Tag Archives: worship

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.
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3 Things to Incorporate in Worship: Reasons for art as worship part 4

tim-marshall-76166-unsplashThe tears streamed down my face as I sought for reason. My mind, racing, was not able to process the mercy set before me and my heart offered no reprieve from the overwhelming emotion welling up inside me. I could not comprehend the feelings and despair within my soul. The expression of my heart could not be explained in a simple paragraph. I needed an exposition that resonated with the soul and not just the mind. I needed a psalm that would cross the divide of the intellect and provide a glimpse into the soul. I needed God’s creative expression. I needed Him to speak to me in art.

G.K. Chesterton asserts that “poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger [of madness] does lie in logic, not in imagination… The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” –Chesterton’s Orthodoxy

slice-of-heaven-horizontal-abstract-art-jaison-cianelliG.K. Chesterton, no matter the historical accuracy of his claim, makes a good point. It is in poetry and art that we are lifted to heaven. It is the imaginings of God’s glory that set us free to soar upon the wings of the unmerited favor of God! When we face those moments of despair and find ourselves in deep need of a vision of God’s glory, logic and reason often fall flat. In these moments of tremendous anxiety and difficulty, God offers a balm for the soul through art. The expressions we find in art lifts our soul, causing us to ascend into the heavens – where we can engage the presence of God beyond the trappings of the earth. Art has a way of exalting the human frame to otherwise unattainable heights. Art has a way of answering the desperate longing of the soul for expressions beyond reason and logic.

 

In light of this profound reality, I’d like to suggest three things you can add to your corporate and private worship.

NUYO-2

 

  1. Poetry draws the hearer to engage. It requires mental energy. In this way, poetry is difficult. Yet, the same difficulty required in order to engage with poetry is also fueled by the very same activity. As a worshiper invests their mind in the activity of poetic engagement, so the mind is raised to new heights and the soul is given the fire of deep and abiding joy! So use poetry… not merely as an illustration for a sermon or as a delivery system for an ideology. No, use poetry in your worship. Read it aloud, encourage your people to write and share it, make strides to sculpt and craft your transitions in a poetic manner.yannis-papanastasopoulos-586848-unsplash
  2. There are members of your congregation that do not sing. There is a silent, underutilized expression that rests in the heart of someone in your congregation. Free their expression to exalt the Most High! Encourage members to produce artwork and then give them space to display it. As you do this, you will see your people engaging the Lord and each other in a new and liberating way. Further, you will give voice to the hearts of some of the most profound theologians in your church. Not everyone sings, not everyone gives speeches… some have another unique ability to express themselves.
  3. Opportunities for verbal praise. Occasionally in our congregation, we will ask our people to verbalize something about God or prayers in short sentences. For example we will say, “let’s proclaim the greatness of our God! Speak out something glorious about Him.” Then someone will say something like, “Lord You are merciful!” and someone else will follow, “Lord You are mighty!” So the praise begins to echo around the room and individuals praise openly. This is a powerful aid to the worship of the soul.

God has given you many creative outlets to incorporate in worship. Any I missed that you would encourage!? Put them in the comments, I’d like to stretch more.

For an example of poetry and art that can be used in worship I have attempted to journey within this reality through these two works:

ReCreated_4Re-created; a poetic walk through the gospel of John. This is a poetic exegesis of the Gospel of John. It is the fruit of a two-year journey through the Gospel.
If you’d like to order this work,
it is available at Amazon.com here and at Lulu.com here.
For a specially discounted copy, comment on this blog with an email address and I’ll send you a link.

The Bird’s Psalm:
TheBirdPsalmcover85kdp copyThis is a short poem with sketches of a bird that is the result of my own personal worship times in the course of 3 days.
available at Lulu.com for $4.80 here
and at Amazon.com for $6 here

How to do a Corporate Worship Painting

I’ve been asked a few times in the last couple months how to do a corporate worship painting. Other ministers are anxious to expand their church’s understanding of corporate worship and they view this as an opportunity to do so. Here is an older post that explains what worship paintings are https://noviselkins.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/worship-a-collision-of-expression/

Below are a quick explanation and instructions on how to do it. Hopefully, you will enjoy.

Why Worship Painting?

“Worship is the reaction of the God observer.” –Kyle Dunn.

I’m pretty sure Kyle was quoting someone else, but he is the one I heard say this phrase. I remember hearing him articulate this truth when I was a sophomore in college. It shattered my pre-conceived ideas as to what it meant to worship. To be clear, I understood the concept of “worship as a way of life.” I grasped that you could “live a life of song before God.” But I was missing the simplification of the definition. Worship is reaction to God. When humanity is confronted by God, worship is the response to that observation.

Worship therefore, is expression. It is some form of expression in response to God. That expression can be anything, but it is an expression. Often in the western church we restrict that expression to song. Worship, in particular corporate worship is done solely in song or prayer. Not every worshiper sings. Some worshipers dance, some write, some compose poetry, some think deeply, some work and serve,… and some paint. All are valid expressions of worship. All can be done corporately. All require a little stretching from the congregations that choose to engage in them. But knowing God also requires some stretching. So stretch on!

Painting is particularly unique. It is strange and distant to most of us. Painting is not something that comes natural to our western culture. As a form of expression, it is hard to nail down. But it is, without debate, expression. So, it is a perfect form of expression to stretch our abilities. Further, painting can be reviewed. It is not something that is shot into the void like a song that we sing or a poem we recite. It is a form of expression that lasts and develops more meaning the longer we look at it. So, stretch… paint your expression of worship and enjoy.

