To Those Of You Who Don’t Like To Sing On Sunday

SINGING

So you don’t like to sing when you go to church on Sunday. You’re not really the singing type. You’re quiet. Introverted. Stoic. Not prone to outward displays of emotion. You don’t like to wear your heart on your sleeve. Singing loudly and expressively just isn’t your thing. Neither is hand-raising, or kneeling, or any other outward display of emotion.

Despite the fact that I’ve been leading worship for many years, I can actually relate to you. I’m not a particularly emotional guy. I’m not prone to crying, except for that rare occasion when a child is born unto me. I tend to hold my cards kind of close to the vest. I process things internally, for the most part. All this to say, there are many Sundays when I don’t feel like singing to God, raising my hands, kneeling, or doing anything other than plopping my butt into my chair.

But here’s the thing: those of us who don’t want to sing to God are at odds with the rest of the universe.

Psalm 19:1-4 declares that the entire creation is singing the splendor and glory and wonder of God:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

The birds begin every day with loud, caucophonous praise to God. The little lizard who lives under my deck, who can change colors in a flash, loudly declares, “I was created by a brilliant God!” The sun, which is so blazing hot in Florida, proclaims, “Look at what God hath wrought!”

And it’s not just the creation that sings to God. All of the angels declare the glory of God as well. The angels who fly around the throne of God have one, constant refrain:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! (Isaiah 6:3)

As the angels behold God, in all his brilliant, blinding, terrifying splendor, they can’t help but explode in praise. They behold and they extol, behold and extol, behold and extol.

The saints in heaven are not silent either. Revelation 5:11-12 gives us a sneak peek into the worship that is taking place in heaven:

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

As the saints behold the glory of the Lamb of God, they erupt in thunderous, overwhelming praise. There is no stoicism in heaven. There is no introversion. There is only loud, glorious, heart-felt praise.

If all the universe sings loudly and passionately to God, maybe the problem is with us. When we don’t feel like singing, the problem isn’t a singing problem, but a seeing problem. 

If we could see God as he truly is, we would be utterly undone. We would be singing for joy, kneeling in adoration, and weeping in gratitude. If we saw Jesus in his resurrected, ascended glory, there would be no talk of, “Well, I’m more of the quiet type.”

So what should we do when we don’t feel like singing? Two things.

  • Before the Sunday worship begins, ask God to give you a fresh glimpse of his beauty, glory and splendor. Ask him to increase your faith and love. Ask him to give you eyes to see and ears to hear. God loves to answer that type of prayer.
  • Sing, whether you feel like it or not. Don’t analyze whether you feel like singing. Instead, sing out of obedience, knowing that God is always worthy of all our praise.

Why Worship Teams Should Seek To Play With Excellence

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Music is a wonderful gift from God. It’s one of God’s greatest blessings in my life. Last night at our Care Group Christmas party we played Christmas tunes in the background from Bing Crosby singing White Christmas to The Nutcracker Suite to A Charlie Brown Christmas to Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Monday night, while doing some oil painting with my 95 year-old Dad, we listened to Chuck Mangione’s jazz together. I loved music as a child, my mom told me, and my favorite song was “Turkey In the Straw” (see below). And I’ll never forget the night in 1964 when the Beatles made their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show and I knew my destiny was to be in a rock band and have girls chasing me down the street screaming (the girls not me).

Yes, music is a gift from God. There won’t be any music in hell. And heaven will resound and reverberate with incredible music, songs, angelic choirs and waterfall choruses of saints singing the glories of Jesus. Of course, in this fallen world, like every good gift, music is often misused and perverted. But it is still a wonderful gift from God.

Music has a power to stir our emotions. It can excite us. It can lift our spirits and energize us. Think of how different football games would be without music. Hundreds of TV commercials have music in the background or catchy jingles to remind you that the best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup, and other ditties. Music can make a long vacation drive more fun. We play music at work and workouts. Some say playing classical music in the background helps you concentrate.

