the baby and the bathwater

September 18, 2007, 11:04 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

sing: to utter with musical modulations of the voice; to escort or accompany with singing; to proclaim enthusiastically; to bring, send, put, etc., with or by singing; to chant or intone; to tell or praise in verse or song.

We all have our songs, our heart cries to God. We sing them in our cars, our homes, on the way to work. We sing them through pain and through joy. Sometimes they are audible and beautiful to the human ear. Often they may be silent, or lack musical expertise. But to God they are all treasured, and they are at the heart of the way He wishes to relate to His people: God Himself sings over us, and we sing back, responding as best we can to His overtures of love.

But so often our individual songs can feel inadequate, our acts of praise can feel isolated and faint. We may feel limited in our ability to articulate what we want to say to God, frustrated by the lack of colour in our words, disappointed by any sense of immediate impact in the Kingdom. However precious to God our own individual voices are we long to be part of a greater song. And that is why, since the birth of the church, worshippers have sought each other out. We find that when our individual heart cries come together, when our personal descriptions of God’s character as He has revealed Himself to us combine, they produce something altogether stronger, louder and more courageous.

Some weeks ago I was enjoying being part of the congregation, loving the worship being led by one of my team, excited by hearing the passion and enthusiasm of the worshippers around me, and through it all, encountering God myself as I sang. And then just for a few moments I stopped singing. And out of the combined sound of the 500 hundred or so singers that were there that evening, I began to hear some individual songs stand out. Behind me to my right I heard someone proclaiming God’s power and glory. Just behind me I sensed a more painful cry, a lament of someone struggling through difficulty. Another voice seemed to be pouring out pure love and devotion to Jesus. They were all singing roughly the same words, and nearly the same tune. But the different heart cries of those individual voices shone through, and it was as though a bigger, more glorious, more beautiful picture of God was being painted before my eyes. And I found myself being urged on to sing louder, to lift my hands higher, to rejoice with more faith and maybe slightly more understanding.

I don’t know what you think a worship leader is trying to do. For me it is clearly not about pushing the next great song, about performing to people, about speaking clever words over people, or meeting album sales, or impressing people with technical ability.

But for me, the role of the worship leader is to draw together all the individual voices and intentions in the room, to gather together all the heart cries of all the people present –

those who are going through good times;
those who are hurting;
those who have just lost a loved one;
those for whom the very act of opening their mouths to sing that day causes pain;
those who have never known God work so powerfully in their lives that week;
those who feel God is a thousand miles away;
those who are dealing with a terminal illness;
those who are going through a relationship break up;
those who are struggling because they aren’t married;
those who are excited because they have just got married;
those who’s children are causing them pain;
those who may have come to know Jesus only that day.

The role of the worship leader when he plugs in his guitar and counts in the band is to gather all those voices together. And whereas in isolation each one expresses some small part of God’s character, some small piece of the picture of who God is, gathered together they give a far more glorious expression of His wonder and completeness:

the Creator;
the Eternal Father;
the Faithful One;
the Source Of Life;
the Comforter;
the Sovereign King;
the Healer;
the Saviour;
the Redeemer.

And suddenly those voices that may have previously felt somewhat inadequate begin to find their strength.

I’ve often wondered what Paul means when he urges us to ‘speak to one another with psalms hymns and spiritual songs’. The thought of turning to my neighbour in church on a Sunday and singing some sort of cheesy ‘Jesus loves you’ ditty leaves me cold. In fact I remember singing a song, many years ago, which had the line ‘Jesus stand among us at the meeting of our eyes’ and being encouraged by the worship leader to look around at my mates in the congregation whilst I sung it. This sort of thing doesn’t really work for me. But what does work is finding my own feeble voice joining together with many other feeble voices, and being encouraged and inspired and urged on in my worship. What does work for me is having my picture of God enlarged by the expressions of worship in the voices around me.

But that’s not the end of it. As we saints on earth gather and sing our songs together in what may be a few short moments, we join with the multitudes of saints in heaven, with the thousands on thousands of angels singing a song that goes through all eternity. They sing ‘worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’

Now I’m not sure that I would recognise an angel if it stood up in front of me and slapped me round the face. I’m a little dull like that. But every now and then as I worship, it’s as though a little window of my heart opens up, and i get a faint glimpse of what may be happening in the heavens. Every now and then we feel the breeze a little stronger on our faces and we know we are part of something much more powerful and glorious than our earthly status allows us to fully see.

But even though we may not see it all, we know that as us saints below begin to join with the saints above, not only does the song seem to get even stronger, but the powers of darkness begin to be defeated. The weaponry of the evil one begins to be dismantled because the people of God are saying ‘whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, we won’t let that stop us praising God’. They are saying ‘God He rules, God He reigns’. And then God begins to shine brighter – the very songs that express our wonder of Him reflect His glory back to Him. And then we see more of Him, and we encounter Him in greater power. People who have come into the church for the very first time encounter God for the very first time, fall on their knees, and proclaim Him Lord.

This is the true mystery, and the crowning glory, of worship. In the same moment that God meets the broken hearted and gives them peace, meets the weary and gives them rest, meets the hungry and satisfies them, meets those in pain and gives them hope, meets the downtrodden and gives them dignity; in the same moment God shows His Fatherhood to these people in a tender and compassionate way, His awesome power is released into the most fierce battle in the universe: the battle over lost souls, the battle of light and darkness; the battle of good and evil.

And all because we decided to come to church that day and sing.

(thanks to Brian Howell and Naomi Lippett for their help in putting this article together)


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