Do Our Songs Matter? (Songs for Teaching, Fellowship, Suffering)

Worship Music

Up to this point we have talked about music in general, but now I kind of want to zero in on certain benefits of worshiping God together in song. Why sing together?

TEACHING

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual sons, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. – Collossians 3:16 ESV

Here the apostle calls for believers to let the word of God dwell in them richly and part of the way to do that is through spiritual songs. Hymns, choruses and special music that are written in response to Gods’ character or actions all teach us something about God or how we should respond to God. They remind us of his characteristics like faithfulness. They remind us that God desires that we would trust him. They remind us that we come to him just as we are. They remind us that God is interested in our hearts, not just our words. They remind us that God is a refuge and a fortress in a time of trouble. They remind us that though we may face financial trouble, marital discord, a prodigal child, depression, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, disease, or even the consequences of our own sin, that God transcends all of that. We can come to him in worship while living in a world that is being destroyed by sin and he gives us a taste of heaven. He shows us just a glimpse of what is to come. Songs give rise to what words alone can not express and in doing so we learn our God and know our God deeper.

We use songs to teach our children. We teach them “Jesus Loves Me,” and in doing so we teach them:

  • God’s heart for children
  • the Bible is our standard for knowing God
  • God is a strong God able to take care of the weak and needy.

Some of my favorite songs are children’s songs.

FELLOWSHIP

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives 

– Matthew 26:30, ESV

Part of singing together is to remind ourselves that we are not the only ones following hard after God. The disciples had just celebrated the Passover Meal and Lord’s Supper with Jesus and note that before they left,  they sang a hymn. The hymn that they probably sung was one that was made up of six Psalms that when put together were called the Hillel. This hymn was chosen for the occasion because the selected Psalms all represented the salvation of Israel. Think of the disciples gathered around Christ. They were worshiping together, because he called them together. They had fellowship with one another, because Christ was their Lord.  Gathered around him singing praise to God was a former tax collector, a zealot, a few fisherman, and others all gathered in fellowship.

There is something about singing with other believers that elevates into not just fellowship but worship.  I love going to student camp where I am surrounded by our students and we all sing songs of praise to God. I can not help but smile and think how wonderful it will be, to be in the presence of God in heaven with these precious ones singing praise.

SUFFERING

About Midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God , and the prisoners were listening to them – Acts 16:25, ESV

Do not be confused about this verse. Paul and Silas did not have a prison ministry where they simply came and sang a good gospel song to the inmates. They were in prison themselves for preaching the gospel. They were in chains  and still they found the strength to praise their God! The height of music in worship is music born out of suffering. It is the music that is born out of a heart that has suffered yet still finds strength to praise the Lord.

In North Korea during the 1950’s there was a group of Christians who were meeting in tunnels dug underground. As the Communist were building a road through the area they discovered the tunnels and the Christians.  They were brought to be tried and executed in the middle of the town with  30,000 people gathered around to watch.  First the communist officer ordered four of the children to be hanged, if they would not recant their faith. The parents looked at their children and encouraged them, “be strong, we will see you in Heaven!” The children died quietly. Then the officer had a steamroller brought in and lined the congregation up on the ground. As the steam roller crushed the believers they were singing in unison:

More Love to the, O Christ, More love to Thee
Thee Alone I Seek, More Love to Thee
Let sorrow do its work, more love to Thee
Then shall my latest breath whisper thy praise
This be the parting cry my heart shall raise;
More love, O Christ, to Thee.

(I found this story in D.C. Talk’s first Volume of “Jesus Freaks” page 124-125.)

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Does God Like Our Music? (The Object, Quality, & Background)

Worship Music

God is the Object of Music Offered as Worship

There is something distinctively different about the music in the Bible and the music in our culture and the difference is mainly the content of the songs. In order for a song to be a Biblical or Christian song is should come from the scriptures or be a response to God. Every song in the scriptures teaches us who God is, pleads for him to act, or celebrates what He has done. Even in the Song of Solomon you have the celebration of marriage which is an institution created by God.

The primary issue about songs in worship isn’t the style (hymns or Choruses) or even the type of instruments used or not used, at it’s foundation a song suitable for worship must have God as it’s object. Churches that divide between  contemporary and traditional miss authentic worship because they choose style over substance and divide the body over a non-essential. When we insert preference into the mix we have to ask, are we concerned with God’s preference or our own? The issue about what music should be sung for the purpose of worship is simply this… is it a response to God? does it teach truth about God? does it ask God to move? … in essence is it Godward?