Music can express a sense of majesty or sadness. It moves us. Certain movie soundtracks do this for me, like the theme to Jurassic Park or Saving Private Ryan. Music affects our emotions.

And what a gift to be able to sing God’s praises together. It’s one glorious way the Lord has given for us to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us, as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs together (Co 3:16).

I recently encouraged and thanked our worship team for pursuing musical excellence as they lead us in singing to the Lord together. Though they are not seeking to perform or show off their talents, when they play with excellence, it helps us worship. Not that we need instruments to worship, but the music stirs us. Many come into a Sunday meeting distracted, harried, stressed, discouraged or worn out from a long week. Beautiful and energetic music can lift our spirits and help us engage with the song lyrics, which are the most important part. Glorious music conveys something of the glory of Jesus expressed in our lyrics.

Lyrics are critical and central, for they contain “the word of Christ,” yet God has given us “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” to convey that word, and music lets it dwell richly in us. If God didn’t want us to enjoy his wonderful gift of music, he would have told us to simply read the lyrics together, like we read poems or Scripture. But God said “Sing!”

A couple in our church came from a denomination that forbids the use of instruments in church. You can go to a concert and enjoy the violins, French horns, oboes and kettle drums, but when you come to church it’s vocals only. Yet even in their former church the congregation sang incredible harmonies together, and those harmonies would stir and move them.

I’m so grateful God has given us all kinds of instruments, from electric guitar to oboe. I’m even grateful for synthesizers (just kidding – I have an ongoing joke that guitars are better than keyboards). I personally would have a hard time in a vocals-only church, although I love the moments when our worship team selectively stops playing and we all lift our voices together. A church can certainly glorify God without instruments, but they help me in my worship. They enhance it for me. They stir me to worship. Every Sunday I tell one of our guitarists I want him to play me a face-melting lead. I say this jokingly, because he’s an incredible guitarist and he doesn’t want to show off or put himself forward, so for years he was reluctant to do too much other than play the chords, and I want him to add creative licks in places. He hasn’t melted my face off yet, but he really adds to the arrangements which enhances the worship.

So if you’re on a worship team, play with excellence. Sing with excellence. Not for it’s own sake, but for the glory of God. Not to entertain, but to help folks connect with the lyrics and with Jesus. Try not to be distracted and overly focused on the music, but play as well as you can. You’re expressing Jesus’s beauty and glory. Music is a gift of God’s grace to the world and especially his church.

If you’re not on a worship team, thank your singers and musicians for their hard work to enhance your worship.

I love music. I’m so grateful to God for it. Well, I’m off — as I go I’m humming Turkey in the Straw.

*If you don’t know Turkey in the Straw, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0DsPX26_60

They play it with excellence!

Why Is It So Critical That We Sing Together?

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Why is it so important that we sing together on Sundays? Why can’t I just go out in the woods and sing or just light up a fire in my fireplace and sing to God by myself in the cozy comfort of my den?

Isn’t our Sunday worship just a warm up for the message? A way to gather everyone together for the preaching? Why can’t we just skip the singing together and get to the real meat?

Our times of worship together are critical. And unless we are unable to make it, we should not neglect to sing together with other believers. Not that God doesn’t love our songs to him at home. But something unique happens when we sing together. The word of Christ dwells in us richly.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

All of us need to regularly soak in “the word of Christ,” or the gospel. We need to be reminded of Christ and his work over and over again. We’re so prone to slipping into condemnation or a subtle works mentality. We need to be reminded again and again we’re justified by Jesus’ blood. Of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. We need fresh encouragement that though there is tribulation in the world, Christ has overcome the world. We need to turn the diamond of the gospel around and around and examine it from every angle.

The gospel dwells in us richly through teaching, preaching and admonishment. But Colossians tells us the word of Christ also dwells in us richly when we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness together. Our weekly times of corporate singing are times of steeping in the gospel. Times of meditating on all God has done for us through Jesus. Times to refocus our minds on Christ.

