As a worship leader I know volume can be a very sensitive issue, as I get told sometimes on the same Sunday that the music was either ‘too quiet’ or it was ‘too loud’. That can leave one feeling a bit perplexed! It should firstly be acknowledged that the PA team have a difficult job seeking to get a good balance from different instruments within a building where the sound changes remarkably depending on where you sit. Please do take time to thank our precious PA team, as they work very hard to try and get this right and only really get noticed when it goes wrong, and it’s this balance that has the biggest impact on the perceived volume or lack of it.
However, is there any biblical direction for how loud we should have our music? The answer surprisingly is ‘yes’, but it is not simply turn it up or turn it down. It is actually both. Both of the critics may be right.
Turn it up…
The psalms are full of commands not just to sing to God, but to shout to God. Psalm 81:1: “Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!” I’m trying to remember when I last shouted in worship, but that is the biblical command. And we are told not just to have a few quiet instruments but to have lots and play them really loudly. Take a look at Psalm 150, which includes, “Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” I’m hoping our drummers don’t read this as I’m always telling them to play quieter! Worship in the bible is frequently loud and passionate; when God’s people circled Jericho their shout was so loud it caused the rocks to split and the walls to come down. Why should our worship be loud and full of celebration? Because that’s what people do when they are full of joy. Because that’s what people do when there has been a great victory, and there is no greater victory than the one that Jesus has won for us at the cross and through his resurrection. Shout aloud to Him, let’s turn it up!
Turn it down…
Turning it up is only half the story, and to be honest if we only get that right we will fail dramatically to reflect biblical worship, because there is another aspect of worship, and this is seen in the command to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). When Moses was seeking the voice of God he discovered something very important: “After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper”.
We have much to learn about how to be still before God in silence and hear his voice. The psalms frequently have the word ‘Selah’ in them, which can either mean ‘stop and listen’ or can refer to a ‘musical interlude’. This is another area we are trying to grow in as a church, stopping and listening in worship. Either with music and importantly without it as well. We are so used to having input and noise in our lives that we find this particularly difficult, but it is very important because worship is not a one way activity. God wants to speak to his people in times of corporate worship, he wants us to learn to use the gifts of his spirit and especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthains 14:1). As we seek to grow in this as a church we will increasingly need to learn to have the patience to wait upon God. (Psalm 130:5 “I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits.”).
Most importantly of all is the reality that before a Holy God we should be silent. “Before the God of God’s we should fall on our knees and be still in awe of Him.” 1 Kings 19:12. “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” Habbakuk 2:20. I think we need to increase the amount of silence we have in our gatherings.
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Recently I received a letter from a visitor to Holland Road; someone who has walked with the Lord for many years, has been in senior Christian leadership for a long time, and even preached at Holland Road. It was a letter full of encouragement, but the most encouraging thing of all was that this person wrote that he and his guest had a deep encounter with God’s Spirit as they worshipped with us on that Sunday morning. When I read that it thrilled my heart because that sort of encounter is what we are longing for as a church and something I believe we are seeing more of as we gather. It’s an exciting time to be a part of Holland Road; God is working amongst us in new ways. It’s been said that living things ‘grow’ and they ‘change’, and I believe we are seeing that happening at Holland Road.
In this and the following two articles in this series, I want to write about some of the things that have been changing over the years in our corporate worship. I want to ask what those changes are and why are they happening?
Firstly, worship is far more than just singing. We are made as worshippers, we are all worshipping something all the time; that is, we are all placing value and affection onto something or someone, if it is not God it is something else. But worship also includes what we do when we come together and sing, and those times are far more significant than we realise. Sometimes people ask ‘why should I go to church?’ and there are many good reasons that can be given but one is that something unique happens in the gathering of God’s people that doesn’t happen in the same way when you are on your own. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20). Now, we know Jesus is always with us, but the bible says there is a special encounter that happens when we gather. Ephesians 2:22 says, “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Notice our togetherness is linked to the presence of the Spirit of God. It appears that our corporate relationship with one another and with God is just as important as our personal relationship with God. This is why our unity is so precious.
