I’m a musician by trade and profession and, even though my blog is called “Whole Life Worship,” I’ve not written much of anything about what most people believe is what worship is about: music. There’s a reason for this. It’s a reaction to how our contemporary Christian culture has made worship all about the music to the neglect of everything else that worship is; including the central focus of honoring God with our lives. It has gotten so crazily out of proportion that I believe God has called me to make this my life aim: to call the Body of Christ back to what worship really is – the offering of our lives to God in response to His great mercies (Romans 12:1). So my blogs will always be more about what we do with our lives than what we do with our vocal cords.
That being said, I also want to make one thing perfectly clear: I love music, I love songs, I love singing to God, I love making music to His name. And I believe, like Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach, that music is indeed a “glorious gift from God.”
One aspect of God’s glorious gift of music is the power of the song. The “song” is a subset of music. A song combines words with pitch and rhythm to create a powerful expression of mind and heart. If a song does not have words, it is not a song. (I still cringe when I hear well-meaning band and orchestra directors introduce their group’s next musical selection as a “song.”)
Songs are especially powerful when they declare truth. The greatest songs that last through the test of time are the ones that express profound truth with music that appropriate matches it. Whether it is “Let It Be” or “Amazing Grace” or “Auld Lang Syne” or “Ode to Joy,” songs of truth resonate soulfully in our being. Sometimes such songs move us to tears because our souls so long to express truth with heartfelt intensity.
That is why songs that declare truth about God and sung to God or to God’s people are particularly impactful. God is the ultimate truth. The story of His love for us through Christ is the most compelling, moving story of all time. When that “truth-full” story of His love seeps into our hearts on a personal, experiential level, it brings mercy, healing, freedom, empowerment, grace, and a profound sense of right-ness and goodness into our souls. And many times, those experiences come through the power of song. I was so overwhelmed this morning when I worshiped God through a new song (“Sovereign”) and a new arrangement of a hymn (“Crown Him with Many Crowns – Majesty”). The greatness of God touched my heart through these songs.
But sometimes we take such songs and such moments and make them something they weren’t meant to be: a holy shrine, or worse, something that we subtly worship. I warn my worship team members occasionally to not “worship the worship (songs).” It’s so easy to do. We want to recapture the “magic” of when that song touched us profoundly; forgetting that it was God who touched us, and that He exists outside of the song.
So God has shown me two things recently about worship songs:
1. Focus on what the lyrics really mean. This means slowing down enough to take a “gaze” (Monday’s blog topic) rather than just a glimpse at what I am singing about or to God.
2. Let the songs propel me to greater responsiveness to God. I need to think, “Ok, now that I experienced God in this song, how do I need to respond in my actions today?” I need to be alert and prepared to respond to God in the next thing.
Both Letty and I had profound experiences this morning through worship songs. God met with us through the song, “Sovereign.” When we met for lunch at Subway (I live there now … literally!), Letty saw a homeless man. She asked me if I would feed him something. At first, I balked. But my heart was already softened by the graciousness of God. So, I got up, introduced myself to the man (his name is “Duck” – “Doug, meet Duck”), and asked if we could get him a sandwich. He was surprised and said, “You would do that for me?” I smiled. Another man saw this and, almost on cue, started a conversation with Duck. It was an amazing encounter: four strangers brought together in fellowship through the giving of a Subway Club sandwich. Or was it the Bread of Life? It was truly a “sovereign” experience … that began with a song.
(“Sovereign” and “Crown Him-Majesty” are both on Chris Tomlin’s Burning Lights album)