Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Thoughts on Worship

As Anthem approaches this Friday night, I have been thinking a lot about worship.

Here are a couple statements that I think the church needs to hear. I hope the next generation will get closer to God's intent for our worship of His great name.

1. We are not nearly as physically expressive (i.e. clapping, raising hands, kneeling, etc) as we ought to be in worship.

Consider the following...
- We've all inherited the unfortunate Greek view of our bodies as unspiritual.
(For the smart version of what I'm saying, click here for the article by George Eldon Ladd)

- The Psalms are laced with examples of lifting hands in worship, bowing in prayer, clapping and on it goes. I'm pretty sure the Psalmist wasn't "clapping the hands of his heart" or "lifting the hands of the soul"... Here are just of few of the many examples I'm talking about...

Ps 77:2 When I was in distress, e I sought the Lord; at night f I stretched out untiring hands g

Ps 88:9 I call r to you, O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands s to you.

Ps 119:48 I lift up my hands to 212 your commands, which I love, and I meditate v on your decrees.

Ps 134:1 Praise the LORD, all you servants r of the LORD who minister s by night t in the house of the LORD.

Ps 134:2 Lift up your hands u in the sanctuary v and praise the LORD. w

Ps 143:6 I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

- C.S. Lewis says it this way in Screwtape Letters (two demons having a conversation)...

At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.

- The various Hebrew words that are all translated as the one word "praise" in our Bibles...

Barach- to kneel

Halal- shout, cry aloud

Ranan- shout for joy, give a ringing cry

Yadah- to throw or to cast- declaring the attributes of God (i.e. palms out toward God)

Towdah- extension of hand- thanksgiving

Zamar- to make music

Shabach- to address in a loud tone; loud adoration; to cheer and make your boast in God

2. The worship of the modern church is often boring, unengaging, shoddy, stoic, and not nearly as passionate (dare I say, "emotional") as it ought to be.

Don't get me wrong, I agree wholeheartedly with Stuart Briscoe that "anything worth doing is worth doing poorly." If all your church (or you personally) can do is a poor job of worship (out of tune, out of pitch, monotone- whatever) it's still worth worshiping God.

But I'm talking about the pathos of our worship. It's languid and lame, when it should be alive and compelling.

I think there are theological reasons for our present state. The Copernican Revolution of my soul happened after hearing John Piper speak for the first time at the first Passion conference in 1997. It was like drinking out of a fire hydrant. Desiring God is his most definitive work. An example of something Piper might say... Psalm 37 commands us to "delight ourselves in the LORD"- how can we be commanded to feel something about God, namely delight?

But practically, over 80,000 Nebraska fans gathered in a sold out Memorial Stadium (tickets were going for $100) to watch a spring game. That's a glorified practice. A scrimmage! To be sure, I would've been there if I could've.

But seriously, isn't passionate celebration of God's glory more warranted than the passion that goes into an athletic event?

I often hear "high culture" Christians say, "With all the repeated choruses, simple and often repeated chord structures, it's obvious contemporary worship plays too much off the emotions."

I think there's some theological snobbery in this statement. Have you heard what the Israelites sang in 1 Chronicles, "The Lord is good. His love endures forever" or in Revelation "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God Almighty..."?

I hate to state the obvious, but I think that's why God gave us music- to evoke emotion (One note can change the whole emotion of a chord...get a guitar and play an E major, then remove your pointer finger and it's an E minor. In one note you went from Psalm 100 to Psalm 42 (or worse, Psalm 89).

I think music is to the emotions what sentences are to the mind.

Therefore, we should use it to the best of our creative abilities to compel the soul Godward.

Cicero said there are three functions of rhetoric: To motivate, delight, and teach (Motivere, Delectere, Docere). St. Augustine would later add the "amen" to this pagan philosopher's conclusion. I would apply this to our worship. (I often add this bit about Cicero just so I can feel good about the thousands of dollars I spent getting a degree in speech communication)

Our worship needs to move people toward action, bring delight in God, and say something true about our God, who reigns in majesty unbounded.

So with Anthem coming up on Friday, I believe that now, more than ever, we need to use the God given musical expression as the means to connect truth with the soul longing of the next generation- a culture of emotional and spiritual orphans.


clarkitect said...

As I looked over your blog for the first time today, your "Thoughts on Worship" caught my attention. Yesterday evening at D6, I was sitting among all the kids down front during opening worship. This is not where I typically sit, but since I was playing "Tyler," it is where I was placed. Being "in character" I found myself letting go of any inhibitions. Playing "Tyler" let me worship more honestly than I ever had before. I found my "in character" self, around all those kids excited for God, dancing, jumping, and singing as loud as I could (or making noise as loud as I could) wrapped up in all the excitement at the fact it was the last D6 of the year. What transpired was one of the greatest "worship" experiences I have ever had. (I believe we have abused the word worship to include only music and singing, when the word itself hails from worth-- what is worth most to us is our worship.) So, I immediately became convicted when I collapsed (right before having to go dance and sing on stage) completely spent from worship. I had truly engaged all my senses to worship Christ. Now, why can I not even raise a hand on Sunday? Why am I worried about "pleasing" men during worship when worship is solely for God? My actions should reflect my heart during worship. I find myself easily solemn during worship, and rightfully so at the appropriate times. However, why does my "body not affect my soul" during worship when I am overjoyed, thankful, or excited about God. God worked something in me that last night of D6, and as often happens, when I least expected it. Then, to come across your blog today only echoes the Holy Spirit clanging inside of me. Thank you.

bub said...

I just found your blog from Ed's. I can't wait to read more of it. I love this entry though. I am totally guilty of this. Thanks for pointing it out to me. Hopefully I can get out of myself more (I mean I'm shy, but I've been a performing musician for years, I'm not that shy) and not be so afraid of what I think others will think. Again, thanks.