So what should we do as we gather? At this point it tempting for all of us to say, well I like this style of worship, or these sorts of songs, we should do this, or not do that. But as a church we are committed to following the word of God in this. So what does God’s word say?
What sort of songs?
Ephesians 5:19 instructs us to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” In the bible and the early church we see great diversity in worship. There are psalms and hymns that are a bit like some of our modern hymns (those written since the 17th C) that take an idea about God and explore it, going deeper and deeper over a number of verses seeking to fathom great mysteries about God. These are brilliant at teaching us more about God, who he is, and what he has done, and we are thankful to God for writers in the past like John Wesley and current hymn writers like Stuart Townend.
Alongside these types of songs are things like Psalm 136 and elsewhere in scripture that just seem to repeat over and over just a few lines. Revelation 4:8: “Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” This is a different but important way of meditating on a certain aspect about God. In the case of the Psalm it is his ‘love’, and in Revelation his ‘holiness’, and we can dwell on this, turning it over in our minds and hearts again and again, asking God to reveal more of that truth to us. Sometimes this idea of repeating songs is seen as a ‘new’ thing that the younger generation particularly enjoy but actually the biblical examples of these songs show that they are just rediscovering something that is very ancient and important. This is why we have been doing more of those type of songs as a church. Both the ‘hymn’ and the repetitive chorus are very biblical and important parts of our worship.
It is worth noting here that sometimes an exclusive commitment to hymns (which are great and we are passionate about) has more to do with the impact of the Enlightenment on our thinking than biblical argument or example. Ironically, some of our favourite hymns that we call ‘old’ are in fact some of the most modern things we have in our corporate worship. As a result of the Enlightenment, in the Western church we have embraced a way of looking at the world that glorifies the rational and the intellectual. Positively this has led to somewhat of a Renaissance in hymn writing since the 17th century, which continues today. Negatively we can sometimes look down on apparently less intellectual modes of worship, like those described above. If you are interested you might like to explore Orthodox Christian worship and you will discover that this idea of repetition is indeed very ancient indeed.
The other type of song that is encouraged in Ephesians is described as “songs from the spirit” and “music from the heart”. This suggests both a constant flow of new songs, and even songs that are in heavenly languages, which is why we often encourage people to sing out their own songs to God as we gather. Its why we encourage people to sing in ‘tongues’ if they want to, because we want to allow space and freedom for people to express their own love and worship to God.
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This is an interesting study of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Rather than a verse-by-verse examination, the author draws on the main themes of 1 Corinthians, discussing how they apply both to the original recipients, and to us today. The church in Corinth, Roberts believes, had much in common with the Western Church of today – weakened by the insidious inroads of worldly thinking and attitudes; making this study all the more useful to Christians today.
Roberts highlights the factionism which existed between followers of prominent Christian teachers at the time of the early church, the falling into secular ideas of success and sophistication and, worst of all, the dilution of the gospel to make it more palatable to a consumer society.
Paul and Roberts both advocate a return to Jesus and the crucifixion as our central focus. We are called, he says, to be faithful; ‘success’ – like salvation – belongs to our God.
Roberts ends with a timely warning not to read the book with a spirit of smugness, thinking ‘this is just what those other churches need to hear!’ and thus falling straight back into the faction trap. For as much as it is a call to holiness, True Spirituality reminds us of our focus and so acts, much as Paul’s letters did, as a call for unity under the common banner of the risen Christ.
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Recently I said on a Sunday that the book of Jonah has lots to say about animals, here then are three quick things I noticed from Jonah about God and animals.
God made them – He is the creator – He made the sea and the Land (1:7) and He made the animals.
God rules them – He is the Sovereign Lord – Fish move at His command (1:17, 2:10)
God cares for them – He is a compassionate God, even concerned for cattle (4:11)
These are all truths born out by the rest of Scripture as well and have two obvious applications to us again emphasised in other parts of the bible too. If these are truths are for animals, how much more are they true for us as God’s children? Secondly, if God cares for animals should we not we show the same care? And, of course, if our lives are concerrned for animals we should have even greater concern for God’s children. Compassion should be a hallmark of our lives to all living things around us.
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