Some churches like to crank it up to 11. But honestly, this post isn't about decibel level. It's about noise. Noise, after all, doesn't require electric amplifiers.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of yourharps I will not listen. (Amos 5:23)
The Lord addresses this to Israel who had been treating religious practices as a mere formality. If you read Amos 5:21-22 you see the Lord say some astonishing things:
I take no delight in
I will not accept
I will not look upon
Woe to us if the Lord should say such a thing about our worship services!
In American evangelicalism, we have been conditioned to believe that just because we show up to church on a Sunday morning, that God is present to bless and He is pleased with what is going on. I think we need to think through that a little better, for God is not after our lips or hand motions, but our hearts. Many churches think intentionally, and some even pay a staff person, to create a good 'atmosphere' of Sunday morning worship. I do believe careful thinking about worship is important, but I also know it's possible to have a service that moves the people emotionally and is simultaneously offensive to God.
Yes, I wrote that: offensive to God. So offensive that He might just say "I hate it" or "take away from me the noise of your songs." Again, this isn't about volume, but hypocrisy. The Hebrew word for 'noise' in this text carries the connotation of 'multitude'. I think what it is communicating is that the songs being sung were just layers of empty noise not because of the style or words of the particular song, but because of the lack of honesty in the heart. There may have been a lot happening musically, but there was no substance to the worship. Instead, the songs just piled up in such a way before God that they were like a burden to Him.
Is God weary of your worship?
It's actually sort of alarming how well we can sing songs in church without a heart that is fully devoted to God. The Israelites were going through the motions of worship but they harbored sin in their hearts. For us, this isn't about singing out of the Heavenly Highways vs. the newest Christian songs out there. This is about singing from a heart that is clinging to Christ and repentant of sin vs. singing from a heart that has no real interest in treasuring Christ.
It's scary how easily a noisy song can lead our hearts to believe everything is ok just because we feel worshipful. It's the song you've sang since you were 5 or it has the beautiful melody or the bridge almost always causes a tear to form in your eye. But if we are singing these songs with a heart that loves sin, God doesn't want to hear them.
Doctrinal fidelity does matter. I think songs that are more 'me centered' and devoid of any clear gospel or could be sung to a boyfriend/girlfriend just as well as to Jesus do tend to be more dangerous in deceiving our hearts. We sometimes think that by virtue of us singing how much we love Jesus that it automatically makes it so, all the while our hearts are clinging to sin. Or we can sing the same line of a song so many times that we are convinced we believe it even if our hearts aren't really submitting to the truth (the Senior Saints call these '7/11' songs – 7 words sang 11x!). So, singing songs that are gospel heavy, doctrinally sound, and Godward focused is vital. However, doctrinally sound songs don't necessarily preclude noisy-ness. It's reasonable to assume that the Israelites were singing at least a portion of the Psalms. Is there anything more doctrinally sound than songs breathed out by God Himself? Your lips can go on autopilot singing some of the most beautiful and gospel-rich songs ever written all the while your heart is not truly on the same page. Instead, it's secretly in love with gossip, sexual immorality, drunkenness, the idolatry of Sports, greed, lying, and the list goes on. It would be like telling your wife how much you love her while fantasizing about another woman. It's spiritual adultery. Singing the right type of songs does not necessarily mean that God is pleased with our worship. He's after our hearts.
So, how do we avoid singing noisy songs?
You guessed correctly: it begins with the heart. It's a really tragic endeavor to create an atmosphere of worship that thousands of people want to be part of but that the Triune God wants no part in. You need to remember that our hearts can be terribly deceitful and even compel us to continue in noisy singing simply because it makes us feel good and numbs out the reality of our situation.
Does your whole heart belong to the Lord?
When you sing, is it an act of faith trusting in the great promises you're singing about? Are you approaching God as though He must accept you by virtue of your attendance at a worship service or are you clinging to the hope of the gospel that God accepts you based on the finished work of Christ? Is there sin in your heart that maybe even others don't know about that you need to repent of, trusting that the blood of Jesus is enough to cover even that sin? Whatever you are clinging to other than Jesus, it's not worth it, turn from it and trust Christ.
We can also avoid singing noisy songs by taking more seriously the corporate worship of God's people. If Sunday mornings are just 'sometimes' given to the Lord, then you're not taking worship seriously. If Sunday mornings are something you just 'show up to' without any thought of the 'one anothers' of Scripture or any prayer for your leaders or your own heart, then perhaps you could stand to take worship a little more seriously. Christianity is personal, don't get me wrong. But it's not just personal. If you miss the seriousness of the corporate aspect of Christianity, you are missing a big portion of the Bible.
We can further avoid noisy songs by remembering that the heart is not meant to lead but to be led. This means that truth must inform our worship. Yes, it's true that we can get stuck in truth without feeling but I think the more prevelant danger in many places is feeling without truth. Knowing who God is, what He has done, and how that applies to our lives is vital for true worship.
The people of God are singing people because we serve a singing God (Zephaniah 3:17). As His image bearers, we delight to sing to Him for who He is and what He has done for us through the work of Christ. What a travesty to let singing become mere formality and noise!
I want to encourage you that the gospel is still big enough to address the sin of noisy singing. Jesus' death is still enough to cleanse us of the sin of mere formality in worship. So, rest in Jesus today and don't sing noisy songs.
Editor's Note: This originally published at Allen Nelson's blog.