Tag Archive | Singing

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!

Cold Pea Salad

I’ve received so many comments regarding the lack of variety and inclusion of worshipful hymns and songs that truly glorify God in our churches, that I have decided to include parts of just a few of them so you might see what some readers are thinking.  These have come as a result of several posts pertaining to the monotony, general lack of Biblical content, and “me” centered songs, rather than worshipful, melodious, Christ-centered ones.  Here are a few examples:

 

“This is real frustration felt by so many of us “old-timers”….I for one really loved the old hymns, and they still evoke a myriad of emotions in me…the new worship choruses, not so much.  Even so, the Holy Spirit speaks to hearts through music in spite of how it changes…all it takes is a receptive heart.”

“We have talked about taking ear plugs to church….”

“I struggle every week during worship with resentment at the worship team’s choice of songs.  Almost all are unfamiliar, “unsingable” due to complexity or range, or simply focused on the worshiper instead of the Lord.  And then the congregation applauds at the end of each song, which to me is praise for the singers, not the One being worshiped (it is not ‘clapping to the Lord’)….”

“The single largest problem the church faces today is having its priorities out of whack.  Worship and glorification of the Lord must come first, everything else including evangelism comes after.”

 

OK, so is it just disgruntled old “fogies” who are upset because their hymns have been replaced with contemporary worship songs? Do these people really hate lively songs with a good beat, including bass, guitars and percussion, preferring old, stale, slow, quiet hymns of another era? Or could it just be, perhaps, that they would like something called “variety” in worship?

Recently my husband and I attended a live, on-stage performance of C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters“, in which his famous book is portrayed in monologue form.  The late writer used allegory, symbolism and a hint of sarcasm to portray Satan and his demons at work on earth and especially in the church, among the saints who professed faith in Jesus Christ.  Let me try a little of his brilliant technic (however, probably not quite as brilliantly and cleverly as his was)!

I recently went to a buffet (or smorgasbord, as the Swedes call it) to hopefully try a variety of foods for my palate.  I was starved and looked forward to heaping my plate up with lots of goodies!  To my horror, I discovered that every dish on the serving line was filled with “Cold Pea Salad” as the signs indicated.  Now, I love “Cold Pea Salad” and started to take a heaping spoonful, but then I realized that the next spoonful and the next would be the same….my plate was soon full of “Cold Pea Salad”!  When I asked the manager what this was all about, he smiled and told me very politely that the restaurant had tried serving “Cold Peaches” about ten years ago, but people got weary of them.  So, about five years ago they switched entirely to “fish”; of course, the same thing happened, he said…people got very tired of fish before long!  So, now they were serving what he was sure everyone loved, “Cold Pea Salad”!  When I asked him if there was any chance of getting something else to eat, he promptly told me that a restaurant up the street was serving “Green Bean Salad” to all of its customers and I might like to try that one.  I thanked him and left.  On the way out, he shouted at me, “Oh, by the way, ma am, next Tuesday we’ll have a special menu; it will be ‘Chilled Pea Casserole’.  You might want to come back for that!”  Thankfully, I found a restaurant a few blocks away with a varied menu and enjoyed my meal!

Now, of course, you can see how ridiculous this is, but in many ways, it seems the Church has followed this line of thinking.  When it observed the world coming out with a new style of music, it was not too far behind in following the trend, instead of setting it!  If a survey showed that people of a certain age group (and this is certainly our target audience; who cares about the rest!) enjoy one kind of music, we shall bend over backward to please them, ignoring the cries of, “Can’t we have some variety?  I like this kind of music, and the guy over there likes another.  Can’t we sing both styles occasionally?”

I made a promise to myself and to my blog followers on my first post that I would not write a “negative rant” for a blog.  I have tried to keep this promise!  If I point out a “negative”, or a problem, for example, I would like to follow it up with a “positive”.  That is why I am going to post Part Two of this blog next week with some possible solutions to this situation.  I have prayed and asked the Lord to guide me in what I write and I feel that the Holy Spirit has given me some good ideas that may be a blessing and of some benefit to worship leaders and those in the congregation, as well.  ‘Til next time, be blessed!

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!

What Type of Worship Does God Enjoy?

