Thursday, April 29, 2010


Here I go again. Agonizing over worship.

I recently found a blog by a man named Bob Kauflin. He seems to be genuine and sincere, intelligent and Biblically based. I really respect a lot of the things he says and most of what he stands for. He demonstrates humility and a burning passion for the glory of God.

He is a church musician, a.k.a. "worship leader." And therein is my stumbling block. The a.k.a. part, I mean.

It is so hard, so very, very hard for me to live with the idea that "my worship" is how I respond to the music in my church. There is something about this idea that just sits very badly in my spirit. It causes me no end of angst. I don't believe that Jesus meant for it to be this way.

I read Mr. Kaufman's blog and was impressed. I wondered if the Lord were convicting me of a wrong heart towards contemporary Christian music. I prayed and resolved to approach things at my church with a fresh perspective. I listened to samples of Mr. Kaufman's music (he writes a lot himself). I actually kind of liked a few of his songs. Some of them I did not care for very much, but I could recognize that concern for the centrality of Jesus' sacrifice and attention to theological detail had gone into the crafting of the lyrics. "Is God calling me to learn to like contemporary Christian music?" I wondered. If that's what God wants me to do, I need to be willing to do it, otherwise I am in disobedience, whether or not worship is more than musical expression in a corporate gathering.

On Sunday, I went to church with a hopeful attitude. Surprisingly, most of the songs on the program that day were older ones (from the 1990s) that I actually knew; they were not all new, unfamiliar ones. Although I can't remember what they were, I relaxed into the music and began singing in a looser way than usual, less binding up in my heart and throat.

I relaxed and sang, closed my eyes and let my head fall back. I felt good. And then, suddenly, I realized what I was singing: "In all I do, I honor You... In all I do, I honor You... In all I do, I honor You..." My mind kicked back in, and I realized, "I do not honor God in all I do. I should honor God in all I do. I hope to get to a point where, at least, I honor God in most of what I do. But I most certainly do not honor God in all that I do. I am lying. Over and over. In church. I am standing in church, repeating a lie over and over to the Lord." And that was the end of me being able to engage in the music for that morning.

What is vexing is this: I cannot even remember what song it was to look up the rest of the words. This is a thing that I really used to like about hymnals. If you blanked out for a moment and failed to concentrate, you still had the whole song on the page in front of you, and you could scan with your eyes to see what you had been singing about and how the words all worked together, even beyond the ones you were singing in that exact moment. When we only get a few lines or phrases at a time on a video screen, we can lose the meaning of the song quite quickly as words disappear. At least, I can, but perhaps I am unique in my propensity to have a mind-glich now and then while singing. Probably everybody else is completely overwhelmed by the glory of God, and I am just standing there, distracted because the video screen has an apostrophe in the wrong place, and I am just that nasty type of person who would notice. I remember once I was in an assembly, and we were singing a song, and we got to the end where we began to repeat the last line over and over and over, as there is a tendency to do these days. The line was, "Here I am." Over and over. Those were the only words visible on the screen. All around me, people were holding up their hands, weeping. I had no idea what was going on. "Here I am." Well, yes, there I was, desiring to focus on my Lord--the One who created me and redeemed me. But apparently all I was supposed to do was to tell Him, "Here I am," which, as far as I could tell, was just a painfully obvious fact. Painful, because my toes were freezing and the constant emphasis on my own presence was making me repeatedly aware of them.

I feel really bad about myself. But then, on the other hand, I wonder about all the other people who were singing, "In all I do, I honor You." Did they really believe that they do truly honor God in all that they do? Maybe they are all that much more sanctified than I am. I guess I am not supposed to judge. But really, aren't we all in this sanctification thing together, with responsibility to help and encourage one another and hold one another accountable? Aren't we? Or aren't we? Maybe the other people are just as "middle of the journey" on the path of sanctification as I am, and maybe they even know this about themselves, but then why would they sing those words? Is it an issue of mental (dare I say intellectual) disengagement?

I often feel that the goal of the song leader is--subconsciously of course--to get the singers to engage with the music and disengage from "life" (a.k.a critical thinking, and by that I mean critical in the sense of "involving skillful judgment as to the truth," not critical in the sense of "inclined to find fault"). Whenever I am walking in the grocery store and hear the song that goes, "Give me the beat boys, and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away..." it reminds me of the way I feel in church during the music, the uncomfortable, on-guard feelings that rise up in me when I sense that someone is telling me, "Let go... stop thinking... engage with the music..."

Jesus said, "God is Spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth," (John 4:24). I think we've got the worship in spirit part down, but I really cannot quite relax about the truth part.


Hope T. said...

I think the song with the chorus line "I honor you" is called "You Are My King" and the first verse starts out..."I'm forgiven because you were forsaken..."

I tend to think about everything from every angle possible; my mind never seems to turn off, night or day. Yes, I even try to figure things out while I am sleeping. So I guess people would say I have a tendency to over-think. I admit, sometimes my brain hurts.

