Worship as Gift
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity!
I wrote another post about the difference between worshiping in soul and worshiping in spirit. Since then, I’ve come across some writings and sermons that have weighed in heavily against contemporary Christian music (Christian “pop” and “rock”), as well as Gospel, and Christian hip-hop and rap music. The criticisms generally boil down to one of a few arguments:
1) A pronounced or syncopated rhythm is fleshly and bad.
2) Much of contemporary Christian music is self-centered and the text pales in comparison to the poetic beauty of hymns of the past.
3) Christians can’t take something that the world created and use it to glorify God. Therefore Christian music that conforms to a genre that you’d find on the radio is necessarily bad.
I’ve oversimplified the arguments, but that’s basically what they’re about. I was never particularly convinced by any of them, even though I share the same wariness toward much of today’s Christian music that it’s critics have. I grew up listening to hip hop, r&b, as well as alternative and pop. I went to the concerts and bought the CDs. But when I was born again I threw them all out and started learning hymns. As a Christian I never really embraced Gospel or other contemporary Christian music, but I’ve just never quite figured out why.
But this week, I think I got more insight into what I think the issue might be. Essentially, most contemporary Christian music producers are producing music that appeals to and entertains us as individuals. However, I humbly submit the thought that a worship song is not at all for my enjoyment, but rather for God’s. I’ll explain with an analogy:
If I wanted to give someone a gift, I would spend some time thinking about the particular things that person enjoys and what would give them pleasure. I might think of several different options, but decide that they aren’t quite right. Sometimes gift-giving can be really difficult when we want to make sure we give the person the perfect gift that they’ll love. In all of this, one thing is for sure: If I want to be a good gift-giver the last thing I’ll do is give a gift based on how much enjoyment I get out of it. I wouldn’t go to the store and buy something for someone because I intend to have fun with it. It’s just not about what I like.
Scripture tells us that we are to offer unto God sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. But the offerings are for Him, not us. When worshiping, we can often be bad gift givers. We look for songs and experiences that speak directly to our own enjoyment and just kind of assume that if it’s about God that it’s automatically a good worship song. Musically, if you’re writing a song for your own enjoyment, it’ll probably have a good beat, you know, something you can bop around to. You’ll want it to be emotionally compelling, since we like to feel something from our music. You might want it to encourage you or put you in a better mood. I can’t say that there’s anything inherently wrong with those things. In fact, I think that’s a lot of what art is about. But I will say that that’s not what worship is about.
Worship is a mindful entering into God’s presence to give Him the honor due Him. We live lives of worship, and worship is not limited to music. However, there are concentrated times when we gather with other believers (or have our own times) to focus on the Lord, worshiping Him and praising Him for who He is and what He has done. I think that when we enter those times and choose music to offer to Him in worship, it should be chosen like we would choose a gift for Him to enjoy. Our joy will come through the glory that He receives from it. We will experience an entirely different level of His closeness when we can transcend our own thoughts and feelings and instead simply exult in God’s glory and the praise being offered to Him instead of how cool the beat is or how emotionally hyped I am after singing it.
Many Christians prefer contemporary Christian music in worship because they feel that hymns are boring. But more often than not, the writers of hymns took pains to pen verses that illuminated the character and works of God in deep and insightful ways. The hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns” never made me want to jump up and down in the sanctuary. But when meditating on the words and singing with all my strength and praising God in all the varied ways each verse details, I’ve felt like I moved completely beyond “me.”
I’m not saying at all that contemporary Christian music is bad, I’m just saying that we should make a distinction between music that we listen to and sing for our own benefit and that which we offer to God. We will always be bettered through worship, and we should leave spiritually strengthened. But it’s an indirect rather than direct benefit.
Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King!