having had the privilege of worshipping with so many different folks over the years -traditional/contemporary, liturgical/charismatic and so forth- the one thing i hear most often (usually as an intellectual critique) is the idea that the hymns written and sung in more contemporary contexts are too “me” focused and not communal, too much jesus language lacking trinitarian inclusiveness and the lyrics are trite and too repetitive. OUCH!!
now let me start by saying, yes, i know that there are some sorry excuses for songs out there in EVERY genre. as many poorly written p&w (praise &worship) songs that there are, we cannot deny that over half of those hymns in the hymnals are unknown and unsung for a reason….
i believe our worship must engage the whole of our being not merely the space between the brain and the lips. is the “me” not important in my worship of the one who created my being? i think even the most famous hymn writers of the past saw the need for our own vulnerability and confession toward god -“then sings my soul, my saviour god to thee,” “be thou my vision, o lord of my heart,” “great is thy faithfulness, lord unto me.” i believe that the me centered-ness has less to do with who i think i am but it is who i know god to be. it is a recognition that i am in need of this god that i worship. like guests we welcome into our home for the first time, the conversation usually remains surface-y and factual. however, as relationships grow and flourish it is only through intimacy that we learn to love….conversations move beyond the weather and what i think to how i feel about this or that -my fears, joys, hopes, and needs. this is what i LOVE about the psalms and david’s intimate relationship with god told through hymns and songs -these are prayers evident of relationship!
great leaders, artists, musicians, spouses, parents and friends know that repetition is not only the key to memory, increased communication and productivity but carries incredible weight in any relationship. i know for me, as one who grew up in a family where the words “i love you” were never spoken, i love, need, and thrive every time those words are uttered to me. repetition is good. i know when i was leading a large team of musicians and artists, it was imperative that i repeated the vision, expectations and encouragements over and over again for cohesiveness and morale. repetition is good. in this way, my words and songs of worship and adoration, repetitive as it may be, carries such weight. this repetition is not from an insufficient vocabulary or lack of intellectual fervor but it is that i find the words to hold prophetic and profound meaning, even in the simplest of phrases. no, it may not ring with the proclamation of what i believe doctrinally such as when we sing the creeds but my song is the story of redemption, thanksgiving and transformation.
too jesus centered…. perhaps? however, when we speak of one, are we not implying the relationship within the triune godhead? according to john, for to know christ, is to also know the father who sent him. the son, as the giver of the spirit to the hearts of god’s people, enables our participation within the triune life of god. in other words, the spirit allows within us the ability to know god and see the good that has been freely given to us from god. so, as we profess god in the person of christ, the spirit then shines a light or mediates knowledge of our own humanity. it is this recognition that brings forth raw and desperate worship, calling on the name of jesus, while the spirit participates in our uttering.
let us not rush too quickly in silencing the diverse voices of worship. god dwells in the praises of god’s people, whether arising from the great hymns of the early church or the fresh songs of the now. it is not only about what we do but about the relationship between what we do and the transformation that flows out of it. may our worship, our lives, be as incense -pleasing and acceptable to god.