Annoying Things in Worship Songs

A classic from Jeremy Pierce:

Here are some of the things I really hate in a worship song.

1. Too simplistic, banal, lacking in depth, shallow, doctrineless: Consider that one that just talks about unity among brothers that only mentions God in passing at the very end.

2. It’s so repetitive. I mean, come on, how many times can you repeat “His steadfast love endures forever” before you start thinking the song is going to go on forever? Examples: here and here.

3. For some songs, the focus is too much on instruments, and the sheer volume leads to its seeming more like a performance than worship and prevents quiet contemplation.

4. There might be too much emphasis on too intimate a relationship with God, using first-person singular pronouns like “me” and “I” or second-person pronouns like “you” instead of words like “we” and “God.” This fosters a spirit of individualism, and it generates an atmosphere of religious euphoria rather than actual worship of God. Worship should be about God, not about us. Or what about the ones that use physical language to describe God and our relationship with him? Can you really stomach the idea of tasting God?

5. Some songs have way too many words for anyone to learn.

6. It patterns its worship on experiences that not everyone in the congregation will be able to identify with. If you’re not in the frame of mind or don’t have the emotional state in question (e.g., a desperate longing for God), then what are you doing lying and singing it? Worship leaders who encourage that sort of thing are making their congregations sing falsehoods.

7. Then there’s that song with the line asking God not to take the Holy Spirit away, as if God would ever do that to a genuine believer.

8. Then there’s that song that basically says nothing except expressing negative emotions.

9. Finally, there are those songs that have like four or five lines that people just either have to repeat over and over again or just sing briefly and never get a chance to digest.

At this point I’m so outraged that people would pass this sort of thing off as worship that I’m almost inclined to give in to the people who think we shouldn’t sing anything but the psalms.

Oh, wait. . . .

-Jeremy Pierce, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2014/02/11/annoying-things-in-worship-songs/

Is Easy Worship Enough for God?

A great new article on worship that is both convicting and inspiring. Check it out at: http://www.stonewritten.com/?p=1718. A great question, am I willing to die at the altar of God; am I willing to fully surrender myself to Him everyday?

“One of my favorite definitions of worship comes from the famous Hasidic Jewish Rabbi, philosopher, and mystic, Abraham Joshua Heschel. He defined it this way:

‘Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God.’

I come from a faith tradition that places a lot of emphasis on outward, passionate expressions of worship. And so naturally I have learned to love it when I can sense God’s presence in powerful ways in the context of corporate worship. However, the other side of the coin is that I have too often approached worship based on my feelings. The truth is that worship has a little to do with feelings, but it has a lot more to do with perspective.

Here is some perspective. It can be an awful thing to approach the altar of God. Altars are where things die. And if God is calling you to the altar he is indeed calling you, at least in some way, to die. Perhaps death sounds a little melodramatic. But we will always lose something at God’s altar. And we hate losing. We hate losing things we are holding onto because possessing something, even something trivial, gives us a sense of control. And we hate to lose our sense of control because our illusion of control is often what gives us a sense of life. And of course all of us hate to lose our life.

The paradox is that the altar that will take my life is also the threshold that will give me new life. Jesus said it this way, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matt 10:39 NLT). This is not just true in salvation, it is true of every altar that God puts before me. There are many stories in the bible in which this is illustrated. I am going to use the Exodus.

We all know the story. God used signs and wonders to miraculously deliver the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh. Not only did the Israelites escape, they escaped with serious loot. Once they got out of town God allowed Pharaoh’s heart to change (again), so that he would be determined to pursue them. Of course, God told Moses that he was doing all of this so that he could deliver them in even more spectacular fashion. One would think that after all the Israelites had witnessed this would be an exciting proposition. But remember what we said about our fear of altars? Of losing possessions? Of losing control? Of losing our lives? Sure enough the Israelites did not enjoy approaching this altar anymore than the rest of us. Here was there response in Exodus 14:10-12:

‘As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”’

I would take the time to poke a little fun at the Israelites if it were not for the fact that I have uttered similar cries so many times. Moses appears to be the righteous one at first when he responds in 14:13-14 this way:

‘Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”’

However, that was evidently not the response that God was looking for, and presumably the inward prayers of Moses took on a different character than his brave exhortation to the Israelites.  For God immediately responded to Moses with this in 14:15:

‘Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”’

It is all kind of humorous as a detached observer. The Israelites screaming that they are going to die. Moses trying to scream over them to be brave and be still, while inwardly crying out to God for help. And God snapping at Moses and telling him to stop crying and start moving. It must have been chaotic. I know the feeling, because it is the feeling of the storm of resistance that hits us as we approach the altar of God.

