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.
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.
Psalm 35: The Christian life is a battle. In what ways are you experiencing this at the moment? Instead of simply fighting back, the psalmist asks for God to fight on his behalf. Take time to do the same.
Day 36 – Tuesday 15th April
Psalm 36: Do you find it easy to identify sin in your life? What makes it hard for people to do this? Ask for Christ’s light to come into your life.
Day 37 – Wednesday 16th April
Psalm 37: This Psalm reminds us of the future and the ultimate reality for the wicked and the righteous. In what things do you need to patiently wait upon the Lord at this time?
Day 38 – Thursday 17th April
Psalm 38: Why does God let the Psalmist go through a time like this? Have you been through something similar? Ask for God’s help to come quickly to those facing these times at the moment.
Day 39 – Friday 18th April – Good Friday
Psalm 39: This psalm describes someone under the judgement and wrath of God. At the cross Jesus endured the wrath of God…. Consider what it meant for Jesus to suffer this for us. Thank Him.
Day 40 – Saturday 19th April – Easter Saturday
Psalm 40 begins with patient waiting on the Lord and moves to rejoice in the rescuing work of God. Pray for our Easter Services tomorrow that many people will ‘see and fear and put their trust in the Lord’ – vs3.
Psalm 41: What sort of life does the Lord want you to live as you leave this time of Lent? What have you learnt about God, yourself, and others?
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35
What is the key to a healthy church? What do you look for in a church, and in what ways do you assess how things are going at Holland Road?
According to Jesus it is not the worship, the preaching, the ministry programmes, the outreach and mission strategy, the gifts of the Spirit, the doctrinal basis, or the numbers of people, all of which we know are important. No, Jesus points us to something both simpler and yet harder than the things we often tend to focus on.
Jesus says that the foundational issue to the health of any church is the presence or absence of love amongst the people. If you have been listening to our current series on 1 Corinthians you will know that this love that Jesus talks about is not a worldly love, but is the unconditional “agapé” love that God shows us. God has been speaking to us as a church and challenging us to embody this love. But how is this possible?
Firstly it is only possible in the context of real relationships. God wants us to see our relationships with one another through the lens of an extended family: “Pointing to his disciples, Jesus said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’ ” (Matthew 12:49).” The word oikos, which refers to ‘household’ or ‘family’, is what is used to describe the church in the New Testament. Unfortunately, too often the church can operate like an institution or organisation rather than a family. Two essential elements for a family that Mike Breen highlights are play and purpose, with a balanced combination between them.
“Families play together and have fun, both through planned events and through things that happen organically, things you can never plan. But they also have a very clear purpose for why they exist and what God has called them to.” – M. Breen, ‘Real Love’.
Secondly for “agapé” love to be present in these communities we need to be a people filled with God and empowered by His Holy Spirit. I am all too aware of my inability to love in this way and my tendency is very often to just try harder rather than seek more of God, the real source of real love. We must set aside time to seek God both alone and with others. This is what leads to “a community that attracts attention and raises questions that need an explanation” – Julian Rebera (Pastor of New Life Church, Moulsecoomb).
This is the heart behind our communities at Holland Road; that we might become extended families on mission. Sharing our lives with one another with the purpose of seeing our friends, neighbours, colleagues and others experience the Kingdom of God. This is what the church is called to be:
“Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is, there is never loneliness.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1928).
Psalm 29: Why is the voice of the Lord is so powerful? Whose voices are you listening to? How can you help people to hear the voice of the Lord? Pray for all those who preach the Word of God, for His anointing and strength.
Day 30 – Tuesday 8th April
Psalm 30: Reflect on what God has done in your life. Do you have a testimony of His help and healing? Give thanks to Him.
Day 31 – Wednesday 9th April
Psalm 31: Jesus frequently prayed using the psalms (see vs5 and his prayer on the cross Luke 23:46). Which part of this psalm reflects your needs at the moment? Use that part to pray your own prayer to God.