I don't think most people are pondering, wondering and ruminating all the time. Although it could be true that your fellow church-goers are highly sanctified or spiritually mature, I think it is more likely that they are just of a different temperament. Maybe they are more laid back or more of the "active doer" type than the "passive thinker" type. I wonder if you have ever done one of those personality assessments like Myers-Briggs or the enneagram. It is not everybody's cup of tea but I found it helpful to gain some insights into myself (and my family).

I think worship does tend to be equated almost entirely with music in some churches. Most people crave some sort of ritual, even if it is somewhat amorphous. In churches where there is very little other kind of ritual, music fills the need. The disconcerting part comes when one needs the ritual (outer action) to match with what is taking place on the inside. This is why I don't like holidays. Much of the conventional trappings of such make no sense to me and it is hard to participate in something virtually meaningless.

I love old-fashioned hymn sings. A piano, a group of older ladies and some men who can sing bass...just appeals to me emotionally and aesthetically.

I know this is a really long comment but I haven't commented in a while. I read your last few posts and your writing is so lovely and open (sincere) that I didn't trust myself to respond.

Ruth said...


SO GOOD to hear from you again! I hope you had a blessed Easter season while you were offline.

I think you are right, the song was "You are my King"... and really, it is a very good song until I find myself making completely inaccurate claims at the end of it.

I love hymns, too. We sing a version of something that has a couple of lines from Leaning on the Everlasting Arms in it, but we never get to the meat of the words, not even to "safe and secure from all alarms." I am longing to sing that hymn, as it was originally, with the basses singing "Leaning on Jesus" underneath it all.

I believe I am an INTP, but I don't really remember what it all means. Some of the categories make sense to me, like introvert vs. extrovert, and some I have trouble wrapping my mind around. What are you?

Hymn sings are where I can really enter in. Modern music is hard for me. I cannot feel syncopation (or I don't like to, but the two are inextricably related). I don't like not seeing the music and not knowing when the leader is going to syncopate and thus leave me singing a solo in a "rest." I don't like being expected to make up my own alto part if I can't hit the notes in the melody. And I find electric guitar solos hugely distracting. So, I guess I have a bad attitude. Sigh. I don't want to have a bad attitude. I just want to be able to participate in a church service without all kinds of conflicting emotions in my heart.

On the other hand, when I am really having trouble dealing with the music, it leads me to pray in a private way, and I can discuss with God that I long to meet with Him, but how I am struggling with my environment. Withdrawing to a personal, private place to commune with God while others around me are doing what they do... I guess that's not all bad.

Hope T. said...

I am an INFP. I think Wikipedia has a good, concise description of the different types. If you search Wiki on the letters INTP, it will tell what each category means and the characteristics of the type.

My husband recently went to the funeral of one of his friends from college. One thing that this group of friends loved to do was sing hymns in four part harmony almost every time they got toghter or had an event. As a tribute to their departed friend, they wished to sing a hymn at the funeral. When they asked for a hymnal, there was a scramble to come up with one. Yes, there was only ONE hymnal in the church so the four men had to share it AND the arrangement had been modernized so they had to try to recall the "real" tune from memory. (I believe the hymn was "And Can It Be".)

I think that perhaps for you and me, there are some nostalgic feelings about an era that seems to be passing, as eveidenced by the disappearance of hymns, as well as so many other things. I don't know any younger people who like traditionally rendered hymns.

ruth said...

Hope--I have been thinking over and over on what you said:

"Most people crave some sort of ritual, even if it is somewhat amorphous. In churches where there is very little other kind of ritual, music fills the need. The disconcerting part comes when one needs the ritual (outer action) to match with what is taking place on the inside."

I think this is very insightful.

People run from traditional litergy because they say it is dead, but really it is their hearts that are dead in the litergy. If you read the words of much of the litergy from even very ungodly churches, the gospel is usually there in amazing clarity; it is a wonder to me that the people don't see it.

In contrast, modern music often offers very little in terms of truly gospel content, but it evokes a strong emotional response in many people. So they feel "alive." But I always wonder what makes them feel alive? And that is probably "me", because I am an INTP and I think too much. But it is impossible for me to worship God with my brain turned off.

Any form of worship is dead if it doesn't comprehend the all-surpassing magnificence of Jesus and His sovereign plan to redeem sinful man from sin and death. It can be dead to emotion, like formal litergies in churches that do not even notice of believe the words they are saying. Or it can be dead to truth, like churches where emotion and "the spirit" are sought through intense music with little regard for theological accuracy.

In the end, worship must be a response, not a beginning, and we must respond to Jesus, understanding what our position was before God without Jesus, and how our position before God has changed because He shed His blood for us.

If that is our heart's focus, any form of "worship" should be acceptable. But it's like you said: "The disconcerting part comes when one needs the ritual (outer action) to match with what is taking place on the inside. This is why I don't like holidays. Much of the conventional trappings of such make no sense to me and it is hard to participate in something virtually meaningless."

When I cannot understand how the outward expression I am asked to perform connects with the worship for Jesus that is truth in my heart, it is virtually impossible for me to enter in.