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Thursday, February 21, 2008
When the music fades
And all is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless your heart

I'll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the ways things appear
You're looking into my heart

I'm coming back to the
heart of worship
And it's all about You, Jesus...

At my college, each Sunday night during the school year, about 60-100 students would gather at the little ol' on-campus chapel for "Prayer & Praise." The name is pretty self-explanatory; we would sing for about 45 minutes and then pray for another 15 minutes or so before closing with some more singing. Four or five students led the singing with a couple of guitars and the occasional bongo drum, playing a mixture of contemporary praise songs and traditional hymns. Almost without exception, those 60+ minutes of worship were the highlight of my week, and involved a "closeness" to God that I've found difficult to reproduce in another setting since then. Part of that is rightly due to the contemplative atmosphere that P&P offered, one which you could just walk into wearing shorts and sandals and immediately praise God with little contact with other people (while being encouraged and uplifted by our corporate praise) and no pressure to assume any particular "style" of worship (I recall some of us would kneel, lie face down, sit with bowed head, raise hands, you name it). Worship has always been the method by which I've felt closest to God.

And yet, a part of the appeal of (and cause of the replicative difficulty in the years since) those evenings was undoubtedly the "music" portion. That is, why can't I find as much spiritual closeness by, say, chanting out the Psalms as I do when a lyrically modern song plays supported by a full set of instruments? Am I merely getting an emotional high from the music, and not so much of a spiritual high? Do I prefer certain types of worship music merely for the good feelings they give? Do I truly come back to the "heart of worship" every Sunday (or every time I vocally praise God)?

That leads me to this excellent post by Greg Gilbert, who discusses this matter further.

I’ve been amazed since becoming an elder in a local church just how dependent many Christians are on a certain style of music, or certain level of excellence in music. How many times have you heard someone say, for example, “I just can’t worship in that church.”? Or “I just don’t feel like I’m connecting with God there.”

Of course there can be a lot going on there, but I think that many times if you press in on statements like that, what you find behind it all is not very far removed from “I don’t like the music there.” People don’t put it that starkly, mainly because if you do it sounds silly. But I think that’s a lot of what people mean when they say, “I can’t worship there.” The reality is that a single flat-back piano just doesn’t gig their emotions as much as a full electric band does. They don’t get that “transcendent feeling,” so they get discouraged and end up saying they “can’t worship.”

I wonder if the whole “excellence in praise and worship music” phenomenon we’ve seen over the past few years—for all the good it’s done—hasn’t also had some less-than-desirable effects on young Christians. I wonder if it hasn’t created a generation of functional mystics who gauge their relationship with God by emotional experience rather than the objective reality of redemption.

When I was... in college, I went to a few of the Passion conferences when they were held in Texas... And the music was excellent—truly wonderful in every way. We sang loud, hands in the air, eyes closed and full of tears sometimes, and I believe I worshipped God through it all.

But then I went back to New Haven, Connecticut. The praise bands were gone, I didn’t have a group of people who’d gone with me and shared that experience, and the churches had a piano and thirty people singing Isaac Watts hymns. That forced me to learn how to stoke the fires of worship with truths and words, and not just with excellent music. I’ve learned how to be emotionally affected by the excellent words of hymns whether they’re played and sung “excellently” or not.

There’s a whole generation of young people out there now, though, who aren’t emotionally affected by words, whose fires are only stoked when those words are accompanied by great rhythms, skilled instrumentation, and a certain well-recognizable mood that typically accompanies Christian “praise-and-worship.” And the result is that you have young people church-hopping around town, and one of the main criteria of their shopping is “the worship,” by which more often than not they mean “the music.” You have young Christians feeling discouraged because—despite the fact that they sit under faithful preaching of the word Sunday after Sunday—they say they haven’t “felt close to God” in so long. Maybe there’s something important going on there. But there’s also a good chance, I’d argue, that they just haven’t had a good endorphin rush since the last conference they attended.

I am really afraid that we’ve managed to create a generation of anemic Christians who are spiritually dependent on excellent music. Their sense of spiritual well-being is based on feeling “close to God,” their feeling close to God is based on their “ability to worship,” and being able to worship depends on big crowds singing great music.
...
The bottom line, I suppose, is that it would do every Christian well to do some honest heart-searching about what makes them feel “close to God.” Can you feel close to God just by reading or saying the words, “In Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”? Would you be able to function in a church that’s great in every way except the music? If not, you probably need to give some thought to whether your spiritual life is dependent on something it should not be dependent on.

1 comments:

Sarah Jo said...

I feel that you may failed to notice the title of my post :-) which is "this is not about you"
i.e. those who would read the post - yourself included. Therefore, too many blogs, too many people trying to be funny or intelligent does not include you :-)
just thought I'd clarify.
and thanks! I will enjoy it :-)

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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables


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