First, a Confession
Looking back over the past two years this week, the Lord has opened my eyes to a “failure” on my behalf in which I am greatly ashamed of and need to ask forgiveness for. Bluntly speaking, I’ve failed to instruct, teach, and encourage you from the Word of God as to “How” we are to Worship the Lord during our gathered service. Seeing that this is one of my PRIMARY roles at GCC, I feel foolish and ashamed; lazy in some aspects; distracted, and I ask for your forgiveness! My focus on building the internal and missional systems in the church, as well as fundraising and planting has caused me to overlook what you have raised me up to do – Shepherd you in the Worshipping of our Lord!!!
Today, I want to take a moment to address – through scripture – one thing I’ve noticed in our weekly gathering, which is: “Many people don’t know what they should be doing before, during, and after we sing unto the Lord.” As I gaze out among the congregation each week, I’ve noticed a mixture of postures and expressions that show me the uncertainty in the church as to what is acceptable worship during times of singing and the transitions inbetween…and those postures and expressions are signs of failure that I’m not leading well – that I’m not teaching, reproving, encouraging as God’s Word calls me to do. So, let’s look at scripture – let’s put these truths to heart, and let’s come to worship this upcoming week with a fresh focus on “how” we worship!
So…What IS acceptable before, during and after congregational singing?
Though there are many places in God’s Word, one of the most notable places we can find instructions on congregational worship is in the Psalms. Reading through these passages, you’ll find that many are written to the “choirmaster” – songs written by David and others, and many with instructions to add instrumentation – like Chapter 4 and Chapter 6, which reads: “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments“, and Chapter 5 which reads: “To the choirmaster: for the flutes. A Psalm of David”. These songs are written so that the “gathered” may sing together in worship of the Lord, and we know this because of the presence of a choirmaster (because why would there be a choirmaster if folks weren’t gathered)? So, if we look closely, we can find in scripture herein what God finds acceptable in worshipping Him (and not rely on our own thoughts or what culture tells us)! So…how should we approach Worship each week?
1.) WE SHOULD COME TO WORSHIP WITH A HEART OF THANKFULNESS!
The first thing we come across in Psalms that helps us understand the posture we should take is found in Psalm 9, verses 1-2, which reads: “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
When we come to worship and sing to the Lord, we should do so with a Thankful heart. We should prepare our heart BEFORE worship, and come in the right spirit. Though we may sometimes be mourning internally, we should come before Him with a thankful heart, knowing that God is working IN US through our mourning and/or our suffering to produce in us many things, including endurance, character and hope (Romans 5:3).
2.) WE SHOULD SING, AND SING LOUDLY!!!
If you look at the end of verse 2 above, it calls us to Sing…as well as verse 11….and that is not the only place that Psalms does so! It’s FILLED with instructions for us to sing and to sing loudly! Read through Psalm 47 for example….verse one alone calls us to “Shout to God with loud songs of joy!”. And again in verses 6-7: ” Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!” (look how many times it tells us to “sing praises”!)
When we sing, we are doing three things (at least):
- We are heeding God’s call and command for us to worship HIM in one of the manors HE desires to be worshipped! Quick question: If you lived in England, and the queen commanded you to sing for her, would you not sing??!? Then why do so many people remain quiet before the Lord during our gathered worship services? Isn’t he more powerful and important than anyone on earth you would normally obey?
- We are putting the words and truths found in scripture to memory, so that we can easily recall and remember things we ordinarily wouldn’t. For some reason, we are WIRED to memorize things better by song – and while most songs are not a word-for-word copy of scripture, the truths of scripture in those songs impact us and encourage us throughout the week as we recall them. (I find myself singing daily truths I would have difficulty memorizing in any other way.)
- We are teaching those around us the words of scripture and the posture we are to have while worshipping! God’s Word calls us to SING TO EACH OTHER the truths of scripture in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
3.) WE SHOULD CLAP, AND SHOUT LOUDLY!!!
Let’s go back to Psalm 47 and read the words of verses 1-2 again “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! Now, I’m not encouraging you to Shout in a distracting way that brings attention to YOU (because that would not be glorifying to Him), but we should not count out shouting out praise to God altogether or be scared to do so, because His Word calls us to do it! So don’t be afraid to shout “Hallelujah” or “Praise God” or “Yes Lord”, or anything else that is Glorifying to God when your heart is overrun with gladness and needs to express it! Don’t be afraid to SHOUT the words to a song when they move your heart! These are healthy expressions that we should not hold back.
Now if you’re Deaf and your primary language is ASL, you are probably shaking your head and objecting by saying “How do you shout in Sign Language?” Well…when you sign – SHOUT YOUR SIGNS WITH YOUR HANDS – sign BIG and with ENTHUSIASM!!!
And when it comes to clapping, many people worry or say “It just doesn’t feel right clapping after a song – it makes me feel I’m clapping for the person singing/playing”. And that is a good worry to have, because the musicians and vocalists should NOT be receiving your praise – it’s GOD who should be receiving ALL the glory during corporate worship (and beyond). However, this is merely a difference as to where your HEART is during our gathered worship. So if you’re primary reason of clapping is to encourage the musicians or vocalists, then please, DON’T CLAP. But if you’re clapping TO GOD as an expression of a heart that is thankful for the words you just sang and the song that God has given us, than please clap and clap LOUDLY! We need to clap for the RIGHT REASONS, and we need to do it often! Sometimes, I clap during a song when my heart is overrun with joy over the truth of the words!
4.) WE SHOULD RAISE OUR HANDS!
We see David lifting his hands in many places in Psalms, and read in Psalm 63 (verses 3&4) the following “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.” And while it’s not seen much in Baptist churches theses days, we too should not be ashamed to LIFT OUR HANDS in the Lord’s name and praise Him with our lips – even in the gathered worship service!
As the church continues to grow in knowledge of our King, we need to take heed of these instructions from God’s word and worship Him with more vigor and enthusiasm than ever before – in every way. It is my desire as your Worship Pastor to build a culture within our church that LOVES to worship God in uprightness and in the ways that He calls us to worship Him. I pray that you come to GCC’s Gathered Worship each week excited to sing (to HIM), to clap (to HIM), to shout praise to our Lord as we worship Him in song, and to lift your hands high to Him. He deserves our praise, our songs, our claps and our adoration for eternity to come, and I pray that our hearts and minds will be better fit to worship Him moving forward!