The essence of worship places the value on the one being worshiped not the worshiper. When it comes to using songs in worship, the emotional benefits of a song are secondary to the truth of the song. Is should be noted that your emotions can be wrong and misleading. Not that emotion in worship is bad, but that songs must be evaluated for more than how they make you feel. Worship in song in often very emotional, but it should be emotional because of who God is, not because of how much you like the song.

Music Offered as Worship Should be Quality

Those who lead our churches in corporate worship should be quality driven folks. Everyone from the music minister down to the smallest child in the congregation should do their best to understand the music that they are singing in worship.

Take a look at some of the introductions to the Psalms (Psalm 4:1, 5:1, 6:1, 8:1, 9:1, 51:1).  There is a note to the choirmaster about the tune of the song. He should know the song and be familiar with how it is to be played. On some occasions there are notes as to which type of instruments are to be used. Then we also see that the songs have an author and sometimes even a background. The message is clear, “here is a song to be employed for worship. Play it in a specific way, with a specific instrument, according to the design of the author… don’t mess it up.

Today we have songs that were written to be played in arena’s full of people and those written for more intimate settings. It can be quite unsettling when a praise band sets up to play an arena song to a smaller coffee house type gathering. The band may love the song, but it’s not a fit for the size of the community they are leading. It would be helpful if modern worship leaders would include some suggestions on their songs to help others who want to use them.

It is a difficult job to lead a congregation in singing praise to God. Whoever leads looks for the right songs for the moment for the community they are leading. Musicians and vocalists take music home to practice (How do you offer your best to God without practice?). Then they get together to practice, work out any issues, harmonize, etc. Don’t be fooled, they don’t do all of this in order to pull of a flawless production, they do it to exercise their God given gifts and lead you and I in songs of worship so that we can worship God TOGETHER. They do it so that when we have an awesome encounter with a holy and righteous God we have a method and a mode to offer expressions of praise back to Him. They don’t do it just to show off their talents and gifts… They do it so YOU can JOIN THE SONG! It is not about who is on stage and who isn’t. It is about God, who has gifted and called individuals to lead his people in a response to him of authentic worship through song.

Music Offered as Worship has a Background

You can’t help but notice that when you read some of the Psalms that there is a historical background to the song (see Psalm 51:1 for an example). This provides a great template for worship leaders to share relevant background information about the songs we sing in corporate worship. Some great resources for this are the three volumes “Then My Soul Sings” by Robert Morgan.

Even more contemporary songs have background stories. A simple search of the song title, author and the words “background story” will often yield results. Bellow is a video of an interview with Matt Redman who shares the background on his song, “Heart of Worship.” Though it’s not as popular as it once was, it reveals that these songs don’t arise out or mechanical song writing studios, but often arise out of real life responses to God in current situations.

A worship leader doesn’t need to share the background to every song or even share a background every time they lead, but the background does go a long way toward helping the congregation know how this song is a response to God and the appropriate emotions and sentiments that the song carries. Knowing that Martin Luther wrote A Mighty Fortress is Our God in the midst of depression, illness and persecution can help the people in the congregation see how this song can be their response to God as well.

We’ll look more into music and song as an avenue for worshiping God as well as the benefits of singing to God together in the next post. Until then feel free to like this post, share it, comment below, and be sure to sign up to get new posts sent to you via e-mail (on the top right of this page).

 

Does God Like Our Music? (Intro)

Several years ago I heard a story about believers in Asia who met in a cave in order to be able to sing praise to God. It was illegal to assemble as the church in their country and so if they wanted to sing praise songs together in community they had to rise early and travel a great distance to this cave and sing. To be honest when I heard the story (I have every reason to believe it was true) I couldn’t help but be a little bit curious as to why these believers would risk so much just to sing? What was it about singing that would draw them to that cave? The more I thought about it, the more I questioned myself, Why do I sing? What is it in the life of a believer that calls not just for prayer, or bible study, but song… And not just a solo, but the need to join a chorus of other believers in offering praise to God?

