So my kids and I were at the Children’s Museum yesterday and we stopped all the fun playing to sit down and have lunch. As we bowed our head, my almost-three-year-old said the following blessing:
God is great, God is good
Let us thank Him for our food
By His hands, we all are fed
Thank You, Lord, for daily bread.
It got me to thinking – to whom are we praying in this prayer? I know that the easy answer is God, but only one out of four lines is actually addressed to God. If prayer is supposed to be conversation with God, one would think that prayers should actually address God. Maybe my kids’ mealtime blessing should be something more like this:
You are great, You are good
Lord, we thank You for our food
By Your hands we all are fed
Thank You, Lord, for daily bread.
Now, since I’m the one who taught them the first prayer, it’s my own dumb fault for teaching them to talk about God rather than talking to God. Is the same not true with much of our worship in the church?
worship |ˈwər sh əp| noun acts, expressions and/or a state of religious devotion typically directed to one or more deities.
As a popular song recently stated, our worship is for “an audience of one.” We worship as we direct our entire being on loving God, communing with God, praising and adoring God. Why, then, are many of our songs sung about God and not to God? Previously, I posted about the importance of thinking about the theology being espoused by the music selections we make as worship leaders. It is important that we make sure that our song selections reflect the corporate nature of our worship. Likewise, it is important to think about the subject, whether stated or implied, in our songs. For example, think about the following hymns and ask yourself, “Who is being addressed in these words? Who is the subject? Who is the object?” (If you need help remembering the words, click on the song titles for a link to the lyrics)
All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
In the story of the Fall of Humanity in Genesis 3, the serpent comes to the happy couple and asks the woman, “Did God really say…” One pastor pointed out that the serpent’s first attack was to convince the woman to start talking about God rather than talking to God. The slippery slope to destruction began when prayer stopped and theologizing began (a good reminder for those like me who love theology). Likewise, in our worship, we have to ask ourselves, who are we addressing? Many of the songs listed above are songs about God, not songs sung to God. In fact, many of them have as the implied audience the congregation of worshippers. Is that what we want to promote in our worship – a time of talking to one another about God without talking to God?
I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me, I’m not saying that these songs should not be used in worship – I’ve included them here because we’ve used every one of them in my own church. What I am saying is that we need to think about our songs and the role we are expecting them to play in our worship. Do we use them to encourage one another? Good! Do we use them call one another to focus together on God? Great! But use them in the right context. These are not worship songs in the strict sense of the term. They are not expressing our love/adoration/worship to God. Instead, they are songs of testimony to the world (and one another) about our God.
Pastors cannot get away with preaching the same sermon week after week (although I know of some who come pretty close). They don’t have the luxury of instilling the message through repetition. As worship leaders, we do. We have the chance to sing songs over and over, week in and week out – to the point that these songs become a part of people’s lives. For this reason, we need to take heed with the music that we select. What kind of theology are you implicitly advocating because of your music selection? Are we encouraging people to a deeper communion with God or are you encouraging a deeper fellowship with one another and God is merely the topic of conversation?
Lyrical One said:
Steve, I have to say I agree with all that you wrote. Worship is addressed to God and God alone, and our corporate worship time should be addressed to God.Perhaps the question is whether our corporate worship is really that, and if that is all it should be or if it has other purposes as well. If it is strictly worship, why do we have proclamation addressed towards the congregation (which is really discipleship, exhortation, and/or evangelism)? Why do we read scripture intended for the above purposes? I am thinking out loud here(which means I am bound to say something stupid along the way), but I suspect that each can spur us to worship more fully, but they are not worship. Perhaps that is an argument in your favor: if so much of the service is directed toward the congregation, we should be all the more careful to choose music which is directed toward God. On the other hand maybe the other problem is that so many call an hour or two a week their time of worship because they don't do it any other time.I will give two thoughts in defense of music which is not directed toward God. One is the Psalms. I love the psalms because of their emotional honesty and open worship of God; however, there are many addressed to God's people. They were used in corporate settings, many testifying of God's goodness and acts but not addressing Him. The other is Philippians 2:6-11, thought to be an early church hymn which speaks of Christ but not to Him. It is an exhortation to have Christ's attitude. There are other examples, but these sprang to mind first. I don't know. Maybe we save these non-worship songs for other times or maybe we use them as a way to direct each other to worship of God and find very intentional ways of addressing God throughout the service in other ways.Ok, you've made me think a couple of times this week…by the way, did you really write this at 4 am? If so, I am even more impressed at the integrity of your thought. I am not even dreaming about thinking that much at that time of day 🙂
Hey, Mary, thanks for the comments. To clarify, I wasn't arguing against songs that speak about God being used in worship. Rather, my point was that those of us who lead worship should conscientiously choose songs. May of us just throw together the bulletin on Thursday morning, focusing on whether the key changes will work right and whether we start with two fast songs, then move to a slower/meditative song before the offertory. What I am saying is that we have to take ownership of the theology that we are implicitly espousing due to the songs we choose.I love the psalms! They are my favorite book of the Bible (no big surprise). I use them all the time in worship at my church. My point is not that we exclude them, but that we balance them. Additionally, I limited myself initially by defining worship in such a narrow manner. Here are a couple of other definitions we might consider:“Christian worship is the total adoring response of [people] to the one Eternal God self-revealed in time.” (Evelyn Underhill, Worship, rev. ed. P48)“Worship is telling God’s gracious mighty acts on behalf of His people, and finding our place in the story.” (Ken Medema)"Public Worship does or acts out God's story" (Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Worship, p. 24)In these senses, worship consists of everything that we do to tell the story of God's work in the world, including finding our place in that story. Such a definition would make room for proclamation (both in preaching and in song). You are right for calling me on that one.That said, my initial point(s) remains: (1) do we take ownership of our worship thoelogy? (2) Is that theology balanced between proclamation and response? (3) Do we tell the whole story (or do we pick and choose our favorite parts)?Regarding the time – I hadn't noticed until you pointed it out that my time zone was set to pacific time. I actually wrote this last night between 11:00 and 12:00, but waited until I got up this morning to post it (around 7:30). I think I got it corrected now. Thanks for your feedback.
Doug Thorsvik said:
StevenI'm glad you broadened your definition of worship in your comment. I believe when we are singing a bold testimony about our faith "We Believe" by Graham Kendrick, God is honored and therefore is worshiped even though the song is not directed to God.You said "we need to think about our songs and the role we are expecting them to play in our worship." and I couldn't agree more. I think there is a tendency to put song sets together based on theme, key, tempo, style and without any real consideration of balancing the content of the songs. "I" songs have their place, but for congregational worship "We" songs probably need a more consistent presence to remind everyone we are a worshipping community not just individual worshippers doing our own thing. I know this is an area we need to work on in our worshipping community.You said "these songs become a part of people’s lives". What a significant responsibility! Doug