Sing a new song to the Lord ,Psalm 98:1
for he has performed wonders;
his right hand and holy arm
have won him victory.
One of my favorite singer/songwriters is Matthew West. His songs are about God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus, full of the struggles of living a faith-filled life while dealing with the brokenness within, as well as the brokenness all around us. Throw in a catchy hook and high musicality, and you have great music, written to the Glory of God. In the past, I have felt so moved by songs of his that I endeavored to bring them to gathered worship. It took me a long time to realize why I was always disappointed with the connection I desired these songs to make in worship. It had nothing to do with the song, but everything to do with what worship is.
Fundamentally, worship is a huge word. I like to define it as taking the gifts God has given us and using them for His glory. In this way, all of creation worships according to its nature (consider Psalm 98).
Worship is adoration, physical or emotional acknowledgment of who God is and what he has done for us: it is our reply. Worship is directional. We can easily see how West’s music is his act of worship, taking his God-given gifts and using them for the glory of God.
Corporate worship is a narrower, more focused take on that definition. When we gather, we do so to receive and to adore. We gather to receive the Word and the sacraments of forgiveness and grace, and praise Him together, as His body, corporately as one. The use of music serves to enable that voice and so direction is essential: either we sing to encourage one another, or sing directly to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Conversely, a song can be anything. You don’t need me to prove this. But because we often equate music with worship, we can fall into a pattern of thinking any song that contains faith-based truths, even Jesus-centered truths, to be songs for worship. I did. Great songs can be written about God, about faith, about worship. A song can aid personal and private worship. But the corporate nature of gathered worship demands a closer look. Next month I would like to share a framework for looking more closely at songs for worship and how I evaluate them specifically.