“Can you email me the lyrics to the third song we sang?”
As a worship pastor, I LOVE hearing that from people after service. It shows an interest in the ideas we’re singing more than just the music, an appreciation for the purpose above the entertainment. It’s an encouragement for me as I lead others in worship. But many of us are not always so thoughtful or deliberate during our Sunday gatherings.
When we enter a time of worship, we are often focused on other things. We’re thinking about how our morning has gone, our kids we just dropped off, the people around us or on stage, our fantasy football team… maybe we’re thinking about the music being too loud or too quiet. Perhaps we’re thinking about a sour note a musician just played (this NEVER happens at West by the way). We still sing, of course! But are we singing thoughtfully or just singing. And does it matter? We’re still singing right? Isn’t that what God wants?
WHAT DOES GOD WANT?
It’s no secret that God is often measuring the difference between our actions and our intent. While man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). And scripture is full of God lamenting false worship (Matthew 15:8, Mark 12:41-44, John 4:23-24, Luke 18:10-14, Matthew 6:5, Amos 5:21-24, Isaiah 29:13). J.C. Ryle wrote, “If there is any principle clearly laid down in the Bible about any act of religious worship, it is this that it must be with understanding.” There are also Old Testament examples of how God views improper worship, when His worshipers make poorer sacrifices instead of the best that God demands. His response in Malachi chapter 1 is “Where is my honor?”, declaring that the source of their careless approach to worship is a lack of appreciation for His greatness. Isn’t that unbelievable! They were making sacrifices to the one true God whom they had seen do amazing things, yet they lost sight of the magnitude of His glory and just nature. And we do the same thing with every idle word we sing.
I often think of an illustration given by Pastor John Piper. He compares our worship to a man who comes home to his wife with a bouquet of flowers. He offers the gift and she says “Oh honey they’re beautiful! What have I done to deserve such a nice and thoughtful gift?” The man says, “Well, I know I’m supposed to give you flowers. Everyone else gives their own wives flowers. I read in a book that I should do it. My pastor told me I should. So here you go.”
Obviously this would be a very sad, not to mention unwise reason to give for the gift. What the wife wants to hear is “Baby, I got these flowers for you because I love you. You make me so happy. You are so lovely and so beautiful, and I want to give you a gift that makes you feel special”. In a loving relationship, you give gifts for the sake of the one you love, not because you’re supposed to. You show the adoration that you feel. You don’t manufacture the appearance of adoration because you have to. We should be approaching the Lord with a true sense of wonder because of His great power and the limitlessness of His reach! We sing songs of honor and proclamation to the greatness of the God of the universe! I am continually amazed that God allows us to sing songs that so inadequately describe Him, let alone the other-worldly honor it is to lead others in those songs. What God desires isn’t a song, but an outpouring of awe, gratitude, and affection (Hebrews 12:28-29).
HOW DO WE GET THERE?
Now let’s get down to it. How do we approach worship that way? Is it as easy as flipping a switch, or is there something else involved? To answer that, let’s go back to the husband/wife analogy. If our desire is to know and understand the glory of God better, then we need to do things that move us into a greater understanding of and affection for Him. We come to know Him more by immersing ourself in the Word He has given us to reveal Himself. We know the Father more by looking to Christ (John 14:7). And the more we know Him, the more accurate our view of God and self becomes. The more accurate our view, the more we come to love God for His amazing grace and mercy in our lives. The Gospel accounts give us a fantastic example of this grace-prompted response with the “sinner” who anointed the feet of Jesus with perfume. In Luke 7, Christ says of her, “her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much.”
If we do not deeply consider the truths we’re singing, if we do not relate them to our lives and what we feel towards our Creator/Savior, then we will not sing them in truth. The words may be biblical, even profound. But unless there is understanding, there won’t be much real worship happening. But if we sing intentionally, thoughtfully, deliberately, if we strive to understand what we’re singing, then we honor the Lord the way He desires. And that true worship drives and strengthens us into our proper place.
So this week, prepare for Sunday. There is great blessing and anointing in our gatherings together, and it reaches its potential when we treat it as such instead of treating it as a part of our routine. Pray for God to move in your heart. Open up your Bible and study your maker. Read of the grace and love Christ has for you. Dwell on His goodness and majesty. On Saturday night, plan on getting up early enough so you (and your family) are not rushed. Get to church early. Pray for God to use that morning to grow you, to use you to build up others, and to bring glory to His name. Then join in with your brothers and sisters in Christ and sing out thoughtful words of praise together this Sunday. God doesn’t want your singing. He wants your heart.