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King David’s Great Choir and Orchestra, Part I

Worship[1]

Let me tell you a story about the singers and orchestra that led God’s people, the children of Israel, on many journeys, including battles and a journey to place the ark of God in a permanent home!

The story begins in I Chronicles 15:1 and 2:  David built houses for himself in the City of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it.  Then David said, “No one may carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the Lord has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister before Him forever.” (NKJV)  The story continues through the chapter with verse 16 stating, Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy. (NKJV)

It is important to remember that as we study the Torah and the Law of God (primarily in the books of Exodus and Leviticus),  we become aware that the Levites were one of the twelve tribes and the only one of the tribes to be “priests” of God and minister to Him in the Tabernacle, which at that time was portable and could be carried.  It was a tent-like structure made of animal skins, rich tapestries and other coverings, curtains, ornate wood overlaid with gold, and beautiful furnishings.  The ark of God (often referred to as the Ark of the Covenant) was housed within the Holy of Holies and only the priests (Levites) were allowed in this area.  The Tabernacle was carried with the children of Israel during their many years of wandering in the wilderness on their way to the “Promised Land”.

David desperately wanted to find a permanent home for the ark of God.  He desired to build a house, or temple, for God, but the Lord denied David this honor, telling him that because he had been a man of war, He would only allow it to be built by his son at a later time.  Solomon, David’s son, became king after David ruled for 40 years and built the temple, much of it planned out by his father!  But God allowed David to house the ark in a tent, as we read above, and that is where it remained until the completion of the temple at a later date.  This is where we get the terminology “The Tabernacle of David” because it refers to the glory of God brought into our lives through praise and worship! God is restoring this type of worship today, a spontaneous, non-structured, joyful “entering into His presence” experience.  Holy Spirit anointed instrumental and vocal musicians lead the way into the “Holy of Holies” where the Ark of the Covenant used to be located, but is now located within us as we enter into His presence!  We can come boldly before the Throne of Grace today as we enter in through our worship! (Hebrews 4:16)

What is interesting to me, as a musician, is the detail recorded in I Chronicles regarding the musical instruments the musicians played.   In chapter 15, verse 20 we read about several musicians playing “harps tuned to alamoth”, apparently a tuning scale of the day.   Verse 21 mentions six other musicians would “lead with lyres tuned to the sheminith”.  The Hebrew Interlinear Bible interprets this as, “with lyres on the octave” indicating a scale similar to ours today.  I find this fascinating!  Verse 22  says, Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful. (NASB) (A footnote says he was “trained”). This indicates that a portion of the Levites were musicians who apparently even taught music!  So, being a music teacher is very scriptural!  Psalm 33:3 says, Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. (NASB) and Isaiah 23:16 says,  Take your harp….Pluck the strings skillfully, sing many songs, That you may be remembered. (NASB)  I spent nearly 35 years as a music teacher, and I am glad that God found this to be important…stressing the need for playing skillfully!

These verses should give music directors, teachers, singers and instrumentalists cause for joy in their profession!  Now, let’s see how the musicians who were of the tribe of the Levites were supported on a day-to-day basis.  I Chronicles 9:33 reads, These are the singers, heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites, who lodged in the chambers, and were free from other duties; for they were employed in that work day and night. (NKJV)  They were obviously engaged in singing and playing instruments, as well as teaching, in the house of the Lord.  Nehemiah 11:22b & 23 tells us,  ...the singers in charge of the service of the house of God.  For it was the king’s command concerning them that a certain portion should be for the singers, a quota day by day. (NKJV) The ESV puts it this way, For there was a command from the king concerning them, and a fixed provision for the singers, as every day required.

