Tag Archive | Psalms

Some Things Should Never Change!

images[5]In my last blog post I mentioned a number of negative things I believe are going on in the church world when it comes to music, which do not lend themselves to a productive worship experience for many people.  Today, I would like to take a positive approach to worship by sharing a couple of scriptures from the New Testament, written through the hand of the Apostle Paul, about what, ideally, our corporate worship should look like.  The Bible says “in the mouth of two or three witnesses a thing shall be established”, so I have chosen two verses which say nearly the same thing.

The first is found in Ephesians 5:19 and 20, “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

The second verse is in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (ESV)

It is pretty clear from these verses that the Early Church used this pattern of worship in its services.  Psalms have been used since the time of David as poetic themes from the Word of God set to various musical patterns.  Many churches, as well as synagogues, use these to this day.  Some use them exclusively in worship.  Psalms are simply passages of scripture dedicated to praise and worship of our Father which, when set to various melodies, can be extremely conducive to entering into His presence in the corporate worship setting.

Last night I attended a choir rehearsal of a world-famous and highly renowned choir.  They were rehearsing the familiar old tune from the 1800’s, “The Lord’s My Shepherd”, which is a musical adaptation of Psalm 23.  The associate choir director, a young man in his 30’s, related the story of how four years ago he had been experiencing severe trials in his life which had led him into a sort of depressed state.  One Sunday, as he walked into church, he heard the choir sing the words from this psalm,

“My table thou hast furnished

In presence of my foes;

My head thou dost with oil anoint,

And my cup overflows.”

He said that immediately a peace came over him and his whole outlook and attitude changed as he thought about our Lord who gives us so many blessings that our cups overflow with them!  It was a major turning point in his life that he never forgot.  God used a simple hymn to transform the life of a young man from feelings of depression to victory!

The second form of musical worship mentioned in the above verses is “hymns”.  These anointed works containing much scripture, worship of God and theologically sound doctrinal themes, have been penned by men and women for centuries as expressions of their love for their Lord, often mentioning the omnipotence and majesty of God, as well as the themes of crowning Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, now and in Eternity!  I could go on and on, naming such great hymns as “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and so on.  To omit these mighty works, which have endured in the church for literally centuries, from our modern repertoire in favor of some light, fluffy tunes with words that copy current pop or rock lyrics, simply substituting the word “Jesus” for “you, my lover” is missing a sacred opportunity to enter into the presence of the Holy One!

The last type of music mentioned by the Apostle Paul is the term, “spiritual songs”.  I think we all are aware of what “spirituals” are…the African American people learned hundreds of songs by rote, which we still sing, as they were working in hard labor in the cotton fields and wherever they happened to be.  No doubt these songs were a great comfort to them in their physically agonizing times of stress and strain and probably “got them through” much pain and suffering.

Even if we today are not enduring the trials of the American slaves of old, we still have trials and tribulations that cause us to turn to our Creator for peace and help.  This is where many “spiritual songs” have sustained men and women, boys and girls for centuries.  These are “testimony” songs about God’s sustaining grace and power to deliver in time of need; songs about how God rescued us from the pit of despair and put us on the path to Eternal Life; testimonies and praise to Him in upbeat, as well as quiet and worshipful, tunes; and songs simply expressing our heartfelt love and gratitude to the One who has changed our lives!

I believe the Church collectively would do well to consider including music from each of these three categories in our worship services.  Surely this admonition from the New Testament is just as important for us to observe today as it was back when it was written.  Some things are not meant to change!



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 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!