Do you have one of those things in life that just haunts you? I’m not talking about, like, a deceased relative with unfinished business to share with you through Jennifer Love Hewitt or something. I mean a question or phenomenon that, whenever you encounter it, lights up your synapses like a something-less-cliche-than-a-Christmas-tree. Maybe it’s magicians. Excuse me. “Illusionists”. Maybe whenever you see David Copperfield you can’t stop asking yourself, “How does he DO that?? And what does this have to do with Charles Dickens??” Maybe it’s mechanical stuff. Maybe you see things like cars, toasters, or that thing with the paddle and the ball on a string and think, “How does that work??”.
The premise of my introduction depends on the assumption that everyone has a question or 2 that follows them around in life, so here’s to hoping you’re with me. The keeners in the class will already have guessed by now that yes, in fact, I do have a few myself. For example, I can be a little obsessive with advertising. When I see ads (tv commercials, print, whatever) I can’t help myself from trying to analyze the ins and outs of how they arrived at that choice, what the real message is, or how a group of professionals sat around in a fancy board room with easels and storyboards and decided THIS was a great idea for a commercial (looking at you, Tim Hortons).
The aforementioned keeners will likely have deduced that there’s another one coming. You win. Your prize? Self-satisfaction. Enjoy it. Done? Ok, moving on. The thing I wanted to share that I can be a little obsessive about could be summed up in a couple of questions, which are:
I am 100% on board with the idea that scripture is pretty clear God has asked us to make music and singing a big part of our worship. I think that’s great, because I happen to love and enjoy both. Sometimes what I don’t get, however, is why He set it up that way. When I sit back and daydream a bit, the idea can seem a little ridiculous to me. We are supposed to offer this thing to Almighty God, Creator of the universe, and it amounts to a bunch of us standing in a room saying the same words which likely rhyme but we’re saying them at the same meter and rhythm and moving our voices up and down at the same rate and intervals. Sometimes on those tougher days as a worship leader, this idea can seem especially ridiculous if I let myself think about it.
The reality is there’s more to it then that, right? That’s kind of like defining marriage as: “2 people legally agreeing to cohabit and share costs based on mutual respect and admiration”. Yes – true – some marriages do, in fact, end up looking like little more than that. Also true is the idea that some worship services look like little more than the stilted, lifeless definition I submitted in the previous paragraph, but I digress.
I’ve thought about this question for a long time. It hovers just above the surface at all times in my brain, just floating there, like that guy who plays the cloud in the Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sandwich commercials (see, ads again. Sorry.). What I’ve found is the answer isn’t really an answer, but sort of an evolving series of things. I keep noticing or discovering things about singing in worship that occasionally flip a switch and unlock part of the puzzle for me, like a big game of Classic Concentration.
For example, I have this theory that one of the reasons God has asked us to sing in our worship has to do with the way He’s made us. I’m sure you’ve heard about the whole left-brain/right-brain thing – the idea that our right brain handles the creative stuff and our left brain rocks the more logical game. Scientists refer to the left brain as the “Spock” cortex. (This is, of course, 100% untrue.) Sometimes I wonder if part of the mystery of singing in worship lies in the fact that it could, theoretically, involve both sides of the brain. The left brain engaging as we extol theological truths in the lyrics and the right brain jumping in on the beauty, poetry, and melody side of things. I’ve done little more than ponder this idea, and I’m aware that I’m over-simplifying and possibly inviting the Neurological community to chase me down with torches and pitchforks, but these are the kind of things I wonder about.
One of the general assumptions I’ve landed on stems from the idea that God is a God of by-products. My experience with Him tells me that He’s always up to something. It seems that whatever He does or asks us to do often has these secondary results or benefits. Pretty amazing, really. Worship isn’t about us, it’s about Him, but who could deny that we occasionally reap some benefits from the exercise? I often feel like Daniel-son lamenting another car to be waxed, then realizing Mr. Miyagi had another plan all along.
One of these by-products in sung worship, I think, is the idea that it models community. The triune God is the ultimate example of community. It’s pretty undeniable that community and relationship are paramount for Him. I often wonder if His Master plan in giving singing and music such a big role in our worship is, in part, because it creates and models the community He so loves.
To illustrate this idea, I tried something with my congregation a couple of weeks ago. (I’d seen Rob Bell do something similar so I decided to morph the idea for my illustrative purposes.) I said something simple like, “Try this with me”, and started into singing a verse of “Amazing Grace”. By the time I got to “How sweet the…”, the crowd had taken over and we all sang a verse together. When it ended, I said, “Do you see what happened there? Without any real prompting, rehearsal, or direction, we all just came together to sing that. We had to settle in on the same key, we had to defer to each other for timing, we had to sing (relatively) the same notes. We couldn’t just do our own thing, or sing whatever we wanted because that would’ve sounded like a traffic jam. There were even some harmonies popping up, but they were all in compliment (and therefore deference) to the main melody we’d all unconsciously agreed upon – and it all just sort of ‘happens’ because we all know the song and we subconsciously listen to each other and defer to the group.”
Kind of amazing when you think about it, isn’t it? I thought so anyway.
I think God has, in part, asked us to sing and sing together in our worship because it creates and models community – and community reflects Him. The quickest way to create community is not to try and create community, but rather to have everyone focus on the same thing. If you had a field full of kids and you told half of them to “get in a group” and the other half to gather around that tree over there, which half do you think would end up in a group quicker? Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “Love is not two people gazing at each other, but two people looking ahead together in the same direction“, and that’s kind of the image I get when thinking about worship and singing in this way. Community occurs not when we all focus on each other, but rather when we all focus on the same thing together.
“…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19-21)
What about you? Have you ever thought about this stuff? Why do you think God has asked us to sing and make music in our worship?
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