So, music must have been extremely important to God, for He provided for the musicians in His House, not only as singers and instrumentalists, but as instructors of future musicians!  They were a part of the Levitical priesthood and as such, were provided for financially! Nehemiah 12:44-46 reads, On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites;….For they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers in accordance with the command of David and of his son Solomon.  For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God. (NASB)

But, unfortunately, some had not been paid.   Nehemiah 13:10 & 11 tells us,  I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field.  So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?”  And I gathered them together and set them in their stations.” (ESV)  The NASB says, “Restored them to their posts.”  Nehemiah then speaks in the next verses about restoring the tithes and appointing treasurers over the storehouses so that the Levites and musicians could once again serve, being supported financially.  Verse 12 says,  All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses.  Nehemiah put several “in charge of the storehouses” (in verse 13) for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen.  Isn’t this fascinating how the tithes were distributed to also include the payment of musicians?

I will conclude this fascinating study with Part II tomorrow….Please don’t miss it!

A few years ago I recorded my arrangement of the beautiful praise song written by Fanny J. Crosby, “Praise Him!  Praise Him!”…it has a bit of a “jazzy” twist.  I hope you will enjoy this as you worship today!

 

 

 

 

Was Lucifer a Musician? (Part 2)

Yesterday, I detailed the warning prophecy given by the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 28 of his book. If you did not get a chance to read this post, please do so before reading the rest of Part 2! It is important for continuity.

As I mentioned, Ezekiel 28:11-19, often attributed to a description of Lucifer, was actually a lamentation directed towards the King of Tyre, inhabited by the Israelite tribe of Asher. Wondering if there was actually any correlation between this prophecy and this description of Lucifer we have referred to for centuries, I went online and found the following written in the 1700’s by Jonathan Edwards, the fiery revivalist preacher and pioneer of the Reformed Church, as well as a major figure in the First Great Awakening. He writes the following of this passage: “Satan, or Lucifer, or Beelzebub, being the archangel…conceived rebellion against the Almighty and drew away a vast company of the heavenly hosts with him….This angel, before his fall, was the chief of all the angels, of greatest natural capacity, strength, and wisdom, and highest in honour and dignity, the brightest of all those stars of heaven, as is signified by what is said of him, under that type of him, the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:12), ‘How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!’ This signifies his outshining all the other stars, as the morning star outshines the rest. It is yet more manifest from what is said of the king of Tyrus (Tyre), as a type of the devil, in Ezekiel 28:12-19….It is exceeding manifest that the king of Tyrus is here spoken of as a type of the devil, or the prince of the angels or cherubim that fell. Because he is here expressly called an angel or cherub, once and again, Ezekiel 28:14, 16…and is spoken of as a fallen cherub. He is spoken of as having been in heaven under three different names; Eden (the Garden of God or Paradise of God) – v. 13; the Holy Mountain of God – v. 14, 16; and the Sanctuary – v. 18.

“He is spoken of as in his first estate, or the state wherein he was created, to be perfectly free from sin, but afterwards falling by sin (v. 15)….The iniquity by which he fell was pride….He is represented as being cast out of heaven, and cast down to the earth for his sin. (v. 16, 17)”

So, I am convinced that this portion of Ezekiel is not only  directed against Tyre, but also depicts in a sort of allegorical way, a picture of Lucifer, whom we also know as Satan. The name Lucifer literally means “morning star” in Latin, or “light-bearing“. No wonder Jesus actually saw him fall from Heaven as lightning!

In Ezekiel 28:13 we not only read of the ten precious stones that covered him, but of the workmanship of his timbrels and pipes. Isaiah 14:11 says, “Your pomp is brought down to Sheol (or the grave), and the sound of your stringed instruments….” (NKJV)

These verses list instruments from all three of the musical families: The timbrels (or tambourines) are a part of the percussion family; the pipes are indicative of woodwinds, brass and flutes; stringed instruments (also translated harps) include the violin family, guitars and pianos. It seems to me that Lucifer could have actually been a musical instrument!! Not only could he play an instrument, but the Word speaks of the workmanship of his timbrels and pipes; then it mentions the sound of your stringed instruments.