So I’m going to take a few blog posts here to chase that thought. I won’t be chasing it though my mind… I don’t have the answers. I’ll be chasing it through the scriptures. We will examine song in the scriptures and the compulsion for believers to offer God worship through song.

Worship Music

To be clear, music or singing isn’t worship. Music is an avenue of worship, but song alone does not exalt God. There are many songs that honor God and many that dishonor God. Music just like sex, food, and all the rest of God’s pleasures were designed to be good and for His glory, but can also be perverted. Sex is perverted when you look for sex for sex sake. Food is perverted when you look at food for food’s sake and music/ singing can be perverted when you look at music for music’s sake.

Music touches our emotions like nothing else can. When used legitimately there is nothing that can compare to the rise that music gives. The Bible is saturated with music! The book of Psalms is the songbook for the nation of Israel and it contains 150 songs for most any occasion. Stack on top of that all the times that people burst into song in the Scripture and you will quite soon realize that if we were to dramatize the scripture it would be a musical. People in the Bible sang! There was something in them that called for a response to the acts of God that couldn’t be expressed with normal words spoken in a normal way.  Their voices had to elevate to put words to meter and music! Moses led the entire nation of Israel in a song when  God wiped out an Egyptian army by way of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Mary sang upon visiting her cousin Elizabeth and receiving confirmation that she was carrying the messiah in her womb (Luke 1)! The angels sang to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 2) The Song of Solomon is a wedding song written by or for Solomon. And there is more than I have time to write here.

Music expresses our emotions and it can help change our emotions. How about all those love songs that make you want to grab someone, hold them tight, and not let go. Then there are the songs that make you want to cry. Then there are songs that put a little pep in your step (great for a workout play list). I know that a little classical music on the drive home goes a long way towards curbing my anger issues at other drivers.  When the Lord sent an evil spirit  upon Saul, it was only the harp music of David that could calm him (I Samuel 16). Music does something for us! Even those people like me who can’t carry a tune or play an instrument. The writer of James tells us to sing when we are joyful (James 5:13).

We’ll look more into music and song as an avenue for worshiping God as well as the compulsion to sing corporately in the next post. Until then feel free to like this post, share it, comment below, and be sure to sign up to get new posts sent to you via e-mail (on the top right of this page).

 

James 1:9-11 (Devotional)

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
(James 1:9-11 ESV)
Not long ago I watched an old cartoon of one of Aesop’s fables entitled “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The fable shares about a race between a very fast rabbit and a very slow turtle. The turtle slowly, but consistently presses on towards the finish line while the rabbit runs ahead and takes a nap, wakes up after the turtle passes him and runs ahead only to stop by a school and impress the students with his speed. While the rabbit is showing off his speed he realizes that the turtle has almost finished the race, but no matter how fast he runs he still ends up coming in second behind the turtle. He had forgotten that the race wasn’t about pure speed, but on who finishes first.

The writer James reminds us that sometimes if we are not careful we can lose our focus on what life is really about. Life is not about becoming wealthy and stacking up possessions. While those things are not evil, they are not eternal. (James compares earthly riches to the fading of the grass.) James says the poor man can boast that Jesus has made him truly rich by bringing him into the Kingdom of God. Sometimes our trials and tough times make it seem like we are losing in life, James reminds us that as long as our focus is on Christ that we are indeed winning.

Acts 5: Your Sin isn’t Small

God kills Ananias and Sapphira. Before you start to get upset about that consider that He had every right. He’s God! We all owe him our breath. We all live at his pleasure. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that God doesn’t posses the same right over you… He’s your maker.

Ananias and Sapphira wanted recognition for selling property and giving their money to the church. No worries there, but they held back and lied about the gift. I don’t know what they were holding back for, maybe a 401K, a better car, or maybe to just pay off some debts. Either way, they held back. Not that they owed all the money to the church like a debt or obligation, but that they claimed that it was everything. They were faking generosity.

Faking generosity to the church is a mockery of the gospel. Consider that this offering was going to meet the needs of the poor (4:34-35). Consider that those who sold their property were giving all of it away and this enabled the apostles to boast even more about the resurrection of Jesus (4:32-35). This unity that the church experiences is a direct witness to the power of the gospel. It puts both the present condition of those who are destitute and suffering and the eternal condition of those who profess faith in Christ in the same light… If God would not withhold his son from me, so that I might be saved… Who am I to withhold earthly goods from those who have immediate need.

