By Steven Shaw
Think how important context is in all aspects of life. There’s really never a time that it’s not important and most the time, the most important aspect. When we are talking about the bible in context we are dealing with the most important context. Taking God’s word out of what God meant it to say is dangerous. Learning His context should be our top priority. I’m going to be talking from a musical point of context because that’s where we are having one of the biggest “out of context” problems today.
To “Worship” Leaders: We Should be Pastors in our Music.
I’m writing this to church “worship” leaders mainly, but all can benefit. There are many bold, strong, encouraging, and inspiring verses in the bible, and it’s real easy to take a verse that sounds great and make it mean whatever you want it to mean, that’s what the world is really good at doing. Popular worship music, for the most part, has perfected this act. Just because we are singing about God doesn’t make it a right or good worship song. My hope is we take the messages we are sending to our congregation more serious. We aren’t just musicians, we are leading God’s people into worshiping Him through song, we are preaching the Word of God to them, we are pastors who sing their sermons. That’s the first mindset change that needs to happen. Top priority is not learning the songs to perfection, not figuring the best way the song can force some kind of emotional feeling, not playing everyone’s favorite Christian pop songs. I’m not minimizing the importance of skillfully playing and singing, but it’s not most vital. What matters most are the lyrics of the songs we sing.
How do we make sure our lyrics are most faithful to Scripture?
- We learn and grow in our own discipleship. Our holiness is God’s priority for us. We can’t be sensitive or aware of proper words in song unless we know what proper words are, what good theology is. If we are immature in our faith, we’ll be open to all kinds of false or just weak messages. Sanctification in the beholding of God in song is our focus.
- We read through potential songs to see if they are biblical. A helpful hint, read through the lyrics without listening to the music as to not be swayed by the emotion of the song. I’ve been moved more at a secular rock show than most church services. Our emotional experience isn’t the goal for a Sunday gathering.
- There’s another aspect of faithful songs, that is, level of depth to the song. It’s not black or white, pass or fail. Certain songs can just be improved upon to truly mean what the bible is saying. Some songs aren’t wrong or bad, they just aren’t saying much, or helpful to the Christian, new Christian or non-believer. Some songs need to only be played when they are explained, or the surrounding songs give a better meaning of said song. Some songs aren’t meant to be sung corporately, meaning, you can sing a song in your car praising God, but that doesn’t always transfer to the congregation. We’ll get into this later.
- The songs we play should be in context of the sermon, or at least the songs after the sermon. Every time we gather as a church to sing and preach, we need to do all very intentionally. As a good pastor prays and labors over each sermon, so also should the preparation of the music pastor.
Here’s an example of a song that’s not all that helpful for the gathering of God’s people to sing together, and a changed version I made that is much more helpful and faithful to the context of the Psalm it’s taken from.
With this first one, read Psalm 103 because that’s where this song derives from, yet original lacks biblical meaning. They’ve changed the focus of the Hymn, which is God and made it about us.
10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord) Psalm 103
(Revised) = the more biblical words. Just so you know, I don’t think my words in general are amazing or anything, just giving an example of a more biblical version of this song.
(Chorus) (Chorus) Revised
Bless the Lord, O my soul Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul And all that is in me
Worship His holy name Worship His holy name
Sing like never before Remember all He has done
O my soul All He’s done
I’ll worship Your holy name Worship His holy name
The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes
Verse 1 (Revised)
The Lord works good and His name is made known
He’s slow to anger and abounding love
He doesn’t slay me, for all my sinning
The Father shows His grace to us.
You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find
Verse 2 (Revised)
As for man, our days are numbered
Wind passes by and our name is gone
But those who fear Him, He calls His children
He’ll take us home when His kingdom comes
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore
Verse 3 (Revised)
The angels sing and obey his commands
All his hosts who do his will
All his works, in all hearts and places
He is good to all He’s made
This is the version that I wrote for my church. The melody of the song is catchy and many people know it, but that doesn’t mean we just take it at face value.