Wow! Does this send chills down your spine? Is it any wonder that Lucifer (Satan) controls the music of the world and is called the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience….” (Eph. 2:2, NKJV)? It is fairly obvious when one observes the music being lewdly performed on the stage, TV, and on the airwaves that the majority of the latest “hot” trends derive themselves from the basest of desires, ultimately having roots in Satan’s musical kingdom. Most of the popular hip-hop, rock and rap groups claim some sort of allegiance to the darker side, including the occult, profanity, disrespect for authority, indulgence in sexual appetites and promiscuity and complete and utter abandonment of God and His principles. Who else could be behind this music but Lucifer, the brightest of the archangels and chief of the musicians and worship leaders in Heaven? He hates God and all He represents so much so that after he was cast out of His presence, he determined to spend his remaining days deceiving people, especially musicians, into making music that is as anti-God as possible.  And he is pretty good at his job!

Does he try to influence Christian musicians and worship leaders, as well? The answer, unfortunately, is yes, if they allow him to gain access to their minds and talents. Petty jealousy and vying for authority, the exact same things that got Satan thrown out of Heaven, run rampant among church musicians and worship leaders today just as they did when Satan and one-third of the angels were cast out of Heaven thousands of years ago. If musicians who love God give into the work of the Enemy, they also can fall prey to his deceptive voice speaking things such as, “Why aren’t you in charge of the music around here?”; “Why is that person up there playing and not you? You’re more talented than they are!”; “Who does he think he is, coming in here and ruining your starring role on stage?”;  “Show her who’s in charge around here…don’t let her up here to perform!”  Sound comical?  Sadly, often times these ideas often dominate church music programs.  They also hinder the work the Holy Spirit desires to perform through worship.

Competition, envy and jealousy have no place in a church, not in the pastor’s role, nor in the music minister or worship leader’s, nor in the musicians who regularly lead worship. These are things we must guard against, even while realizing who our Enemy is, a disgruntled musician named Lucifer, who has made it his lifelong task to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) and often tries his best to do it through music! Let’s take authority over any spirits of strife, jealousy, envy or competition in the music and worship department and let the Holy Spirit move in freedom and power to change lives and transform hearts!

Some Lessons from King David

As the world welcomes with great interest the birth of a new little prince who one day could become King of England, I’d like to take you back to another great king…the Psalmist David, anointed and chosen by God to lead His people, the Israelites.  Many people believe that the Throne of David is still very much alive today with his descendants sitting on the British throne (Jeremiah 33:17-26; II Samuel 7:11-16; Psalm 89:20-37).  Whether you agree with the position that David’s lineage literally refers to the unbroken monarchy in Great Britain descending from the Israelites, or to Jesus, whom we all know came from the “house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4), we agree David was one of the greatest kings, warriors, musicians and mighty men of God to ever live!  In fact, God called him “a man after his own heart” (I Samuel 13:14), and we still read, sing and gain comfort from his words in the Book of Psalms today.

Let’s examine a few interesting facts concerning this man chosen of God to be king of Israel.  In I Samuel we read that God spoke to the prophet Samuel and said, “Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite.  For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.” (I Samuel 16:1, ESV)  In verses 12 and 13,  God tells Samuel (speaking of David), “Arise, anoint him; for this is he.  Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.” (KJV)

We see in this passage that God chose the one He wanted, anointed him, and from that day on put His Spirit upon David!  If God’s spirit had not been on him, how would he have dared to come against the giant Goliath and speak boldly to him the Word of the Lord, killing him in front of everyone?  If God’s spirit had not been upon him, how could he have played anointed music with his harp and lyre for King Saul when the evil spirits were vexing him?  This happened several times; the first account is in I Samuel 16:14-23.  If God’s spirit had not been upon him, how would he have been able not only to slay multiplied thousands at God’s command, but also to write some of the most beautiful psalms?