The problem came when Ananias and Sapphira held back. That’s not the gospel… it’s a feigned generosity. It’s a lie. It’s a false gospel. They are not mimicking the generosity of God.  They held back. They care only about having the appearance of piety and so they lie.

The lie costs them. It costs them their lives… by the way, that is what sin costs. It’s not small. It’s not trivial. It’s not as though the cross were a small thing. The love of God compelled Christ to die for our sin and this single act is the most generous thing that has ever happened in all of history. The early church was a testimony to that in the way that the hearts of the wealthy were moved to outrageous generosity… but when one couple held back they were reminded to never take the generosity of God for granted. Sin always costs.

Acts 4: The Cornerstone

The healing of a beggar in chapter three provoked a commotion and all the officials come to see what is going on. They demand to know by what power these things are being accomplished. The Apostles declare plainly through the power of the Holy Spirit that it was in the name of Jesus. (Notice that the Holy Spirit empowers them to testify about the resurrection of Jesus… Make no mistake the book of Acts is about Jesus.)

Peter presses in to the rulers that they are the ones who crucified Jesus. He references a teaching moment of Jesus just prior to his death, burial and resurrection (2 months before this event… You can find it in Matthew 21:33-46). Jesus tells a parable about wicked tenants who reject the owners right over a certain property and ultimately kill the owners son. He then goes on to quote Psalm 118:22-23 and says “the stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” implicating the Pharisees rejection of Jesus (and by association murder).

Now Peter throws it out again, this time spelling it out just in case they didn’t get it. “Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the chief corner stone” (Acts 4:11, ESV). Any attempt to build a platform to reach up to Heaven must have the Risen Christ as the corner stone. These men in the temple not only rejected Jesus but among them were men who set in motion the false arrest, trial and murder of Jesus.

These are some wicked dudes and Peter lets them know. But here is where the real power of the gospel lies… The sovereign plan of God takes the most wicked sin imaginable (the murder of GOD – John 1:1-3) and uses that very same act to cause the greatest good man has ever known (redemption and the forgiveness of sins) through the resurrection… They meant it for evil… but God intended it for good.

What a glorious God we serve. Every attempt to trump the gospel is turned on its head and proves the gospel even more true: Injustice is transformed into lavish grace, where men pour out their hatred, the love of God is made manifest, where men fight to exercise control, God proves his sovereign plan.

Acts 1: The Blessing of Obedience

The book of Acts or as it is often called, “The Acts of the Apostles” is actually all about the Lord Jesus Christ. We see here in the first chapter that The Lord has risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven. Before he leaves he gives the Apostles the charge to be witnesses (specifically of his resurrection) all over the world beginning in Jerusalem (See Acts 1:8).

This is where it gets interesting. The disciples aren’t from Jerusalem and Luke the author of Acts wants you to know that... Indeed two verses later (Acts 1:10) the angels address the Apostles as “Men of Galilee.” Then again just a few verses later the narrator (Luke) reminds the reader that the Apostles are not from Jerusalem because they went back to a room “where they were staying” (Acts 1:13).

I think this is important because Jesus has commanded them to wait there in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come upon them (Acts 1:4). It seems like the natural bent of the disciples would not have been to stay in Jerusalem but head somewhere else (perhaps Galilee… Home). But never the less at the Lord’s command they stay, waiting for the Holy Spirit.

This reminds me of Luke 5:1-11 where Jesus first calls some of his disciples. He tells them to push back out into the water and fish again. Their natural inclination is not to do it…. they want to clean their nets. But never the less, at the word of Jesus they press out and drop the nets and pull in the biggest catch they had ever seen… It is interesting to note that it is just at that point that Jesus tells them that one day they will be fishing for men.

Now here Jesus has told them again to push out of their comfort zone and stay in the city. He will give them the Holy Spirit and they will be his Witnesses starting in the place He told them to go.

Prayer: Father, You are amazing! When these men obeyed you in the small things like casting out a net or staying in the city, you rewarded them with a real relationship with You and you invited them to be your witnesses all over the world. Today I’m reminded to be obedient to you in even the seemingly small things. I want my priorities to be a true reflection of your will. I surrender to you. Today I’m seeking YOUR Kingdom, YOUR Will and I give YOU my obedience. Help me to not to put confidence in the flesh, but trust your wisdom.