How to do a Worship Painting

Several years ago I determined to stretch my own congregation’s ability to worship. We did a corporate worship painting together and it was awesome! I tried to plan this sort of worship at least twice a year. Below are some simple instructions on how to do it.

First step: Prepare your congregation

Teach on Worship. The first step is to get people to understand this is an act of worship. In order to do that we must do some teaching on the nature of corporate worship.

  1. Each of us brings our own unique expression to the canvas of worship- Much like worship in song, every person has a unique voice in worship. All the voices unite together in one song to God. So it is with painting. Each person has a unique expression through the brush. It is best when we paint the same canvas and those expressions interact.
  2. Those expressions are best when they interact with one another in praise to God- This is important. We must understand that worship is not a matter of better or worse. It is a matter of expression. God does not measure your worship by the guy sitting next to you. Rather, it is by your purity of heart.
  3. Sometimes our expressions cover over others or change others expressions- When worshipers unite, some voices lay foundations that others build on. Some voices are brought to the forefront and some exist in the background. So it is with corporate worship paintings. It is important to understand that your expression might be covered up or altered by someone else’s and that’s ok. It is in the laying down of the expression that God is exalted. Your expression is valued by God even when it is unseen by man.
  4. Worship is most beautiful to God when all the individual expressions of worship unite and combine to make one unique expression. – Here is the crux of corporate worship paintings! You are granted the privilege of joining in with a body of believers to worship the King of Glory. Make a unique expression of worship by allowing the voices in your congregation to respond to God.

Second Step: Prepare your materials

Things you need to buy:

  1. A large canvas
  2. A can of spray paint to lay down a background color. (optional)
  3. A variety of acrylic paints (I always bought “Basic” brand acrylic paints. Tip: stay away from craft paints… they are lesser quality and you end up paying for it in the long run.)
  4. Nice paint brushes of various sizes.
  5. Paper/ Styrofoam plates to act as pallets for the paint
  6. Canvas Drop-cloths (buy a nice, large drop-cloth. You wont regret having it. It will protect the surface around the canvas AND add to the atmosphere whereas cheap stuff might detract.)
  7. Workable fixative spray and Crystal Clear Spray (Krylon brand clear coating for acrylic paints)
  8. Brush cleaning supplies: Some paint thinner to clean the brushes, mineral spirits, two jars, a tin can with holes punched in the bottom (optional.).

Things to do to prepare

  1. Decide if you want a background color and spray paint the canvas that color. Let it dry for 24 hours.
  2. Lay out your drop-cloth
  3. Lay your canvas out in a well-lit area that allows for access to the canvas from all sides. (I used floor lamps and spot lights to illuminate the canvas.)
  4. Put brushes, plates, and paints around the canvas.
  5. Pray that God would be pleased by the worship of His people. Pray that you would honor the Lord in your expression as a body. Pray.

Third Step: Enjoy worship.

  1. Explain what a corporate worship painting is. (See step one) You may want to encourage people to paint without words. Because painting is so unique, often we respond by writing words on the canvas and it can diminish the power of expression. So, sometimes I’ve made a rule that you cannot use words.
  2. Teach a passage of Scripture that will allow the observation of God.
  3. Play worship music
  4. Paint with them… I sometimes found it helpful to just go ahead and start. So, I’d pick up a plate and squeeze some paint onto it and start painting. It may take a minute for people to be struck with something, but once one person does, then usually the floodgates open.

Practically, the painting time looks like this:

  1. You explain worship
  2. You teach a passage
  3. You turn on some music and set the atmosphere to focus on the canvas
  4. You paint

Fourth Step: Clean up

  1. Clean the brushes (here’s a video for that) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIphtJDte9E
  2. Put some mineral spirits on your brushes and store them where they can dry.
  3. Spray the canvas with Crystal clear coat. This will keep the acrylics from cracking over time.
  4. Pick up all paints, throw away used pallets (if you’re going to do multiple days of painting you can put plastic wrap on the pallets to keep the paint from drying out. But there is no reason to try and preserve the paint if you are not doing multiple days in a row.)
  5. Hang the painting where people can see it in the weeks to come. This will serve as a reminder of what corporate worship is and will allow people to reflect on the work of worship.

Tips:

Prepare to respond to people who think this is too weird. It might be too weird for some. Ask those people for grace in understanding that different people worship differently and this is just one opportunity to do so. Assure them that their voice is not lost.

Prepare to encourage those whose expressions are covered up by other people. This is difficult to handle. Because worship is so personal, it is easy to take offense when someone knowingly or unwittingly covers your expression. That is why you must explain this carefully as a part of worship and encourage interactivity and respect for another’s expression.

Watch out for the one who is not worshiping but drawing something that has nothing to do with the Lord. I remember kneeling next to a boy who was painting his favorite football team’s emblem on our worship canvas. I recognized what he was doing and asked him, “Hey bro, can you tell me what your painting?” He was honest. I asked, “What does that have to do with God? Can you make it into something that praises God?” He altered his design and painted something different. It was an awkward whispered conversation. But it did the trick and worship was enhanced.

Overlook offense. Corporate worship is messy when it is done correctly. Just prepare to be offended.

Finally: touch the painting up afterward. I always had a few artists that would come and touch up the painting when we were finished. They were careful to only add highlights and to enhance what others had done. In this way, the corporate expression was not altered but enhanced.

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.