So, my friend, follower of Jesus, and fellow musician, if you know beyond a certainty that God has called you to your ministry, whatever it may be, and that God’s Spirit is upon you, does it really matter what anyone else thinks of you or says about you?  Don’t you have the boldness of the Holy Spirit within you to make you victorious in any circumstance?

You will notice that after David was anointed to be king and God’s Spirit was upon him he became the object of severe jealousy directed at him by friends and family.  Notice his brother’s angry reaction to his coming to challenge Goliath in I Samuel 17:28…not exactly a show of support from his family, was it? After the victory over the giant, while the people, particularly the women, were dancing and singing his praises, King Saul became insanely jealous of David.  I Samuel 18:9 says, “And Saul eyed (or envied) David from that day and forward.” (ESV)  Instead of being proud of him and grateful for his success over the enemy, he sought to kill him from that day on!

How often do we feel jealousy and envy directed at us, perhaps even from other musicians in the Church?   Song of Solomon 8:6 says, “…jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.” (KJV)  The Apostle Paul tells us in I Corinthians 4:7, “What is so special about you?  What do you have that you were not given?  And if it was given to you, how can you boast?”  (CEVU)   If all gifts are God-given, we should never be jealous of anyone else’s talents!  Equally as sinful as having jealousy towards our brother or sister is boasting about our own gift. It’s clear there should be no jealousy, competition, arrogance or pride amongst any musical group or in any form of leadership in the Church.  Even when David felt this jealousy directed at him and had to run for his very life, often hiding in caves, he knew Who had anointed him to be king; he knew that eventually God’s plan for him would be fulfilled!  And, of course, it was.  God used this interim time, however, to do a work in David, molding him and mellowing him, teaching him to trust and obey Him, forming him into the great leader He desired him to be!

My husband had a wonderful comment on the fact that when Saul tried to outfit David with his armor as he prepared to fight against Goliath  (I Samuel 17:38 and 39), David declined, saying, ” ‘I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.’  So David put them off.” (ESV)  As Christians we cannot simply “use” another person’s armor; we must test the “whole armor of God” for ourselves, putting on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness,  and shoes of the gospel of peace; taking the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, “that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”  (Ephesians 6:11-17)

David stood strong in the midst of persecution, jealousy and battle because he knew God had called and anointed him for a specific time and role!  He was willing to wait for this to come to pass in God’s perfect timing.  If we know our calling, why do we let the devil and others destroy our peace of mind and confidence in God?  Let’s take a lesson from King David…be strong in the Lord, for you are victorious today!

What is an “Anointed” Song?

Many times we hear people say, “That song is so beautiful and so anointed!”  What are they really saying and how can we tell if a song truly is “anointed”?

Let’s first of all explore what the word “anointed” means.  Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines “anoint” as “to apply oil to as a sacred rite especially for consecration”.  We know of several instances in the Old Testament where the priests or kings of Israel were anointed.  There was a special ceremony and they were “set apart” or consecrated for this office.  Some verses about this are found in Exodus 28:41, Leviticus 16:32, and I Samuel 15:1.  You can look up many others, as well.  This brings us to the other definition for “anoint” which, according to Merriam Webster is “to choose by or as if by divine election”.  In my concordance, the word “anointed” gives the subtitle, “consecrated”.  This brings me to my real question:  Can a song truly be “anointed”?

First of all, let’s explore what the term “the anointing” we hear used so often is not:  It is not necessarily chill bumps all over your body when you hear a good song, although this definitely can be a part of it!  It is not tears or emotional responses to a certain song, although this may, also, be a big part of it!  If this is all the “anointing” were, then many  secular love songs and patriotic songs which invoke similar responses would also be “anointed”.  So, what is this term we often uses so loosely and why is it so important to a song’s ability to speak to hearts and change lives, often turning them towards God in a way not possible through mere spoken words?

