Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another (in) psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Ephesians 5:18-20 (NAB)
16 Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct one another with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts. 17 Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 3:16-17 (TEV)
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. (1)
16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray. (1)
Recently, there has been an attack on worship, articles that have challenged it having a prominent role. Some have demeaned it, and denigrated the role of those entrusted to lead and facilitate our praise of God.
Some of the criticisms need to be heard, there are times worship leaders of all styles act like entertainers, deserving to be heard. But I believe most of the criticisms are based in a irrational fear of the emotions we have, which need to be admitted before God. More on that after some basic thoughts
There is a real need for worship, an the role of a worship leader/cantor/praise team/choir and the church (while worshipping and praising God) is at its very core, as much of a means of grace and as sacramental as a sermon, as the readings. Here is why I say that;
There are two “kinds” of lyrics, though in some songs you might have both.
1. Horizontal Lyrics teach
Here the role of the music is to teach, encourage, catechize and reveal the glory and grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The very same goal as a sermon, as the people hearing and singing the words realize their absolute need for Jesus Christ, and they share with each other their sorrows, and their joy when Christ is revealed to them.
This is the word of God, being proclaimed in words accompanied by music, but it is the word of God. Look at how it fits into the passage in Colossians, it is part of the teaching and instruction, the mutual building up of the people of God. Melancthon does exclude worship in his words in the Augsburg Confession – the role of the worship service is to gie to people, to teach them, what they know of Christ.
2. Vertical Lyrics Pray…
Worship that is vertical, that is directed to God is either prayer or praise, “Lord, come do what you promised”, “Lord you have rescued me!”, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”. This is second commandment work, the proper use of the Name of God, which He has given to us to talk to Him, to sing to Him. Again, the Lutheran Confession talk of such prayer as a sacrament, as being sacramental, even if only because of that we pray more! We need to seek God more, we need to be found like Isaiah, and the 70 elders, we desperately need to experience the fact that we live in the presence of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That is a scary thought, for to be in the presence of God means that all of our fears, all of our anxieties, all of our emotions, are laid bare. They are known. We can’t hide our hearts or our souls from God. We can’t hide our jealousies, our lusts, our anger, our desire to be in control. Music, singing these biblical lyrics, have a way of doing that, of sneaking in through our (arts/emotion) right brain, while distracting us by occupying our left brain (knowledge, logic) and ministering to our complete brokenness.
We don’t like that, it scares us. And any kind of worship can do this, from 4 or 5 guys singing the doxology on a retreat, to a choir putting voice to O Sacred Head, or A Mighty Fortress, to a praise team simply singing Amazing Grace- My Chains are Gone, or a classical guitarist plucking out the Lord’s Prayer. The music opens our souls, letting out that which poisons them, as the Love of God inherent in the words of scripture rush in and cleanse us.
The music moves us…. and sometimes that is scary, but it is a incredible blessing as well.
This is why as we prepare for worship, it needs to be done in prayer, meditating on the word. This is why the instrumentalists and singers need to practice so well, that they can lose themselves in the worship, even as they lead others in it. Any style can be done poorly, to loud, to erratic, to performance driven. When leading the prayers and praises of God’s people is done poorly, it robs them of their voice, it robs them as well of that which can facilitate their prayers, focus their praises, distract them from being in the presence of God…..
But worship leading, done right? It is as beneficial as a well crafted and delivered sermon. For it is the gospel proclaimed, and because it is prayer, it is sacramental.
And to quote our confessions, if we realize it is such, maybe we will engage in it all the more!
(And remember to pray for those who serve you, the people of God, in this ministry, just as you pray for your pastors)
Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy!)
Alleluia (Praise God!)
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. AC XXIV
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. AAC XIII
Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day: 10 Announce to the nations, “The LORD is King! The world stands firm, never to be shaken, and he will judge its people with fairness.” 11 Tell the heavens and the earth to be glad and celebrate! Command the ocean to roar with all of its creatures 12 and the fields to rejoice with all of their crops. Then every tree in the forest will sing joyful songs 13 to the LORD. He is coming to judge all people on earth with fairness and truth. Psalm 96:10-13 (CEV)
794 Mary spent three days and three nights looking for the Son who was lost. May you and I also be able to say that our willingness to find Jesus knows no rest. (1)
Carmelite Vow: Let each stay in or near their own cell, meditating, day and night on the law of the Lord, and vigilant in prayer, unless otherwise employed by the Holy Spirit! (2)
As I look at the last quote, it seems odd for me, a Lutheran pastor, to quote a Catholic Monastic Vow. Luther was not known to praise monastic orders, he saw little use for them.
But to dismiss this thought entirely, is to forget the amount of time Luther spent in prayer, and in the word of God.
What would happen if we spent this kind of time with God, that whenever we weren’t involved in our vocations of life, we were using that time for prayer. If we made the time we spent entertaining ourselves, the time we watched “reality shows”, the time we spent just doing nothing, seeking the Lord? If we gave thought daily to His return, His glorious return? I think we wouldn’t fear it, or see Christ’s return as simply an escape from the day’s trouble. ( I will admit there are days I cry out for his return, just to be done with the trauma and drama of this life)
I think the experience of being so aware of His peace would change us dramatically.
We would hunger for those times as the Psalmist does, as we read of men like Luther and Wesley who would make a priority of hours a day in prayer. I love St Josemaria’s thoughts as well, what if our willingness, or desire to find Jesus knew no rest – if we looked for His presence, not just in the fifteen minutes of the day, but also for hours, and for the seconds when we have nothing else occupying our minds?
That would change how we view our vocations, how we view the daily grind of life.
It would change every encounter, as fueled by our time with Hi, our hearts would be centered on the glorious day of His return. The time where judgment comes, and rather than fearing it, we welcome it, because of the work of Jesus Christ. We welcome His coming, seeing the Father face to face, knowing as we are known.
Come, let’s plunge into a life of devotion, come, lets spend time with our Lord! Not to impress Him, not because of some expectation we hope to meet, but rather, in love with a God who would come and make His life here… among us.
Lord Have Mercy!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3286-3288). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Celtic Prayer Book, Monthy Devotional Thought for the 3d Day of the Month