday morning I doubted the faithfulness of the God I proclaimed.

No, I didn’t wrestle with existential doubts about the existence of God or the problem of evil or anything like that. It was simple unbelief: on Monday morning I had to face a medical bill that I didn’t expect, couldn’t afford, and didn’t understand, since I thought the particular expense was covered by insurance. My response was to lapse into discouragement. I imagined all the possible negative outcomes, all the ways things could go wrong because of this bill. I doubted God would give me the wisdom to figure out why I was receiving this bill, or that he would provide if I did indeed need to pay it. My joy vanished and my soul withered. And all this only 24 hours after being immersed in Scriptures about God’s commitment to his people.

The week goes on. As it turns out, we don’t actually have to pay the bill – it’s already covered. My anxiety-produced projections of the future were inaccurate. But I’ve had to deal with the aftermath in my heart: guilt, because I know unbelief is a sin. Pride, because good grief, wasn’t I paying attention to my own sermon??? A renewed sense of the distance between my professed beliefs about God and my functional beliefs about God. A nagging voice in the back of my mind when I pray and worship, “You only say you believe God is great…you don’t actually believe it. Who are you kidding?”

Now thankfully, because of the gospel, I know I’m not accepted by God because of my performance nor kept at a distance by him because of my unbelief. I confessed my sins to God and believe he is faithful and just to forgive them completely. But here’s what I learned from my Monday morning struggle: unbelief and worship cannot coexist. Monday morning was not a moment of worship of the true God. By grace, I’m forgiven for that and can still come boldly to the throne of my Father. But there was a moment where circumstances distorted my view of God, unbelief crowded out worship, and my heart was left disoriented.

But here’s the good news: this truth works both ways. Worship trumps unbelief. It inoculates us against the insidious suggestions unbelief will whisper in your ear. The more my gaze is fixed upon God as he has revealed himself to be – gloriously powerful, powerfully good, and completely for me in Jesus Christ – the less room there is for unbelief. Circumstances, present or future, are put in their true perspective. Worship is an antidote for worry. Whether it’s corporate worship on Sundays, your private devotions, or moments of prayer and praise snatched throughout the day, the practice of directing our gaze towards God protects us from the tyranny of our circumstances.

C.S. Lewis called praise “inner health made audible,” and we could also say unbelief is inner sickness made audible. But by God’s grace when I repeatedly draw near to him in worship, proclaiming his greatness and goodness to him and to my own soul, I become healthier. Unbelief’s vitality and power is drained, and my soul is nourished. Worship trumps unbelief.

Are you facing circumstances that challenge and stretch your faith? Then make a practice of regularly worshiping the Lord. Take a psalm and pray it throughout the day. Sing a hymn or make a worship playlist for your iPod. Unbelief will challenge us all at some point. But the worship of our living God prepares us for that moment. Worship trumps unbelief. Come, let us worship the Lord.

Photo by Eleaf.

What Does Your Worship Say About God?

If an outsider came into your Sunday meeting and observed you worshiping, what would he conclude you think about God? 

Does your expression of worship say how great and glorious, delightful and exciting you think God is? Does your worship say you’ve found God to be faithful and good, loving and satisfying?  Would an outsider conclude you believe God to be real and present?

Or does your worship say you find God about as exciting as an exam on protein chains (maybe you bio majors would get excited about this – I wouldn’t).  Do you sing with all the enthusiasm of someone who has just been asked to shovel 2 tons of manure?  Does your worship say you believe God is distant and uncaring?

What does our worship say about what God did for us? Do we sing like those who have been redeemed eternally from the wrath of God? Like those who have been seated with Christ in heavenly places? Like those who are grateful to have every sin wiped away? Do we rejoice like those who have the king of the universe living inside them?

We should worship God expressively, not for a show or to impress others, but as a way of saying to him how much we love him. That we consider him to be infinitely great and glorious and majestic. That we consider him to be praiseworthy.

Worship is primarily an issue of the heart. So someone could worship God wholeheartedly and not show it on the outside. But I like what I once heard John Piper say – worship begins in the heart but should not stay there.  It should be expressed.

Our glad hearts should overflow with thanks for all God did for us in Christ.  Hey, Jesus DIED for us. He was tortured, spit on, mocked, pierced, so that we could be with and enjoy God for ever and ever.  Essentially, Jesus went to hell so that we don’t have to.  Isn’t that worth getting excited about?