The Word of God speaks of “the Lord saving His anointed” (Psalm 20:6) and the “saving strength of His anointed” (Psalm 28:8).  Psalm 105:15 also says, “Touch not mine anointed…” (KJV)  It appears from these and other similar verses throughout the Word that God has special ones that He has “anointed” and that He guards and watches over them diligently!  Could this be the converted, elect children of God?  Could it be that when we place our trust in Jesus as Savior and choose to follow the Lord in all of our ways that we then become His “anointed” and that we are saved for Eternity and protected with His divine provision from harm and danger?  Even though we may “walk through the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil for He is with us!” (Psalm 23)

So what does being “consecrated”, or as the dictionary definition puts it, “dedicated to a sacred purpose” have to do with anointed music?  Can we feel this “anointing” in a song?  I think the answer is simple:  When a person becomes a Spirit-filled child of God, this anointing, the “oil” of the Holy Spirit spoken of in the Old Testament,  overflows from our lives, making the words or songs given by the Holy Spirit “dedicated” or “consecrated” as well, or in essence, “anointed”.  Words or songs given to that person by the Holy Spirit will be “anointed” because He is enlightening our minds with the words of God!  That is why I believe the entire Word of God is totally inspired; every word is anointed and valuable to us.   II Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”  (KJV)  This means that if God through the Holy Spirit gives someone a song, that song, including the words and the music, is inspired and “anointed” to bring Him glory!

So, can a song be anointed?  The answer is an emphatic “yes”!   The reason?  Because the person who wrote the song under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was “anointed” and God’s words and melodies flowing through the writer’s pen bring to bear that same anointing on the song they have written!  Do some songs, even supposed “Christian” ones, leave you cold and flat emotionally?  Perhaps they are not really “anointed”.   Some hymns that have come down through the centuries are just as poignant with emotion and God’s Word beautifully set to poetry as the day they were written.  For example, how can you improve on best-loved songs of all time such as “Amazing Grace”, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”?  Hard to compare these with some of the current dribble that passes for music!

One of my friends who happens to be the wife of a pastor of a large church really summed it up for me.  She told me of a recent experience where her daughter who is in her late 20’s decided to buy a CD of just hymns to play on a lengthy trip she needed to make with her two small children.  She told her mother she put the hymn CD into her player and  just couldn’t stop listening as tears ran down her cheeks.  Her two children were quiet and slept most of the way and they, too, seemed to sense the “anointing” coming from the words and music.  Her last comment to her mom is one I will never forget.  She said, “Mom, these hymns are so different from the standard “praise” music we usually hear.  Those songs are ‘all about me’; these hymns are ‘all about Him’!”  I couldn’t have put it any better!  The anointing of the Holy Spirit is real.  It truly can even “fill a song with God’s presence!”

Being “Salt and Light” Where You Are!

She was a delicate, beautiful, slightly built young woman who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent.  After walking into my teaching studio in Tyler, Texas and shyly introducing herself as Sheron,  she told me she was interested in her five year old son, Ali, beginning piano lessons.  She seemed a bit unsure of herself, and I noticed she also had a two-year-old son who appeared to be very hyper-active with disciplinary challenges!  I gladly enrolled her little boy in lessons and decided to take him myself, as I had a few openings.

Ali did fairly well when he practiced, but I don’t think piano was his main interest in life; probably, more than likely, it was his mom’s idea for him to come!  As the weeks passed and he came to his half-hour lesson, I would visit briefly with Sheron and discuss her son’s progress, among other things.  I learned that she was new to our country, having recently moved here from her native country of Iran.  She had a degree in biophysics and after moving to the U.S. had met and married a fellow Iranian who owned several gas station/convenience stores in the area.  She was always very pleasant to talk with and our friendship grew.

One day she confided to me that she was very lonely and did not seem able to make many friends in our country.  I told her I would be her friend and that seemed to please her.  I knew she had her hands full with two very active boys and I just tried to help her feel comfortable.  The next time Sheron brought Ali to his lesson, she said to me, “I want to know about Jesus!  I have been reading some and hearing about Him.  Can you help me?”  I excitedly shared my testimony of receiving Jesus as my personal Savior from sin and asked her if she had a Bible.  She did not, and I told her I would get her one, which I promptly did.  When I presented it to her the following week, she was very excited, telling me she was fluent in English and could easily read an English edition.  She also began reading materials about the Gospel in her native Farsi language.