Do you see the power behind verses that reflect the Psalm more faithfully? Even when the Psalm talks about us, it’s only in response to who God is. Not just what He’s done for us, but who He is. If God did nothing for us, He would still deserve songs of glory, He’s God, and we bring Him nothing, we are simply reflecting His glory to the world.
Another example: This song is weak but that’s not the main problem I have with it. They quote Phil 1:18 but only sing half the verse. They sing, “For me, to live is Christ”, and they stop there, taking the main point of the verse that Paul is writing about in Philippians. “As for me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” The worst part is they repeat “For me, to live is Christ”, leaving a perfect spot to sing “To die is gain”. I’m not sure how this was missed?
Let it be Jesus
Let it be Jesus. The first name that I call
Let it be Jesus. My song inside the storm
I’ll never need another
For me, to live is Christ
For me, to live is Christ (To die is gain!)
God I breathe Your name above everything
Let it be, Let it be Jesus
Let it be Jesus
From the rising of the sun
Let it be Jesus
When all is said and done
I’ll never need another, Jesus there’s no other
Should I ever be abandoned
Should I ever be acclaimed
Should I ever be surrounded by the fire and the flame
There’s a name I will remember
There’s a name I will proclaim
Let it be, Let it be Jesus
You see the point of the song? They desire only Jesus. Let it be Jesus in all things! Great theme! But the ultimate “Jesus” is being face to face with Him. To die is gain! Where is it?! To live is Christ, yes! But to die is gain, or, to die is Christ! Who cares what we have in this life if it doesn’t result in Christ in the end.
I pray this point is becoming clear. From the big picture of whole songs and the little changes that make the point of a song. This might seem minimal but we are talking about our holy and perfect God in heaven, there is no detail too small to make sure we are accurate and faithful to the platform that we’ve been given, and we’ve all been given a platform.
I was going to supply many more song examples, but as I read through many popular Christian songs, I became overwhelmed. If you only read the words and never heard the song you would most likely be underwhelmed. They are saying mostly true things about God but nothing to really help the followers of Christ live under the glory of God, nothing to help the Christian who is suffering and able to sing in full dependence on Christ instead of just self-focused power praise. These songs are well written and can help you feel empowered and perhaps even gotten you through some tough times, but what was your focus during those times? We’re you drawing strength from yourself, or were you falling to your face in complete adoration and prayer because He is all you need and you realize you can do nothing without Him.
Maybe the songs you really love are songs that are only talking about God, but are they informing anyone about God. The Christian can sing and will sing forever, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God almighty. But it’s not helpful for the new Christian or the non-believer. God has done so much in creation and in us that we need to proclaim it in everything, the truths of God are inexhaustible. We need to seek, create and learn new songs because through our music is one of the best ways for us to remember and memorize scripture. There’s power in the word of God, lets sing more of it.
I pray this reaches the “worship” leader, growing them to be a music pastor in an encouraging way. If you are playing music in church because it’s a stepping stone to your rock stardom, please get off the stage, this is holy and sacred ground we are talking about, not your empty staircase. If you’ve just been doing this for so long that this is just how you do it and how your church likes it, I implore you to educate your pastor and church on the importance of biblical music, or at least start to slowly increase the depth in your music. My love is Christ and want as many of us as possible to be doing everything in our power to turn peoples faces to God and off of ourselves. Become a pastor in music, not a wannabe rockstar that God will deal with correctly when the time is right. Soli Deo Gloria!
Please don’t let my word be the final word on this. Pick up the Bible, read Gospel-saturated books by good authors, read good commentaries on the Bible, pick up Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”, read the 1689 London Baptist confession of faith and learn from a man’s lifetime of study and meditation on the Word of God. Most of all, trust in Jesus Christ and know what He has given us is whole, perfect and is for our good and His glory. Love you all!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.