Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Some Thoughts on Worship

I happened to hear someone today practicing a song that is usually categorized as a "worship song." The lyrics went as follows:
We bow our hearts, we bend our knees,
O Spirit come make us humble.
We turn our eyes from evil things,
O Lord we cast down our idols!
Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts,
Let us not lift our souls to another.
O God let us be a generation that seeks --
That seeks your face, O God of Jacob.

"That's a nice worship song," I thought absently. And then I paused. "Wait -- is that really a worship song?" I thought. I reflected on the following:
Worship means "to ascribe worth to." Something along the lines of confessing God's greatness with our words and actions. So, in the case of the lyrics of a song, if it is indeed a worship song, there should be a statement in it somewhere about God's worthiness.
*Que Handel's Messiah*

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood: to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory and blessing. Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever!

Sorry, I got carried away. Where was I? Oh yes. Worship. Look at the "We bow our hearts" song. Where is there a statement of God's worthiness in it? Maybe I just can't see very well, but I haven't been able to find any. I am thus forced to conclude that it's not a worship song.
"Well, maybe it's a praise song."
Um, no. Praise means the same thing. So it's not a praise song either, no matter how often people call it that.

Upon further reflection, I realize that probably 75% of the popular contemporary "praise" or "worship" songs (or choruses) are nothing of the sort. Does that mean these songs are bad? No, not necessarily. They have their place (I guess -- though I'm still not sure where). I'm just saying, if it's a monkey, don't call it a man. If we're supposed to be singing worshipful songs, then let's do it. Sing the non-worship songs later (maybe we can call them "inspirational" songs or something -- a squishy term for a squishy thing).
Here's another example:

Over the mountains and the sea,
Your river runs with love for me,
and I will open up my heart
and let the Healer set me free.
I'm happy to be in the truth,
and I will daily lift my hands:
for I will always sing of when
Your love came down. [Yeah!]

I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever. [Repeat]

Oh, I feel like dancing -
it's foolishness I know;
but, when the world has seen the light,
they will dance with joy,
like we're dancing now.

I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever....

The best part of the song is the first two lyrics: Over the mountains and the sea,
Your river runs with love for me... nice poetry, even though there's not a lot of depth. Unfortunately, that's the only good poetry in the whole song -- it all goes down hill into talking about our own feelings after that. There is no mention of God, of Jesus, of the Cross, of Heaven, of God's great and mighty deeds... none. Just some statements about how nice we feel, and then the long drawn-out 7-words-sung-eight-times chorus that never seems to end. It soon starts to feel like:
I could sing of how I'll sing of your love forever...
But in the entire song, we never actually end up singing about His love! Never! Only about how good we feel about it. If it weren't for the fact that we already know it's a Christian song, we would have no way of knowing it wasn't some song about a Teeny-Bopper Jr. High Crush.
Come on! Stand up! Let's actually sing about God's love!

The Love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the sky of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the oceans dry --
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky!

Now, that's singing about God's love. If we can really sing about God's love forever, then let's stop bragging about ourselves and actually do it!

(I think I've really stepped into it this time... a lot of you will probably disagree with my analysis, with various degrees of intensity. Well, don't be shy -- let me know where I went wrong.)


Kyleigh said...

No, I agree with you completely! Those modern songs really get on my nerves... which leads to a lot of people thinking I'm a hymn-only person, which isn't true. It's just that in general, hymns are more solid theologically - but there are some that aren't... the only modern ones that I could generalize liking are the Getty's.

RYC: In the South we actually were in biblical Naphtali, I think (or at least right by it). And on our way to Tyre we looked down on Israel. But it just made me want to go there even more, while at the same time realizing its impossibility while we live here...

Lostariel said...

No, you haven't gone wrong, you're just overanalysing.

Matthew L said...

Though the first song might not be a praise song, I would definitely say that it has a place in worship. There are two reasons.

First, before we come to worship God, we need to prepare our hearts, this would include repentance for our sins. This song is exactly along those lines and probably should be classified as a song, or even prayer, of repentance.

Second, if we are repenting, then are we not giving up, or rejecting, something in place of something better? This, in essence, ascribes worth to God as being of more value than anything this world has to offer. Thus, I think this song could be considered a worship song.

Furthermore, it reminds me of a few psalms and I think David might find it appropriate to use this song if he were around today. The words used, especially the reference to the "God of Jacob", make me think this song might be derived from a passage in Scripture. It also reminds me somewhat of the prayers of repentance that Ezra (ch 9), Nehemiah (ch 1), and Daniel(ch 9) offered for themselves and for the nation of Israel.

Though it lacks a lot of depth, I do not see such a great problem with the lyrics alone. I say alone because sometimes those writing the song do not match the melody to the lyrics. Imagine trying to sing lyrics of sorrow and repentance to a triumphant, victorious, tune. One could hardly feel very repentant about their sins. The triumph must wait till after we have repented, and then we can praise God with a clean heart for the forgiveness of our sins and for His wonder and majesty!

As to the second song, though it starts with the focus on God, it soon changes to a focus on our actions, and I would even say abilities. Perhaps I am too critical, but should it not be "I WILL sing of Your love forever"? The focus must be on God and what He has done for us!

Kyleigh said...

Matthew: I think James's point isn't so much that these songs are WRONG as it is that there are better songs we can be singing - as he demonstrated.
Instead of saying "I could sing of your love forever," - well, sing about His love! "Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast unmeasure, boundless free..."
There are worship songs that are much deeper, more worshipful, and more meaningful we could be singing instead.

Kestrel said...

In my brother's devotional, it divided songs into "psalms" and "gospel songs."
"Psalms" are all about who God is.
"Gospel songs" are about what he has done for us.
Now, I agree that some songs are not theologically deep, but...I guess I have other things to worry about.

Keri T. said...

Funny, we just talked about this in my Sunday School recently. Our teacher calls songs like that. "meta-worship songs" because they are about worshiping and he brought up that song: I could Sing of Your Love Forever

Poetress said...

Well said, James. (And how did I not find out you had a blog until now?!:p I enjoyed reading this.) I agree that many "praise songs" are way too self-focused and emphasize how WE feel about GOD or what WE need (as if God was some sort of genie).

All too often I think we forget that all our righteousness, even the very purest form of our musical worship to God (during a Sunday service or otherwise), is nothing but dirty rags to a holy, almighty, other-than-us God (Is. 64:6). He definitely does not NEED our worship. Our lack of worshiping Him or our corrupt worship of Him do not at all diminish His glory or person.
And if WE do not cry out in praise to Him then the rocks will take our place in doing so (so let it be us!).

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you, James :) That's what frustrates me about these modern songs. They're just so...devoid of doctrinal depth. It irritates me that people sing things like that when they could sing Fairest Lord Jesus or How Great Thou Art. Also, the modern, clunky "poetry" doesn't help. Why use 'you' and 'are' when you could use 'thee' and 'art'? It makes for much better poetry. Oh, well, rant over :-) Thanks for writing a good post, and sorry I didn't get to it sooner.