The next time she came I asked her if she would like to receive Jesus as her Savior.  She eagerly said, “Yes!” and after explaining what conversion was all about, I led her in the sinner’s prayer and Sheron became a Christian!  I asked if she had a church home and invited her to come to our church.  She said she would try, but that her husband was a Muslim and did not like the Christian faith.  She seemed a bit concerned about this fact, and I told her I would be her prayer partner and together we would pray for her husband.  Then she shared with me the fact that she had suffered with severe back pain for some time; I prayed for her healing and she told me the pain left!  The next week she was jubilant when she told me she had not suffered any more pain all week and that she was still rejoicing in her new-found salvation through the blood of Christ!

Not too long after this a young woman in her twenties, with a remarkable voice and to whom I had taught voice lessons when she was in high school, came back to refresh and sing again with me.  During her first vocal lesson, she confided in me that she had recently converted to the “Wicca” faith, a variety of witchcraft, although she had been a Baptist when I had taught her years earlier.  Although I was somewhat aghast and surprised, I simply told her I would pray for her.  She knew how I believed and week after week at our lesson, she would still sing some Christian songs along with Broadway and operatic tunes she was working on.  At times I would have a chance to witness to her of my faith, once again.  One day, she came and told me about some heart-wrenching things in her life, and began to sob in anguish.  As the tears streamed down her face, I said, “Michelle (not her real name), it’s time to come back!  Jesus is waiting for you and you know you will never be happy until you surrender to Him!”  She nodded in agreement, and prayed the sinner’s prayer with me.  Great joy flooded her countenance and the next week when she returned for her lesson, she glowed with a peace that made her look almost like an entirely different person!

Both Sheron and Michelle moved out of my life, Ali discontinuing his lessons and Michelle moving away.  I never saw either of them again, and perhaps I never will, but out of the thousands of people I have taught, I never forgot them!   I know God used me in that little studio to help two young women come to Christ.  Sometimes when I became discouraged about teaching kids who didn’t want to be there, or when it seemed that my work was in vain, I thought about them and others who had come for lessons, many pouring out their hearts and problems to me with tears streaming down their faces, often saying as they sang worship songs, “I don’t know why, but this just brings something out in me that makes the tears flow!”  I would tell them this was the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

When you get discouraged or feel like giving up some days, just remember God can bring people into your life and down your path, even in the workplace!  You don’t have to preach them a sermon; just be their friend and bring Jesus to them as He leads you!  I found out through these experiences that “music really is worship”…being “salt and light” in a dark place!

 

Cold Pea Salad, Part II

In my last post, I detailed some apparent problems in church worship services today, seemingly contributing to many feeling they have no say in the type of music played and sung by worship teams and congregations.  I received so many great comments on this topic by people of all ages, including worship leaders, who let me know they have grappled with these same issues, sometimes in utter frustration.

I think we can all agree that the whole purpose of worship is twofold: First of all, it is not about “me” but about “Him”, or His ” Worth-ship” if you will.  The term worship was derived from these two words originally, as a form of adoration to the King of Kings.  Let us not forget this important point!  The second reason for worship is that it allows us to enter into God’s presence in a special way as we “unclutter” our minds from the mundane and secular aspects of our lives, if even for a few minutes, directing our love, praise and thanksgiving to the One who redeemed us and gives us the blessings we enjoy each day!  It is also something we do voluntarily, which is why our Father derives such pleasure from it.

