Monday, July 27, 2020

Anonymous Asks (103)

“What is one way you can worship God without using music?”

Must I pick only one?

Okay then, but first, a word about music as worship.

I’m very glad someone actually asked this question, because it hints at just how many evangelicals think of worship almost exclusively in connection with congregational singing, and have not given much thought to whether there are better ways to worship God than in the middle of belting out a cheesy modern melody and waving your arms around ... or worse, pummeling your drum kit.

The Hebrew word most frequently translated “worship” is shachah. In Greek the word is proskyneŇć, which is similar. Both mean to bow down, to submit, to show reverence and humility. Worship is the recognition of superior rank. It requires the worshiper to take his attention off himself and his surroundings, and direct it toward the object of worship. If we keep that in mind when we are singing, we may start to notice how often the words we are mouthing are about ourselves, our blessings, our feelings and our requests for help at being a better Christian. These things are all perfectly fine sentiments. It is good to be grateful to God and happy in his presence for what he has given us, and aspiring to be a better Christian is very important. It just isn’t worship, and if we insist on calling it that, it’s no wonder our ideas about worship become a little confused or watered-down compared to the sort of worship we find in the Bible.

A Few Worshipful Scenarios

You may be surprised to find just how infrequently the Bible associates singing with worship:
  • When Abraham said to his young men, “I and the boy will go over there and worship”, he and Isaac were not tuning up their electric guitars. They were carrying wood with the intention of giving God something very precious to Abraham.
  • When Abraham’s servant was divinely guided to find a wife for his master’s son, and all the pieces fell into place for him perfectly in answer to prayer, he didn’t break into falsetto. Instead, he got down on the earth “before the Lord” in awe of God’s absolute mastery of events. Rachel’s family must have wondered what that was all about.
  • When God condemned the worship of “other gods”, he was not worried about the Contemporary Christian Top 10 being filled with sweet odes to Baal. He was concerned that his people not pledge allegiance to false deities who could not satisfy them or direct their lives in any profitable way.
  • When Hezekiah restored the temple, the Levites “sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped”. There it sounds like the singing of praises led to or accompanied an act of worship; however, the singing itself is not said to be worship, but rather “praise”.
  • When the wise men came to came to worship the “king of the Jews”, they didn’t bring a choir. They brought costly gifts. Like the worshipers of the Old Testament, they fell down in his presence.
But you get the idea.

Worshipful Music

Now, it is certainly possible for music to be sung worshipfully, in an attitude of humble reverence and contemplation of God’s greatness. I would argue that this is probably a great deal less common in church than we think it is. That shouldn’t surprise us: it’s fairly difficult to sing when you have your face to the ground, even if only metaphorically. The lyrics of some of our older hymns were written to inspire worship, and capable of leading Christians in that direction if they were in the mood to go, but even back when those words were sung slowly and reverently, not everybody always worshiped. I speak from personal experience on that.

With much of today’s music it is harder still. Thinking about God while trying to get the next complex chord change right is difficult. Even watching someone else do it is often distracting. And calling a songleading group a “worship team” does not necessarily make what they are doing worshipful at all. I fear much modern church singing is done more out of habit, duty, preference or even the desire to be front-and-center on stage, than out of a heartfelt desire to dwell on God’s glory.

Picking a Replacement

Well, with that said, with music’s utility as the primary vehicle of biblical worship dismissed, or at very least severely downgraded, I suppose I ought to at least pick us a replacement. For many reasons, my personal favorite way to worship is in silent awe. I highly recommend it, not least because everyone — men, women, children, mature Christians and brand new Christians — can engage in it equally. We are not all articulate people. Even those who are articulate are not all permitted to express themselves out loud in church at every moment. But we can all feel, and we can all stop talking about ourselves for a second, bow our heads and hearts and shut up in the presence of God. When we turn our hearts to think about the greatness of God, we experience none of the limitations of a formal gathering: anything the Holy Spirit has said about God and the Lord Jesus in his word is fair game to wash over our hearts and, we hope, ascend to heaven.

And yet some people really want to worship audibly. Let me suggest that our prayers, both corporately and individually, are intended to contain more worship that they often do. I know I most often find myself praying in “request mode”, whether for forgiveness or for the filling of a particular need. And yet the “template” prayer the Lord gave his disciples, if you don’t mind me calling it that, contains a whole bunch of worship. “Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven ... Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.” That’s about half the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ right there. If we merely recite that like a formula, it will do nothing for us and nothing for God. But if we think thoughts like that, and put them in our own words and really mean them, then perhaps we will be headed in the right direction.

How much of a priority do we make the worship aspect of our prayers? If we are looking for a way to worship God apart from (or instead of) music, that might be a great place to start.

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