And music does this in a way that preaching can’t. In songs phrases are repeated and tied to music. This makes them more memorable. Singing is a way of meditating on God’s word. It’s mulling it over. It’s chewing on it, rolling it over, chewing some more. The word of Christ dwelling richly. Music is powerful in this way. I can still remember lyrics I sang in high school and college. Advertisers know the power of linking lyrics to music. A lyrical hook tied to a musical hook will have you singing about toothpaste or beer or home repairs when you’re walking down the street or cleaning your basement. I can still sing the jingle for Pepsodent Toothpaste I heard as a kid, and I don’t even know if that toothpaste exists any more.

Here’s the power of lyrics tied to music. Shortly after I was married I found myself singing Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” without even thinking about it. “You just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan, you don’t need to be coy, Roy, just get yourself free….must be 50 ways to leave your lover….” Suddenly I caught myself. “What the heck am I singing? I don’t want to be singing that. I just got married!”

Because our Sunday singing is an opportunity for the word of Christ, or gospel to dwell in us richly, we should always include songs about what Jesus has done for us on the cross. We should sing about God’s glorious attributes – his holiness, greatness, love, mercy, and faithfulness. But like Paul, we should root all in the gospel – the birth, life, substitutionary death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Sing of God’s holiness – but remember we can only come before a holy God because of the cross. Sing of God’s love – he loves us so much he sent Christ for us. Sing of God’s mercy – the supreme example: the cross. Sing of God’s generosity – he gave his Son. Not that every single song needs to be about the cross, but I tell our worship team to make sure we have at least one every Sunday.

Every word counts. We want “the word of Christ” to dwell in us richly. Make sure every song you sing on Sunday is full of sound doctrine. There have been times we haven’t done a song because of one line. Though I value creative song lyrics, sometimes in an effort to be creative, the meaning of a line may be vague or unclear. Don’t do those songs. There are plenty of creative, beautiful, clear songs.

Sing the gospel together. Let it ruminate and roll around in your heart and fill you with joy.

Skin For Skin: Will You Keep Praising God?

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”  Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason?  Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:8-11)

One day God called Satan’s attention to Job, an outstanding servant of God. Satan said Of course he’s a great servant. You think he serves you for nothing? All you do is bless and protect him. But break his stuff, take away some of those blessings you’ve heaped on him, like his children, for example, and he’ll curse you to your face..

And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:12).

Shortly after this in one day four tragedies struck Job’s family, flocks and properties in rapid succession – a raid by Sabeans, fire from heaven, a raid by Chaldeans, and a desert windstorm – leaving Job’s children dead and Job financially ruined. Yet look how Job responded.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”  In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22)

What? Job gets devastating news that his children have all been killed and his flocks and property have been demolished and he…worships! He worships in deep grief – head shaved, torn robe – yet he worships. Then he expresses this incredible truth – “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.”  I came into this world empty-handed and that’s how I’ll leave. All I ever had was a gift from God and belongs to God. My life and possessions aren’t my own – it’s all from the Lord. He gives and he has a right to take away. I will worship him as good and righteous: “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And “in all this” – in the most devastating suffering imaginable, especially the loss of your children – Job does not sin – he doesn’t turn to sin for comfort or distraction. And he doesn’t charge God with wrong.

Later God points out Job to Satan again.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.”  Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life.  But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” (Job 2:3-6)

God says “Look Satan, Job is still walking in integrity, still trusting and worshiping me even though he’s lost everything. But Satan says, “Skin for skin! Of course he’s still praising you. He’s healthy and strong. But touch his bone and his flesh – give him some real pain – and he’ll curse you to your face.” So God says, “Go for it. Do whatever you like short of killing him.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.  And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. (7-8)

Now even Job’s wife chimes in. Instead of supporting her husband in his misery, she takes up a Satanic taunt:

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (9).

“How can you praise God?” she says. “Curse God and get this over with.”

