For a long time I have imagined that when God handed out the genes, I was at the end of the queue when it came to the ‘Praise and Worship’ gene.
Everywhere I visit the local churches, the emphasis is on what is called ‘Praise’ music.
The leader, usually someone skilled in singing rather than in worship, will introduce the singing of numerous, repeated and often repetitious songs as ‘a time of praise and worship’. Often this is in fact called ‘worship’, as if all else that happens is not.
It’s been a huge transformation from the style of worship and the music of my upbringing.
And around the world all this has led to what are called ‘the worship wars’. No subject has elicited so much conflict in local congregations, and sadly a number of local congregations have split, or their pastors been forced to leave, because of these ‘wars’.
Amazing, that the worship of God should be the subject of such angst.
I felt some of that angst personally when in a meeting with some pastors of large churches. The conversation included discussion of worship styles, and one of the pastors confidently declared that what takes place in several of his services would not be to my liking or preference.
I found myself thinking: ‘What do you know of my liking or preferences?’
Indeed, what are my preferences?
As always, is is much easier to say what I do not find easy to go with. It is not a matter of music styles. It has more to do with inanity. I find worship songs that insult my intelligence, that are inane in the extreme, that are basically poor poetry and lacking in basic grammar or elementary style, these are just offensive. Not theologically offensive, though sometimes they are. No, they offend one’s basic intelligence, and that’s where the problem is. They cause me to be critical, at exactly the time when I am wanting not to be critical, but rather to offer myself in humility before God.
A few days later, a transforming experience came to me.
I was at a school concert, where my daughter was to sing with a choral group.
Earlier in the program, two items simply transported me into musical delights.
First, a young man sang the Italian love song, ‘Con Te Partiro’ by Andrea Bocelli. The astonishing quality of the performance by a young man just 17 years old was itself a delight. And I have to say that the Italian language is pleasant to the ear, even when one does not know the words. And the song is just lovely. No better word for it.
Then a choral group sang Mozart’s ‘Vesparae solennes de confessore, K399 – Laudate dominum’, a short song of praise to our Lord.
It too just lifted me up—at the end of a busy day, when I had not wanted to have to go out and ‘sit through’ yet another school event, here I found my spirits drawn to the praise of God.
It is not that I have missed out on the praise gene.
I have found great relief in being able to name the fact that I can and do praise God, through music, and am not somehow ‘deficient’, as is so often implied by the spiritual superiority of those who delight in their songs of praise.
Is it just a matter of ‘preference’? It might be, but I don’t think so. I have been known to delight in other music as well, even some of those ‘praise and worship’ songs.
Maybe there is something else at work here. It is the Spirit of God who evokes worship. The great mistake of so much of the ‘praise’ events is precisely that they try so hard to create this praise, as if to crank it up. No, it is the surprising Spirit who evokes this praise, and it does so in wholistic experiences, not in ways that require us to shut out our critical thinking, or our genuine feelings (such as anger or frustration), or any other part of ourselves. Worship must be whole-some, and is therefore healing; it is not a form of escape.
Furthermore, worship in the Spirit can include such things as love-songs, and in both the instances I mentioned, it transcends the language barriers. I speak neither Italian nor Latin, but the music and the words drew me into worship.
This is the mystery of it. More praise to God.