Tag Archives: singing

Psalm 96; 6 Observations about Singing in Worship.

(Disclaimer: There are a great many wonderful worship songs that are loaded with powerful truths about God. Indeed, Sovereign Grace Music, Townsend, the Getty’s, Shane and Shane, Matt Boswell, Matt Papa, and many more are writing wonderful music that exalts God and leads the church into authentic worship. This is not intended to be a critique of modern church music, but an exhortation towards authentic, Scriptural worship.)

One of the great joys of planting a church is that you get to wear many hats. In my particular church, I am the teaching pastor and the worship leader. This is partly out of necessity, but it is also due to the gifting that my wife and I have. My wife is a classical pianist by trade and I am a decent worship leader. My weaknesses tend to be in the area of administration, but that is for another time. Week in and week out I labor to find songs that glorify God and inspire the congregation to praise God. Sometimes I fail at this, sometimes I succeed, always I delight in the process of praise.

Reading through the Psalms is a beautiful way to learn to lead worship. Today, I’d like to look at Psalm 96. Below are 6 observations about worship that we can see in the Psalm, then 3 exhortations to congregants as a result, and then three encouragements to worship leaders.

So, let’s see what we might learn from Psalm 96 about worship.

In Psalm 96 we are admonished to “sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD all the earth!”

What does this exhortation teach us about praise and singing?

  1. The motivation for our praise is not circumstantial. This exhortation does not come with qualifying remarks such as, ‘if you feel like it’ or ‘if God has met your every desire.’ Instead, this particular psalm says “Sing to the LORD…For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised!” The motivation for singing is centralized on the character and nature of God. We sing because we see Him! We sing because He is God! Indeed, the Psalm begins by declaring God’s greatness and concludes by awaiting His judgment on the earth.
  2. The timing and conditions of praise are God’s to decide. Too often we seem content to praise the LORD on our own terms. We come to a gathering and sing, if we feel like it or if the music is good. But we fail to ask what His terms are. As a result, we rob ourselves of the powerful experience of worshiping through adversity. Perhaps God wants us to sing when we do not feel like it. Perhaps God wants to see us push past our own hearts and struggle to see His. After all, God did name His chosen people, “Israel” meaning “One who wrestles with God.” Seems like God likes to wrestle with us.
  3. Praise is a corporate reality! We praise well when we sing together. In this Psalm, we are admonished to bring our families along in worship and “ascribe to Him Glory and strength” in verse seven. We are called to come into the court with praise and praise Him among the nations. Singing is a corporate responsibility for the people of God. This Psalm admonishes us to join with the corporate body and even the entire earth in singing praise to God (c.f. v.11 and 12).
  4. Praise requires sacrifice. We are encouraged to bring an offering before the LORD when we come to join in praise. Worshiping the Lord in song requires a sacrifice of self just like every other act of worship. Did you know that the first time worship is mentioned in the Bible is when Abraham is going to sacrifice Isaac? The first mention of the word worship is tied to a tremendous act of sacrifice. Worship is sacrifice. We must bring before the LORD offerings of our lives, comfort, and even simple petty possessive pleasures; only then will worship begin to flow out of us in spirit and in truth through song.
  5. God is to be worshiped “in the splendor of holiness” with trembling (v.9). Consider for a moment what that means. It means that you are going to delight in worship only when God is supremely lifted up as glorious above all others. It also means that you are going to recognize the severity of what you are doing when you sing praise to the Almighty. When you join in singing during corporate worship, is God’s glory truly what you are recognizing? Are you seeking to raise Him up? If not, then we fail to worship. Further, the psalmist gives us a powerful reminder that the LORD is going to judge the earth, yet, there is no fear in the psalmist’s tone. He is not afraid, because he knows the Judge. Likewise, we sing with severity, but also with joy. We recognize the judgment of the Lord is coming and will land on the earth. But we know the judge and He is just and merciful! So with severe joy, we worship the Lord in song.
  6. Worship is not about us. It is about the One being worshiped. In this psalm, God is the focus of singing praise. Indeed, in every song of praise, it is God who is the focus. He is the motive, He is the subject, and He is the one about whom we sing.

Three Encouragements for Congregations

  1. Strive to worship regardless of the song. It is easy to be critical of the songs we sing at church. It is easy to dissect lyrics and judge a song as errant. However, if you are in a healthy church and the leaders are striving to maintain truth, then give them the benefit of the doubt and strive to worship. Try to see past particular wordings and focus on truths you can see about God. If you cannot, in good conscience sing a particular song, then strive to pray during that song instead.
  2. Bring words of encouragement to your leaders with every critique. Worship leaders get critique all the time. As a result, it is sometimes exhausting to hear people talk about worship music. You will guide your own heart into worship if you begin by thinking about what is good rather than what you want to critique. Further, the Psalms seem to indicate that singing is a corporate reality. So, recognize that you have as much to do with worshiping as the leader. Strive to lead from your seat. Sing loud! Then when a song does not land well with you, go to the person who selects the songs and then talk to them about that song. Tell them what is good in the song first, then discuss what is difficult for you. In this way, you will engage in corporate worship even when having difficulties.
  3. Sing! There is no greater encouragement to a worship leader than the voices of the congregation. Sing, and sing loud. We know you are thinking deeply. We know that sometimes you don’t feel like singing. We know that the music is not always your style. We know because we feel the same way. Worship leaders don’t always want to sing either. Sing anyway. Remember the Psalmist’s example – singing is not about your feelings or circumstances. It is about the character of God. Prepare for worship ahead of time by reading your Bible and praying. Get a picture of God before you enter into worship. Lay your sacrifice before the Lord and SING!