Rebecca Baker 4        Well, that really is a loaded question, isn’t it? You may say, “how do we know what God likes?” There are so many styles of worship  music to choose from, ranging all the way from classical to rap and everything in between! When it comes to worship, you may feel His presence while listening to a heavy metal song with a driving beat; or you may prefer some classic anthems of praise sung by an anointed choir. Some people like to stomp their feet and tap their toes to Southern Gospel; many people get it on to Black Gospel (one of my personal favorites!) because the sheer energy and rhythm of the song makes it virtually impossible not to clap, dance and move about! Of course, these same styles of music sung at a slower pace can cause a flood of emotions through the sheer beauty of the chords, bringing tears to our eyes and healing to our spirits.

How can this be, you ask?  What is there about music that touches us so deeply?  It’s simply because musical patterns have been scientifically created by the Great Musician, our wonderful God we serve! That is why some chords sound right together and others just don’t work. When you choose to go against the natural patterns He created, you have what is called “dissonance”. I believe Satan is the author of much discord in music, but that is another subject for another day.  There is nothing more intrinsically “spiritual” about one type of musical pattern over another.  Now, of course, putting words to the music can bring out emotions, but  music itself is not “spiritual”.  This is why musicians hundreds of years ago could take the common “bar tunes” of the day and put words of praise and worship magnifying God that we sing today as the “old hymns of the church”!  The question then is: How is God blessed and moved by our worship of Him? What style does He appreciate? The Word says “He inhabits, or lives in, our praises” so it seems to me that music uplifting Him, of any genre, is first and foremost what He enjoys if our hearts are totally directed towards Him in our worship! The Word is replete with examples of worship pleasing to our Lord. If you would like to do a study on which forms of worship God encourages, the following passages will be helpful:

Shouts of praise:Shout for joy to God, all the earth;” (Psalm 66:1, ESV); “So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting…” (I Chronicles 15:28, ESV)
Singing:Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” (Psalm 47:6, ESV) Also check out I Chronicles 16:9  “Sing to him; sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!” (ESV); Psalm 66:4, Psalm 68:32, Psalm 96:1 (“Oh sing to the Lord a new song…”); Colossians 3:16, and on and on! There are literally hundreds of verses about singing in the Word of God.
Tambourines and Lyres: “They sing to the tambourine and the lyre and rejoice to the sound of the pipe.” (Job 21:12, ESV)
Cymbals and Trumpets: “Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” (Psalm 150:5, ESV); “The singers…were to sound bronze cymbals;” (I Chronicles 15:19 (ESV); “Heman and Jeduthun had trumpets and cymbals for the music and instruments for sacred song.” (I Chronicles 16:42, ESV); “Praise him with the sound of the trumpet” (Psalm 150:3, KJV).
Making merry; rejoicing in song: “And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the Lord, with songs….” (2 Samuel 6:5, ESV); “And David and all Israel were rejoicing before God with all their might, with song…” (I Chronicles 13:8, ESV)
Playing and singing together: “Praise the Lord with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings (how many fingers do you have…could this be clapping?). Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.” (Psalm 33:2 and 3, KJV)
Clapping unto the Lord:Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1, ESV)
Stringed instruments and organs: “Praise him with stringed instruments and organs.” (Psalm 150:4, KJV)
Dancing: “Praise him with the timbrel and dance:” (Psalm 150:4a, KJV); “Let them praise his name in the dance:” (Psalm 149:3, KJV)
Lifting of hands:Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.” (Psalm 134:2, KJV); “I desire then that in every place men should pray, lifting holy hands…” (I Timothy 2:8, ESV)

     There are literally hundreds more verses on this subject of music and worship in both the Old and New Testaments.   To answer the question:  It is obvious that God likes many different styles of music for He created all music!   All through the Word, we are told to worship with joy, loud praises, shouting, and thankfulness. Worship is to be a happy, exuberant experience!  In a day and age where everything is specialized and carved out in little niches to try and please everybody (a literal impossibility!), perhaps we can depend on the Holy Spirit’s guidance to show what the music we employ to worship the King of the Universe in the corporate setting should sound like! I pray we will all worship Him “in spirit and in truth” as Jesus said that “true worshippers” would do in John 4:23,24. It’s time to stop going through the motions and worship from our hearts!