But herein lies the point. When these types of thoughts and feelings are swirling about us we tend to check out of worship. Yet, it is for those very moments that worship was made. Certainly there is a type of worship that is happy, carefree, and light. But the kind of worship that is preceded by threats and fears, confusion and darkness–that type of worship is what I call altar-ing worship. It has the appearance of death in front of the threshold, but it has the surprise gift of life on the other side. We are afraid of the threat of the altar going in, but surprised to find ourselves altered coming out. When we have been altered by the altar we have experienced altar-ing worship.

Did Moses and the Israelites “see the world in the light of God” on the other side of their altar? When they reached the other side they immediately burst into song and dance. Miriam the prophet grabbed a timbrel and led all of the women in song and dance. Their perspective had changed. Their feelings had changed, too. They were lavishing in altar-ing worship. Take another few minutes to meditate on their song. But before you do, consider that thing that you are holding onto. Perhaps this is the day that you lay it down at the altar, and pick up your timbrel on the other side.

I will sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.
 

The LORD is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The LORD is a warrior;
the LORD is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
are drowned in the Red Sea.
The deep waters have covered them;
they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, LORD,
was majestic in power.
Your right hand, LORD,
shattered the enemy.
 

In the greatness of your majesty
you threw down those who opposed you.
You unleashed your burning anger;
it consumed them like stubble.
By the blast of your nostrils
the waters piled up.
The surging waters stood up like a wall;
the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy boasted,
‘I will pursue, I will overtake them.
I will divide the spoils;
I will gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword
and my hand will destroy them.’
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.
Who among the gods
is like you, LORD?
Who is like you—
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders?
 

You stretch out your right hand,
and the earth swallows your enemies.
In your unfailing love you will lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
to your holy dwelling.
The nations will hear and tremble;
anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;
terror and dread will fall on them.
By the power of your arm
they will be as still as a stone—
until your people pass by, LORD,
until the people you bought pass by.
You will bring them in and plant them
on the mountain of your inheritance—
the place, LORD, you made for your dwelling,
the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.
 

The LORD reigns
for ever and ever.”

Joyful, Joyful

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of light;
Angels lifting praise before Thee, Sing throughout this holy night.
In a manger lies a Baby- Child of Mary, Son of God.
Voices joined in joyful chorus, Praise Thee for Thy gift of love.

 

All Thy works declare Thy glory; All Creation joins to sing.
Praise resounds as earth rejoices in the birth of Christ, the King.
Shepherds kneel before the Infant. Trumpets sound and anthems raise
As with joy our hearts are lifted, Joined in wonder, love and praise.
 
-Linda Lee Johnson, 1986

May Jesus Christ Be Praised

When morning gilds the skies my heart awaking cries:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer, to Jesus I repair:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

When you begin the day, O never fail to say,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
And at your work rejoice, to sing with heart and voice,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Whene’er the sweet church bell peals over hill and dell,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
O hark to what it sings, as joyously it rings,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

My tongue shall never tire of chanting with the choir,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
This song of sacred joy, it never seems to cloy,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Does sadness fill my mind? A solace here I find,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Or fades my earthly bliss? My comfort still is this,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

To God, the Word, on high, the host of angels cry,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Let mortals, too, upraise their voice in hymns of praise,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Be this at meals your grace, in every time and place;
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Be this, when day is past, of all your thoughts the last
May Jesus Christ be praised!