So let me list a few points on the positive side to take us from “monotony, form and ritual” in music to entering into a new dimension of true meaning and appreciation for this important time!  If you missed Part I of this post, please read it before continuing.  These concepts and ideas are the result of much prayer in this area, as a worship leader myself.  With that in mind, I want to address the worship leaders first:

1.  Take time to pray and seek the mind of God through His Holy Spirit about the songs you are choosing for each service.  Remember, no two services are alike, and many times God wants to move in different ways if we’ll allow the Holy Spirit to do so.  In other words, don’t let any service get into a “rut” of, “Well, it worked fine last time; we’ll do it the same way today and every day!”  Perhaps some services will have more lively songs; some more worshipful and slower in tempo, coinciding with the message the pastor feels led to bring (it is good to find out what God is saying to him about the service, as well) and who is in attendance.  The Holy Spirit knows this ahead of time and as you pray, He will reveal to you which songs are right and which are not!  I have seen this happen many times and know it is vital; lots of prayer is so important!

2. Be open to trying different styles of music, as long as the words are full of praise and adoration to the Lord.  Testimonial songs, primarily about us and our experiences, are good in limited number, but let the majority be full of praise and worship, including scripture and perhaps words from the Psalms.  If you think all the songs sound similar, perhaps they do!  Try bringing in some “older” worship choruses and songs, even from the ’80’s and ’90’s, such as “As the Deer”, “Shout to the Lord”, “He Is Lord”, “We Exalt Thee”, and “Breathe“.  Remember some of those songs?  They are very anointed and seem to always bring the presence of the Lord into a service!  It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you see some people with tears in their eyes and hands lifted in worship when you begin to sing some of these older songs.  Don’t forget to incorporate a hymn or two every once in awhile, too!   Many of these were written centuries ago by men and women of God who experienced deep feelings of gratitude to their Lord and it shows in the anointed praise and worship which ensues when they are sung properly.  Remember “Amazing Grace”?  Wow, how can a person improve on that?  Try modulating up a half step on the last verse, “When we’ve been there 10,000 years….” and watch your congregational singing soar and “raise the roof!”  I’ve seen it happen countless times!  Remember to teach unfamiliar songs by using them a few times until everyone has a chance to learn them; it is easier to worship when a song is familiar!

3.  Try utilizing some of your talented singers and musicians in the congregation (who may not be participating on the worship team) for special music!  I was in one church that had an opera singer and a first chair violinist in the congregation, who rarely performed!  I thought this was very sad.  Remember, Paul tells the Church in  I Corinthians 14:26…”when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine…” (KJV) and so on.  It appears that it is scriptural to let the various members of the Body of Christ contribute according to the talents and gifting God has given them.  It’s not wrong to use gifted musicians in special music; it is actually quite scriptural and brings blessing to everyone!

4.  Why not include a brief questionnaire in the bulletin asking your congregation to give feedback on what types of music they would like to see employed in the worship services, what some of their favorite hymns or songs are, and how they feel about various styles of worship?  Let them give feedback (they don’t even need to sign them) and you can prayerfully read their responses to give you a much better idea of what your people want.  You don’t necessarily have to change everything to please each person, but the ideas given may be beneficial in planning future worship services!

Now, to the rest of you who are worshipping from the pew!  Pray for your worship leaders and music directors; pray for the instrumentalists and vocalists.  When you come to church, prepare your heart ahead of time for worship and ask God to give you an understanding heart and right spirit directed towards Him.  Think about the words of the songs as you sing; turn your eyes heavenward and choose to enter into God’s presence in worship, shutting out distractions about you.  (One of my biggest gripes about some worship services is the amount of people coming and going, talking, even texting, in short not caring one bit about the worship.  It is so distracting to me!)  So, just shut your eyes and begin to worship in “spirit and in truth” and trust God to take care of the things that annoy you about certain songs.  You may even find you begin to like some of those you thought were awful at first!  Remember, even the old hymns were once new; many of them were simply words set to well-known “bar tunes” of the day!  I wonder if they got flack for this at the time, too?  In short, Satan will always try to bring division among those who choose to worship, including the musicians leading the worship, so let’s not give him any territory!  We know God inhabits our praises and receives glory from our worship, so let’s make a choice to continue worshipping and entering into His presence.  He loves to hear our praises!