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (10)

What an answer Job gives. “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” He knows that God is ultimately in control and that all we receive, good and bad, is measured out by his loving hand of providence. He says we’re glad to receive good from God. It’s easy to worship him when he prospers us. But what about when we are afflicted? Will we only praise God when he blesses us? Amazingly, in the throes of his sadness and excruciating pain, Job doesn’t sin with his lips, but glorifies God with his mouth.

A few years ago, this passage inspired me to write a song, “As Long As You Are Glorified.” We sang it yesterday morning in our church meeting. I hope it encouraged folks and encourages you. If you’d like, you can listen to it or purchase it at Sovereign Grace Music.

As Long As You Are Glorified

VERSE 1
Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt

CHORUS
Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified

VERSE 2
Are You good only when I prosper
And true only when I’m filled
Are You King only when I’m carefree
And God only when I’m well
You are good when I’m poor and needy
You are true when I’m parched and dry
You still reign in the deepest valley
You’re still God in the darkest night

BRIDGE
So quiet my restless heart
Quiet my restless heart
Quiet my restless heart in You

© 2008 Integrity’s Praise! Music/Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)

Worship Trumps Unbelief

Last Sunday I preached at my church on God’s covenant faithfulness. Monday morning I doubted the faithfulness of the God I proclaimed.

No, I didn’t wrestle with existential doubts about the existence of God or the problem of evil or anything like that. It was simple unbelief: on Monday morning I had to face a medical bill that I didn’t expect, couldn’t afford, and didn’t understand, since I thought the particular expense was covered by insurance. My response was to lapse into discouragement. I imagined all the possible negative outcomes, all the ways things could go wrong because of this bill. I doubted God would give me the wisdom to figure out why I was receiving this bill, or that he would provide if I did indeed need to pay it. My joy vanished and my soul withered. And all this only 24 hours after being immersed in Scriptures about God’s commitment to his people.

The week goes on. As it turns out, we don’t actually have to pay the bill – it’s already covered. My anxiety-produced projections of the future were inaccurate. But I’ve had to deal with the aftermath in my heart: guilt, because I know unbelief is a sin. Pride, because good grief, wasn’t I paying attention to my own sermon??? A renewed sense of the distance between my professed beliefs about God and my functional beliefs about God. A nagging voice in the back of my mind when I pray and worship, “You only say you believe God is great…you don’t actually believe it. Who are you kidding?”

Now thankfully, because of the gospel, I know I’m not accepted by God because of my performance nor kept at a distance by him because of my unbelief. I confessed my sins to God and believe he is faithful and just to forgive them completely. But here’s what I learned from my Monday morning struggle: unbelief and worship cannot coexist. Monday morning was not a moment of worship of the true God. By grace, I’m forgiven for that and can still come boldly to the throne of my Father. But there was a moment where circumstances distorted my view of God, unbelief crowded out worship, and my heart was left disoriented.

But here’s the good news: this truth works both ways. Worship trumps unbelief. It inoculates us against the insidious suggestions unbelief will whisper in your ear. The more my gaze is fixed upon God as he has revealed himself to be – gloriously powerful, powerfully good, and completely for me in Jesus Christ – the less room there is for unbelief. Circumstances, present or future, are put in their true perspective. Worship is an antidote for worry. Whether it’s corporate worship on Sundays, your private devotions, or moments of prayer and praise snatched throughout the day, the practice of directing our gaze towards God protects us from the tyranny of our circumstances.

C.S. Lewis called praise “inner health made audible,” and we could also say unbelief is inner sickness made audible. But by God’s grace when I repeatedly draw near to him in worship, proclaiming his greatness and goodness to him and to my own soul, I become healthier. Unbelief’s vitality and power is drained, and my soul is nourished. Worship trumps unbelief.

Are you facing circumstances that challenge and stretch your faith? Then make a practice of regularly worshiping the Lord. Take a psalm and pray it throughout the day. Sing a hymn or make a worship playlist for your iPod. Unbelief will challenge us all at some point. But the worship of our living God prepares us for that moment. Worship trumps unbelief. Come, let us worship the Lord.

Photo by Eleaf.