Three Encouragements for Worship Leaders

  1. Choose songs that are about God, not us. So many of the songs in our churches are narcissistic in nature. American churches often sing songs about the way we feel and call it praise. But songs about us do not praise! We exalt our own experience above the truth by proclaiming our own experiences in place of the deep truths of God’s character. Don’t misunderstand, there are numerous examples of Psalmists citing their feelings or experience towards God, but the praise always results from a recognition of God’s character. Indeed, when we lead others in singing, we ought to strive to display the character and nature of God so thoroughly in our music that people cannot help but praise.
  2. Sing songs that are easy to sing. This is more a simple practical thing. Your song selection may be beautiful and loaded with great content. However beautiful the song may be, if people cannot sing it, then you are not leading worship. Some easy ways to teach a song are 1. Repeat verses so people can get the melody, 2. Repeat new songs for two weeks then skip one week and do it again the next week, 3. Make your worship list available online for people to listen to the week of service, 4. Talk about the meaning of the songs you sing with members of the congregation.
  3. Worship in transparency. We don’t always feel like worshiping. Sometimes, as leaders, we would rather not lay our hearts bare before the Lord… but worship is not about our feelings or our circumstance. Worship is about God! Be honest with your brothers and sisters and tell the people when you are struggling. Let them see you push through to worship the Lord in tears or difficulty. Lead people to think deeply and engage with God in transparency. Let people know what is going on inside you and worship with a little transparency.

An Open Letter to Worship Leaders: 3 Thoughts to consider.

I love worship music. I mean it. I love the emotion, the unique chord shapes, the sometimes nonsensical symbolism, the poetic nuance, and even the melodic dynamics. I love worship music… but… In the last decade, most mainstream worship music has deteriorated to symbolic emotional twaddle. Often our songs are loaded with vague, unexplained images of water or fire. Vague imagery and ambiguous pledges to follow without a context of direction or command make the songs feel as though the writer knows little to nothing about the Spirit of which they are writing. The music follows a pattern that climbs to an emotional climax and the melody is designed to illicit a climactic buzz at the chorus. While there are some great examples of powerful, meaningful worship music writers, the majority of what is being espoused as great worship is really nothing more than trite and unbiblical efforts to conjure up emotional responses.

So I have a simple request for worship music writers: Stop it. I mean it… You’re hurting my people. Your shallow attempts at poetry, masked by unique chord structures and strings are luring the people of Christ into a state of theological impotency. You make confusing allusions to biblical stories that don’t make sense, create difficult environments for pastors who want to disciple their people well, and fail to actually challenge believers to live what they believe. You put on a great show that brings glory to your talent and satisfies the need of a few people to cry and feel some emotional catharsis.

I know it is difficult to write music that is received by the church. It is difficult to write in such a way to connect AND teach. Your job is hard, and I get that. I have three things that I would like you to consider when writing worship music for the church.

Music is Portable Theology

First: music teaches, it is portable theology. Take it seriously when you write. Music is one of the most powerful means of teaching that the church can use. It engages people at a level that mere discourse cannot begin to equal. The melodies and rhythms drive deep into the minds of people and help to crystallize truth into the heart of the one who is singing along. The repetition helps to solidify the memory. The corporate singing aspect helps to validate and normalize the truths proclaimed in the songs. The Bible says teachers will be judged by a stricter standard in James 3:1. Further, Mathew 18:6/ Mark 9:42 warns teachers not to cause others to stumble, saying it would be better to drown. So, be careful and take your job seriously. Your job is not to engage the emotions of people, it is to teach the truth through music!

Poetry is best when it is understood.

Second: Poetry is best when it is understood. I love poetry. Seriously. I’m not a good poet, but I write it myself. In fact, I’ve got a book of poems I’m going to publish soon (editing it now). I love the works of Kahlil Gibran, William Cowper, and William Blake. Poetry moves the soul and challenges the mind. The best poetry makes deep and difficult truths understandable. The best poetry is revelatory, not hidden. Please note: I did not say that poetry is easy. Your poetry can be difficult to grasp and that is fine. But it must lead people to understanding, not confusion. So it is with worship music. Make your poetry beautifully complex, but also wonderfully expository. When poetry is vague and easily misinterpreted, it hides truth and confuses people. Reveal truth through your poetic efforts by being exact. Vague references to water or fire are confusing without any context. Utilize your poetic talents to wrap the truths in context and exposition. Strive to Explain and teach about God and His character through your music. The Scripture is full of poetry that is designed to do this. Copy God’s example of praise and worship.

Songs should call us to love Jesus.

Third: Write songs that challenge people to love Jesus more deeply. The most powerful songs in the church are songs that challenge people to love and obey Jesus. They are songs that engage people on a deep level while simultaneously praising Jesus’ character in a way that challenges. These songs need to be formed within an established context of truth that will fortify the congregation’s love for Jesus. It is no good to call upon the name of the Lord and pledge that you are going to follow Him without actually making any declarative statements about where He wants us to go or what He wants us to do. It is no good to say, “I love you” without establishing anything about Him worthy of love. You may understand where God wants you to go or what it is about Jesus that is worthy of love, but the average person singing music in the congregation may not. So make the statement! State truths about God that will challenge our hearts to love Him more. Be as specific as possible and dig deep into the character of God. I want to be clear, it is not necessary that you constantly display incredibly difficult and deep truth that boggles the mind. It is necessary that you constantly display truth. You can write simple songs. But those songs must espouse clear truth and they must lead to a deeper love of Christ.

I lead worship at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria. I am also the teaching pastor. At our church, we strive to think deeply when we sing. We encourage our people to engage their entire being (heart and mind) when in corporate worship. If you want to be a part of a group of people trying to do this, albeit imperfectly at times, come check us out. http://www.sgfbrazoria.org.