I only have vague memories of the “worship wars,” those days in the particular stream of evangelicalism that I stream in when there was intense and bitter disagreement regarding worship in the church. But from what I remember, and from what I’ve since learned, many of those arguments centered around worship style.
That’s not what this post is about.
But it is about worship. In particular, it’s about the actual words we are singing during worship regardless of the style, and why all of us – whether we are professional Christians or not – ought to care deeply about those words.
Of course we should, you might say. We should care because these are words we are singing to and about God. And you’re right. The fact that we are singing to and about God ought to make us pause and breathe a little deeply and at least consider the words coming out of our mouths. But that’s not the only reason we should pay attention to the lyrics of our songs. Here are three more:
1. Because you’re not just singing; you are learning.
Songs help us learn. They always have. They helped us learn the ABCs, the days of the week and the months of the year, and the colors of the rainbow. Beyond that, though, consider for a moment how many song lyrics you know.
Now if you want to go a step further, compare the amount of song lyrics you can recite with the number of Bible verses you can quote. See what I mean? Songs teach us, even if we don’t know they are teaching us. This is why , throughout the history of Christianity, one of the greatest tools for teaching theology has been music. After all, one of the earliest Christian hymns is the great Christological passage of Philippians 2.
If it’s true, then, that we are learning from our songs whether we mean to or not, then we ought to pay very close attention to what we are singing as a means of guarding our hearts and minds.
2. Because you’re not just singing; you are emotionally connecting.
Emotions are a gift; they’re part, I believe, of what it means to be created in God’s image. Music and singing helps connect what our minds might know but our hearts do not feel. While we can’t be ruled by our emotions, if we never engage emotionally with God, then our faith is stale. Jesus Himself told the woman at the well that a day was coming when the true worshippers would worship in spirit and in truth; that is, they would worship with the heart and the head. They would worship through their knowledge of God and their love of God. This is what singing helps us do – to connect emotionally with the subject of the song.
But emotions are precarious things. We can’t trust ourselves to feel the right way about the right thing at the right time. So one of the ways we protect ourselves against our false emotions is through making sure that our songs are grounded in truth.
3. Because you’re not just singing; you are modeling.
I have a friend who is fond of saying, “I want to be a dad who sings.” I do, too, even though I don’t have a great voice. But it’s important for me to sing, as a father, so that my children see me singing.
The longer I am a parent the more I realize that our children are always watching. They’re watching even when they don’t know they’re watching. And their hearts are being molded not only by the things we say to them, but by the songs that we sing in church. For their sake, as well as our own, we should pay great attention to the songs that are being sung.
The worship wars may be over (thank goodness), but that doesn’t mean that worship is a settled issue. This is a subject that all of us should not only care about, but be actively involved in. We should care deeply not only because of the honor of God, but also because we know the importance of worship in our own lives.