Our Prayer Problem – Singing Will Help Us to Pray

January 28th, 2013

Thinking back over this past week, I don’t remember spending any sort of intentional time in prayer for any significant period of time. Thirty seconds here and there for meals, bedtimes, praying over the concerns of others when they ask for it, and maybe a few other times that I’m forgetting about. Then I justify my pathetic prayer life by saying, “At least I’ve been reading my Bible.” If I took my Bible reading seriously I would come to that place where it says “Never stop praying” and start praying. The fact is that my cumulative time spent in prayer each week is less than an hour. If you’re honest, I’m guessing you’ll admit your prayer life is much the same as mine. Even the people who can honestly say they pray for more than a few minutes here and there will still say they don’t pray enough. An all-out prayer warrior will tell you that it’s not possible to pray enough.

Prayer

This morning was different for me, however. I spent about ten minutes learning the tenor part to “Holy, Holy, Holy” (click here to learn your part too). Interestingly enough, I was praying the entire time. When we sing to God, we are praying. When we sing to God in a group, we are praying in a group. When we sing our different parts in a group, we are all contributing unique content to our prayer. When we take the time to learn our part of a song that was designed to be sung in four part harmony, we can meditate on the words and let them penetrate our hearts. We pray on our own as we learn our part, then again in a group as we sing it with other believers who have also let the words of the prayer penetrate their hearts.

Song is not just an extra help to our prayer life, it is a necessary element. In fact, most of the prayers in the Bible are songs. Mary’s prayer in Luke 1 seems to have been some sort of song. Exodus 15 explicitly states that Miriam’s prayer was a song. Although the Bible doesn’t say that Moses actually sang his lengthy prayer in Deuteronomy 32, it does indicate that he was at least reciting a song. Oh, and let’s not forget the Psalms: the longest book of the Bible, which is completely dedicated to prayer through music.

All of the spiritual giants in the New Testament are seen praying through music in scripture. Matthew 26:30 very clearly states that Jesus sang with his disciples, and the phrase “they had sung” presupposes that they sang something they knew; in other words, they sang it more than once before. Acts 16:25 states that Paul and Silas were singing hymns and praying in prison. Ephesians 5:19 (NIV) says, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord…” Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” James 5:13 “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.” As I hope you can see, prayer and song seem to go together more often than not. Our prayer deficiency is partly caused by a singing deficiency. Prayer and song are the same spiritual discipline.

If you don’t sing, it’s time to learn. If you do sing, are you singing?


Acceptable Sounds for Worship; Deeper Problems

December 12th, 2010

I’ve heard more than a few stories about churches breaking apart over issues related to music used during services.  I’ve heard many arguments condemning much of the music I enjoy because of it’s musical content (not lingual).  More often than not, traditional music is accepted in the sanctuary no matter its intent while new music is probed and prodded simply because of the fact that it is new.  But on what basis do all of these things occur?  Is it the Word of God, or is it a dismissible preference issue that has been blown way out of proportion?

I hope that we can all agree that there is no solid Biblical basis for deeming one sound as blasphemous and another as holy.  On what doctrine or passage of scripture is the organ more relevant to our relationship with God than a guitar?  By whose authority is a four part homophonic texture sacred and a rock beat profane?  Do the dark forces have such specificity in their dominion over the physical world that they have actually taken control of certain sound waves and mathematical patterns when executed through time?  Of course not, that would be silly. It seems to me that the only satanic thing that has taken place as a result of the new sounds that have been made over the past century is the fact that they have divided the church and caused wild accusations in various conservative Christian circles.  To deem a rock beat or a strummed guitar as unfit for use in worship is comparable to saying that certain shades of purple or the use of a powerpoint presentation is unfit to use for worship.  Satan does not have power over such things, he only has the power to tempt us to use them against God’s laws (pride, for example).

Different sounds are the musician’s tools for creating aesthetic (the actual message). In language, you cannot condemn a speech based on the use of a certain word. Even if a pastor uses a curse word in a sermon (I’ve witnessed this twice and was not offended at all) you cannot judge his message based on the use of a certain linguistic tool unless you deeply analyze its context. Sounds are elements of a larger context, just like words. To condemn a musical work for the use of a specific element is comparable to the condemnation of a craftsman for using a crescent wrench instead of a regular one.  Instruments and basic stylistic expressions and ostinatos are tools and have no spiritual implications outside of the ones maliciously ascribed to them by humans.  Does it matter if the pastor uses powerpoint, overhead, or no visual aid when he speaks?  Should congregations be worked up about the eccentric polka-dot skirt someone wore to Wednesday night prayer meeting?  Wrenches are wrenches, visual aides are visual aides, clothes are clothes (assuming the skirt is in line with 1 Timothy 2:9-10), and sounds are sounds.  If anyone has any contention about this, I urge you to dig into the Bible (the whole Bible) without allowing your interpretation to be influenced by your immediate social context or the way you were raised.

Please note that I have no quarrel with preferences.  If you just don’t like the drums, I’m fine with that.  But don’t you dare say that they have no place in corporate worship. If you don’t like a strummed guitar but it’s being used in your church, feel free to make a quiet suggestion knowing full-well that the sound itself is of no consequence.  I hope that clears up any misconceptions so that we can move on to deeper and more urgent matters:

Please bear with me as I contradict myself.  Sounds (when put together in profound ways) have enormous theological, philosophical, programmatic, political, and emotional implications.  However, the complexity and formal structure required in order to achieve sounds that are capable of this are far greater than with what most Christians are familiar.  The fact that many of us are unfamiliar with sounds capable of deep meaning is a matter that concerns me greatly.  This is not because Christians should be expected to be interested in the complex sounds of today’s academic institutions.  On the contrary, I don’t think the church as a whole has any use for the academic classical music that is being produced today. I’m concerned because nearly every church in the world uses this form of expression, yet their leaders don’t understand music well enough to use it in any constructive or deeply worthwhile way.

Week after week our congregations are presented with sounds that function as no more than an entertaining addition to the text (which had more meaning before it was set to music).  In extreme cases, the music even makes a mockery of the text it sets. Outside of the text, much of the church’s music is very shallow if not completely irrelevant to our faith.  It seems to me that if something is going to be included in our corporate worship that it be valuable at least to the end of coloring a relevant text in a way that enhances its meaning.

Worship music is not simply a melodic line used to sing a text that agrees with the Christian worldview.  For example, “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee” is not worship music, but a worship text.  That tune played by itself portrays Christianity and a form of deism simultaneously, making the melody an unsettling oxymoron. While the song can be justified being used in church by pointing out aesthetic implications between the text and the music and the comparing text to the text in Beethoven’s 9th, the tune is not worship music by any stretch of the imagination and the hymn should be handled very carefully if it is used in worship. The key words in worship music are “worship” and “music”.  I’ve been asked before what I thought worship music was, and I never gave a straight answer. I am realizing that the reason for dodging this question is due to the scarcity of worship music.  It’s very difficult to pinpoint a definition without clear examples to test your conclusion.  But in any case, this essay demands to conclude with an attempt:

Christian worship music is harmony, melody, color, and rhythm that is organized for the expressed purpose of paying homage to Christ and portraying or teaching the Christian worldview with it’s cumulative effect on a sentient being.

Sounds without theological meaning have no place in corporate worship.  That said, I hope we all realize that people on both sides of this issue have a lot of work to do.

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