We should worship like rich people! Because we are. We’ve been given every spiritual blessing in Christ! We should sing with more enthusiasm than if we just found out we won the lottery.

We should sing like those who know God is working all things for good in our lives. Like those who are being transformed into the very image of Christ. Like those who will worship around the throne for eternity.

God has designed us to express delight in things excellent and beautiful. We gush when we see a glorious sunset. We clap and shout at Coldplay concerts and Steeler games (well, maybe not if you’re a Cleveland Browns fan). We give standing ovations for outstanding accomplishments.  Our cheers show what we think of that diving catch or that guitar solo.

Again, our worship isn’t some kind of performance we put on for others. Our worship is for God.  But it says something about what we think about him.

This Sunday let’s show God what we think of him and sing the roofs off our church buildings.

Won’t Singing Too Many Songs About The Cross Depress Us?

If we sing a lot about the cross, won’t we be constantly reminded of how sinful we are?  Won’t a steady diet of cross-songs get depressing and overlook our victory in Christ?

This is a legitimate question someone raised in response to my post last week.

Yes, when we sing about Jesus’ death we’re reminded that we’re sinners. But the point is not to become depressed about it, for that puts the focus on us. When we sing about the cross, our focus is not our sin, but on our glorious Savior, his love and mighty power to rescue us.

If a doctor prescribes a medication for us, we don’t say, “Doc, you’re depressing me. You just want to remind me of how sick I am by giving me this medicine.” No, we’re glad he wants to heal us.  Of course we have to admit we we’re sick or we won’t take the medicine. But our focus and hope would be on the remedy and getting well.

When we sing about Jesus’ death we rejoice that Jesus bore our sins and we no longer bear their guilt and penalty. We exult in his victory over sin, Satan and darkness. And because we’re one with Jesus, his victory is ours as well.

The cross isn’t God’s big reminder that we’re gigantic losers, but his big reminder of his incredible kindness to us.

The cross shouldn’t make us depressed but make us dance!  The cross isn’t God’s big downer but his big upper. His great reason to celebrate.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  Communion isn’t a regular reminder of our depravity, but a proclamation of his victory.  1 Corinthians 11:26

The cross motivates us to live for Jesus:

…and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.  2 Corinthians 5:15

The cross reconciles us to others:

and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. Ephesians 2:16

God removed our debt on the cross:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14

We’ll be singing about Jesus’ death forever in heaven:

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”  Rev 5:11-12

If we’ll be singing about the Lamb who was slain for all eternity, then we should every Sunday.  And Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday as well.  And don’t worry.  You won’t get depressed.  Instead, you’ll be filled with increasing joy at all Jesus has done for you.

Why Do We Sing So Many Songs About The Cross?

Why do we sing so many songs about the cross?

Why so many songs about the blood of Jesus?  Why so many songs about salvation?  There are plenty of other topics we could sing about. Why so many songs about what Jesus did on Calvary?

Apparently God thinks it’s important because he commands us in Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

What is the “word of Christ” we’re supposed to keep singing to one another? It’s the gospel! It’s the word about Christ – the word about all God did to redeem us through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. The word of Christ is the good news and all its ramifications and reverberations in our lives. The good news about the provision God made for sinners to dwell with a holy God through his Son’s powerful work.

Why do we need to keep singing the gospel?

We need to sing the gospel, because we’re so prone to forget it.  We need to sing the gospel because we’re inclined to becoming works-oriented and put our hope in other things besides Jesus.

We sing the gospel because through it God most clearly displays his holiness, love, mercy, and power.  We see how the infinitely holy and just God satisfied his justice by pouring out his wrath on Jesus in our place.  Nothing demonstrates the love of God like the cross.  ”But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

We definitely need to sing songs about God’s holiness. But if that’s all we sang we would eventually become condemned and fearful to approach him. If we only sang songs about God’s goodness we would probably have little holy fear and little appreciation for what he did to remove our sin. The gospel brings these glorious attributes together front and center.  Justice and mercy kiss at the cross.

We also sing the gospel because it’s the only hope of the unsaved who join us every Sunday. So we sing to ourselves and we sing to our friends and we sing to our children.

Keep singing “the word of Christ”.  Keep gazing at the good news from every angle, like turning a diamond in your hand. Keep singing new songs unto the Lord. But let the new songs be the old song. Keep marveling at all the facets of God’s holiness, love and mercy until we sing before the throne for all eternity,  ”Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!”