What Constitutes a “Good Song”?

We’ve seen in the last few posts that God is pleased with many kinds of worship and music as long as He is glorified and worshipped in “spirit and in truth”.  It is obvious that actual music, as in types of foods enjoyed, art, outdoor scenery, clothing, movies, books, or  other activities, is very diverse and that there is no right or wrong kind of music!  The primary goal is that the worshipper be brought into the presence of God through the words and beautiful melodies of the songs, some learned and even some spontaneous, all of which should glorify our great God and Creator of the Universe!  As we brought out in a past post, praising God in song, word, dance, shouting, lifting of hands, on the instruments, and even bowing before Him in silence, are all very scriptural ways to worship!  One way not mentioned is “being a spectator”!

Colossians 3:16 has long been one of my “theme” scriptures as a musician and teacher of music.  It reads:  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (KJV)   I also love Psalm 33:3, particularly as a pianist:  “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.” (ESV)  I Corinthians 14:26 puts it this way, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters?  When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” (NIV)  It is apparent that God’s plan for the Church was for each of us to participate in some way, not just sit as spectators while a small group does all of the “worshipping”.  If we are not entering in, we may as well stay home!  According to the above verses, we are to teach and admonish one another in the Body of Christ collectively with particular emphasis on “each of you” doing something.  What then, you may ask, is the difference between a “psalm”, a “hymn” and a “spiritual song”?

I believe that psalms can be read or sung; they include David’s beautiful poetic praise to the Lord in the Old Testament and other scripture specifically set to music as total praise and adoration to the Lord!  They are totally scriptural in that we are singing or speaking forth nothing but the Word of God.  This is, in essence, our “confession of faith” or confession of the Word in a particular situation, which builds us up in our spirits and increases our faith in God for particular situations in our lives.  Hymns, by contrast, may include scripture and can in essence present the whole Gospel message in a single anthem or song.  However, they may also include some words of testimony and adoration coming from the composer’s pen that are not necessarily the exact words of scripture as are the psalms, although they contain the essence of the thought.  Both of these are very scriptural and  should be employed in our worship services!  Spiritual songs may contain words of joyous testimony, words about our daily experiences in our Christian walk, upbeat utterances of praise or spontaneous praises to God not even written down on paper!

Here are three good ideas or criteria of what a song should include if it is to be considered for a worship team to sing.  I was recently visiting with a pastor of a large church and he said these are the guidelines he gives his worship leaders:

1.  Is the song meaningful, in that it glorifies God?  Does this song bring Him glory in its words, musically and throughout its emphasis, reinforcing the teachings of Scripture and not contradicting what we believe to be true according to the Word of God?

2.  Is it singable?  Many songs being sung in churches today are totally “unsingable” for the average congregation.  They are not pitched right and because of this some people do not know which octave they should sing the melody in!  Many are too high or too low because they have been transcribed from the music of a band with very high-voiced males, which is not the range of the average singer.  Sometimes the songs are very “wordy” and hard to learn; they are not in correct meter and thus, though they may sound good on an album, totally “unsingable” by the average amateur musician, who may not even read notes.

3.  Is it memorable?  Is the song one that sticks in your mind during the week and  easy to remember?  Studies have shown that songs containing simple, repetitive phrases and “musical hooks” are much more easily retained than complex musical patterns containing hard-to-remember phrases.  Songs should contain rhyming words, meter and rhythm to be considered a strong, singable song.  People worship more fully when they do not have to concentrate so deliberately on struggling with or learning the song, but just lose themselves in the essence and spirit of it!  Once a new song is introduced, it should be sung and re-sung regularly until the congregation becomes familiar with it.

These are just a few thoughts on what makes a good song and what God has in mind for our worship experience, based on His Word.  Obviously, if we enter into His Presence in worship, we will be abundantly blessed!