Day 32 –Thursday 10th April
Psalm 32: Why is un-confessed sin so toxic? Do you have any un-confessed sin at the moment? Bring it to God. Pray for us as a church that there would be no un-confessed sin amongst us.
Day 33 – Friday 11th April
Psalm 33 begins with a command to sing… Spend time worshipping God, get an instrument out or put on some worship music. Perhaps take some time to write your own worship song to God.
Day 34 – Saturday 12th April
Psalm 34 focuses on the use of our tongue and our lips. Our words are very powerful, they affect our lives and the lives of others. Pray that God would help you to use your words to encourage and bless others today.
Sunday 13th April
Today is Palm Sunday when we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, an event recorded in all four of the gospels. Pray that as a church we would welcome Jesus with praise as we gather for worship today.
Psalm 17: What do you think about when you first wake up? Ask God to show you His face before you do anything else.
Day 18 – Tuesday 25th March
Psalm 18: Spend time thinking about what God has done in your life. Perhaps take some time to write down some of those things? Praise and thank Him!
Day 19 – Wednesday 26th March
Psalm 19: Take your Bible outside as you reflect on this Psalm. Wonder at His creation then wonder at His word. Pray vs12-14 into your life.
Day 20 – Thursday 27th March
Psalm 20: As you pray for others today ask God to give them the ‘desire of their hearts’. If you know what that is – pray for it specifically. Why not offer to pray for someone today?
Day 21 – Friday 28th March
Psalm 21: God promises to return one day. In what ways should this return effect how we live today? Pray that as a church we would be ready for His return and will live in the reality of it.
Day 22 – Saturday 29th March
Psalm 22: This Psalm speaks prophetically (vs12-18) about what Christ endured on the cross for us. Spend time thanking Jesus for what he went through for you, think about what his suffering achieved. What might God be achieving through your suffering?
Sunday 30th March
God desires to give his church gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:1-25. Pray that, as we gather for worship today, we would see God at work amongst us.
Psalm 5: What does it mean to wait in expectation? Spend time laying your requests before God, then spend time waiting on God.
Day 6 – Tuesday 11th March
Psalm 6: Tears are sometimes described as liquid prayer. Ask God to break your heart with what breaks his. Come to Him with prayer and tears.
Day 7 – Wednesday 12th March
Psalm 7 speaks of God’s righteous judgement. Spend time confessing your own sin to God. Pray against the work of evil in our nation.
Day 8 – Thursday 13th March
Psalm 8: Try to get out into God’s creation. Spend time thanking and praising God for what He has made.
Day 9 – Friday 14th March
Psalm 9: Reflect on the many things that God has done and will do. Ask God to enable you to tell others of His ‘wonders’ today.
Day 10 – Saturday 15th March
Psalm 10: Why does God feel so distant at times? Ask God to work in a particular area of injustice in our world and to remind you of the ultimate reality of his Kingship and future reign.
Sunday 16th March
Please pray for our leaders who will be gathering today to seek God’s direction for the leading of their groups and communities. Pray that God would be speaking to the whole church as we gather for worship today.
Psalm 1 reminds us that life is a journey with two possible paths; one path brings happiness, but the other brings tragedy. As we reflect on Psalm 1, and those things that make a prosperous life, one thing stands out: This person spends time with God – reflecting on His word and seeking God in prayer. Take time to look at the consequences of this devoted life.
Day 2 – Thursday 6th March
Psalm 2 speaks of God’s authority over the nations. Take time to pray for one nation in this world. Pray particularly for the rulers of that nation.
Day 3 – Friday 7th March
Psalm 3: Sometimes God’s answers to prayer can seem far off. Reflect on the need to persevere in prayer. Ask God to give you faith as you pray for things that have not yet happened.
Day 4 – Saturday 8th March
Psalm 4: Are you or someone close to you facing distress at the moment? Pray for the Lord’s face to shine and for hearts to be filled with the joy of God’s presence in the midst of difficulty.
Sunday 9th March
Sundays are not included in the 40 days of Lent since they have always been seen as days of celebration rather than fast. As Christians remember that Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday, take time to join with others at church today to celebrate the Living Christ amongst us.