Don’t Mess With “Come Thou Fount”!

Ok here we go.  I’m probably going to get yelled at for this one.

There’s a line in the hymn that bothers me.  In our church we sing an updated version that dropped “Here I raise mine Ebenezer.” Basically nobody in our church knows what that means anyway (probably because of my poor instruction). We think it has something to do with Ebenezer Scrooge but we don’t know exactly what.

But there’s another line that bothers me.  The one I don’t like is: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

Now before you start screaming, “Dont’ mess with Come Thou Font!”  We’re not going to change it or stop singing it. Years ago I wrote new lyrics to Joy to the World because I didn’t understand what a lot of the original lyrics meant.  Man did I get the flack for that one.  “Don’t mess with Joy to the World!” people screamed, including my wife.  But I still don’t like the line, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”  Here’s why…

Though I know believers are tempted to wander and tempted to be unfaithful to Christ at times, I don’t see that Scripture says we are still “prone” to sin and wander.

The doctrine of sin is one of the most important and helpful doctrines. However we should not emphasize indwelling sin more than our resurrection life in union with Christ and the glorious truth that he has made us new creations, given us new hearts, new desires and new power to obey him.

The Bible says believers are “prone” to obey the God they love. Prone to follow Jesus.

For example, we read in Ezekiel 36:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

So although sin still remains in believers to some degree, it’s no longer the dominating factor in their lives – now the Holy Spirit is the driving force.  The Holy Spirit within us “causes” us to walk in God’s statutes and be careful to obey his rules.  The Holy Spirit fills us with love for God and powerfully motivates us to obey him.

Yes we once were prone to wander.  But Jesus’ death on the cross cured us of that tendency:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  (1 Peter 2:24-25).

Jesus’ death had a life-altering effect upon us – now we can die to sin and live to righteousness.  And when Peter says “by his wounds you have been healed,” he doesn’t mean physically – he means we have been healed of our tendency to stray like sheep.  Our proneness to wander.

The doctrine of sin has helped me immensely over the years.  But we must put indwelling sin into perspective.  It’s there, but it’s nothing in comparison with the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us.  We should not have an expectation to live defeated lives. Rather, we should expect to live victorious lives by the Spirit’s power.

So, yes we are still tempted, but are we “prone” to wander?  Maybe I’m splitting hairs.  But I want to be sure we have a proper emphasis on God’s mighty power in our lives.

So I’ll keep singing Come Thou Fount – after all, I love to sing a “melodious sonnet” to my Lord.  But when we come to the “prone” part of the song I might quietly sing “Prone to love you, Lord I feel it, prone to please the God I love….”

Ok, let me hear your thoughts.  Go ahead, blast me.  I probably deserve it.  Maybe “prone” is just a poetic description.  Hey, as a songwriter I understand poetic description.  Just want to be sure we’re singing the truth….

Worship: More Than A Warm-Up For Preaching

Why do we sing together on Sundays or in Small Groups? Is it just a warm-up for the preaching of the word or our time of sharing? Do we sing just to make us feel good before we get down to the serious business of preaching?  Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

As we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with thankful hearts to God, the word of Christ  dwells in us richly.  Paul doesn’t exhort us to sing so we feel good or have an emotional experience, not that those are wrong.  But Paul exhorts us to let the word or the teaching of Christ and about Christ sink into our hearts and abide among us richly.  To become part of the fabric of our thinking.  We’re to drink in the doctrine of Christ in all its richness and fill our thoughts and hearts again and again as we sing together.

This means our worship songs should overflow with truth about God and Christ, who he is and all he’s done for us in his life, death, resurrection, ascension and all our great High Priest and Mediator continues to do in us through his Spirit.

Our worship songs should focus on Christ, not us.  As we meditate on Jesus, thankfulness will be the natural outflow.  As we think on who Christ is and all he’s done and continues to do for us, we can’t help but be grateful and offer our selves to him in worship.

If you’re a pastor or worship leader, be sure you choose songs filled with “the Word of Christ.”  Full of the doctrine of God the Son, crucified, risen and reigning.  As your church sings these songs again and again, the truths of Jesus will sink in and produce faith, love, hope and endurance.  People will love Jesus and overflow with thanks.

And they’ll probably feel good too.