When mirth for music longs, this is my song of songs:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
When evening shadows fall, this rings my curfew call,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

When sleep her balm denies, my silent spirit sighs,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
When evil thoughts molest, with this I shield my breast,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

The night becomes as day when from the heart we say:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
The powers of darkness fear when this sweet chant they hear:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

No lovelier antiphon in all high Heav’n is known
Than, Jesus Christ be praised!
There to the eternal Word the eternal psalm is heard:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Let all the earth around ring joyous with the sound:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
In Heaven’s eternal bliss the loveliest strain is this:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Sing, suns and stars of space, sing, ye that see His face,
Sing, Jesus Christ be praised!
God’s whole creation o’er, for aye and evermore
Shall Jesus Christ be praised!

In Heav’n’s eternal bliss the loveliest strain is this,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Let earth, and sea and sky from depth to height reply,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Be this, while life is mine, my canticle divine:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Sing this eternal song through all the ages long:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

-18th Century German, Translated by Edward Caswall

Of the Father’s Love

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

-Aurelius Prudentius, (348-413), Corde natus ex parentis,
Translated by John M. Neale and Henry W. Baker

Come, Ye Thankful People Come

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.

-Henry Alford, Psalms and Hymns, 1844

Ye Servants of God

Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim,
And publish abroad His wonderful Name;
The Name all victorious of Jesus extol,
His kingdom is glorious and rules over all.

The waves of the sea have lift up their voice,
Sore troubled that we in Jesus rejoice;
The floods they are roaring, but Jesus is here;
While we are adoring, He always is near.

When devils engage, the billows arise,
And horribly rage, and threaten the skies:
Their fury shall never our steadfastness shock,
The weakest believer is built on a rock.

God ruleth on high, almighty to save,
And still He is nigh, His presence we have;
The great congregation His triumph shall sing,
Ascribing salvation to Jesus, our King.

“Salvation to God, who sits on the throne!”
Let all cry aloud and honor the Son;
The praises of Jesus the angels proclaim,
Fall down on their faces and worship the Lamb.

Then let us adore and give Him His right,
All glory and power, all wisdom and might;
All honor and blessing with angels above,
And thanks never ceasing and infinite love.

-Charles Wesley, 1744

Praise the Lord

Praise the Lord: ye heavens, adore Him;
Praise Him, angels, in the height;
Sun and moon, rejoice before Him;
Praise Him, all ye stars and light.
Praise the Lord, for He hath spoken;
Worlds His mighty voice obeyed.
Laws which never shall be broken
For their guidance He hath made.

Praise the Lord, for He is glorious;
Never shall His promise fail.
God hath made His saints victorious;
Sin and death shall not prevail.
Praise the God of our salvation;
Hosts on high, His power proclaim.
Heaven and earth and all creation,
Laud and magnify His Name.

Worship, honor, glory, blessing,
Lord, we offer unto Thee;
Young and old, Thy praise expressing,
In glad homage bend the knee.
All the saints in heaven adore Thee;
We would bow before Thy throne:
As Thine angels serve before Thee,
So on earth Thy will be done.

-Verses 1 & 2: Anon. (c. 1801), Verse 3 : Edward Osler, 1836

Eternal Praise

What joyful thoughts doth heaven bring;
Where righteous ones will worship Thee?
No sadness, fear, or suffering;
But joyful cries to the King of Kings!
 
What sacrifice the Father made:
To crush the Son who bore our shame,
Yet raised him up that glorious day
To give us hope and a holy name!
 
O praise the Lamb for sinners slain;
Who wrote, with blood, our eternal praise!
Let the nations of the earth proclaim:
Hallelujah!
 
“O praise the name of Jesus”
Our song forever shall be.
Let the anthem of salvation
Be the song that we shall sing.
 
What deepened wounds have saved our souls;
What blood that washed our sins of old!
What precious hands have ransomed men
And brought us to Himself again! 
 
What hope is in our heavenly home,
Where we will bow at our Father’s throne,
And walk with Him on streets of gold
And kiss the Christ we long to hold!
 
Behold the city of the King: hallelujah!
His glory is the air we breath: hallelujah!
 
-Ryan Foglesong and David Zimmer

In Awe of God

You are beautiful beyond description
Too marvelous for words
Too wonderful for comprehension
Like nothing ever seen or heard

Who can grasp Your infinite wisdom?
Who can fathom the depth of Your love?
You are beautiful beyond description
Majesty enthroned above

And I stand, I stand in awe of You
I stand, I stand in awe of You
Holy God to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of You

-Mark Altrogge