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Song and Submission: A Short Exploration of Worship

by Grant Finch

When I was 12, I started learning how to play guitar. That was when my life drastically changed. It didn’t take me very long to get plugged into the youth band at church. After a few years of that, I also joined the praise team on Sunday mornings, began leading the youth band, and played guitar at different places. A great portion of my life was dedicated to playing music at churches. I had many people tell me that they could tell that I was going to lead worship someday. I did not believe them because of my own fears and insecurities; however, God had different plans. Now, I help lead music at a small church in my community. 

As I have been learning what it means to be a worship leader, I came to a pressing question: What is worship? If I could not define it, how could I lead it? All I had for a definition was my experience.

Because I had grown up in church, I became very familiar with the word worship. It was often described as the music portion of our Sunday services every week. Occasionally, we would even host a whole worship service in the evenings. These services would consist of a bunch of songs, many of which were specials (songs that the congregation would not sing along to) as well as a short message. This was the same for the dozen or so churches and conferences I had attended.

So, that was my answer. Worship is simply music that points to God! Right? I mean, aren’t music and worship used interchangeably in the church? That was definitely how I had viewed it as a youth. Even though that was the answer I had at the time, I knew that there had to be more to worship than music.

Let’s take a step back for a second. During Sunday morning when we are “worshiping,” what are we doing? Singing, yes; but why is that significant? When we are singing, we are directing all of our attention to the One of whom we sing. We sing praises to our God, King, Creator, Father, Friend, Redeemer… When we sing to God we exalt, lift up, His great name. This is a way to acknowledge God and His attributes as well as what He has done for us. We are not merely singing, but declaring praises to God in musical form. 

This is clearly a biblical means of worship. For instance, king David, a man after God’s own heart, worshiped God through song. The psalms, of which many were written by David, are songs written to glorify God and to declare His greatness.

Psalms 149-150, 9:2; 51:14; 59:16; 63:7 are just a few of the verses that talk about musical worship. 

I would like to share a story of another time the Lord taught me something about worship; specifically, when it comes to music in the church.

On Sunday mornings, where I am currently serving, we usually do two hymns, three contemporary worship songs, and then a special. As you can tell, we like our music.

One Sunday, the man who usually leads the hymns was out of town. We knew this beforehand and decided to play an extra worship song since he was going to be absent. Most of the songs we played were special to me in one sense or another. I did not plan on that happening, but as I prepared the setlist and sought help from my team, it kind of all just came together. Overall, I thought the set was very worshipful and edifying. The congregation seemed to be engaged as well.We had a really good sound and I was happy with the way everything turned out.

After the service, a lady from the church approached me. I assumed she was going to say how much she enjoyed the service. I had yet to hear anything but positive feedback from everyone I’ve talked to since leading worship vocally. 

The lady asked why we didn’t do any hymns. I was a little taken back. She went on to say that they (she meant she) didn’t know all the words to the songs and that hymns were just so special. I said that we didn’t do hymns because our “hymn guy” was gone and that we only had a week to prepare songs. That wasn’t the best excuse, but like I said, I was taken back. She said ok and looked disappointed as she walked away. 

When I was putting all of my stuff away, I was a little frustrated with the encounter. My initial thoughts were things like: “These songs are special too.” “What’s so special about hymns?” “She’s just a stuck up old lady.” “One day without hymns isn’t gonna kill her.” “I’m not the ‘hymn guy’. Why are they blaming me?”

I was bitter… but just for a moment. God began to do a work in me. He replaced those harsh thoughts into loving ones. I became thankful that she approached me directly instead of going behind my back and bickering. Now, I am sure she complained later, but I am still thankful that she expressed her feelings to me.

On the drive home from church, I thought about what she said even more. I realized that God has created each of us so uniquely and uses different means to reach different people. This includes styles of music. The songs that her generation grew up with are different from the ones of my generation. Does that mean that one is more important than the other? No, of course not. However, we often treat them like they are. 

This brought me to this truth:

Any song found outside the Bible is not Scripture.

In fact, most of the hymns we sing today were written just a couple hundred years ago. To put that into perspective, that is about 1,800-1,900 years after the birth, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the one of whom we sing. Some scholars believe that the newest book of the Bible, Revelation, was written around 81-96 A.D. That means that the Holy Spirit has not added to the Scriptures since the time of its completion.  Why then do we treat hymns that were written in the eighteen and nineteen hundreds like they are the inerrant Word of God? This doesn’t just apply to hymns, but to all God-glorifying songs of praise and worship.

Please do not hear me say that songs outside of the Bible should not be sung in church. There are many songs (hymns and contemporary alike) that have beautifully written Scripture-inspired lyrics. Where we need to be careful, however, is when we turn those good things into idols. Ultimately, we do not worship a style of music or a certain song we like. Rather, we worship a God who is worthy of all praise. If we lose sight of that, then we might as well never sing in church again. If music proves to be a distraction from its true purpose, which is to worship God, then I believe we ought to completely remove it from the church. After all, worship is not dependent on music. In fact, worship is so much more than music. It is a lifestyle. We worship God by living the life that God intended for us to live; a life dedicated to Him. Our worship is a response to the shedding of Christ Jesus’ blood. Anything less is false and spits in the face of God and what Jesus went through on the cross and His victory over death. 

Worship does not begin and end with music.

Let’s take a look at an unconventional example of worship: Job.

When I was reading the book of Job, I was confronted by a powerful verse that helped me clarify what worship truly is. Job was a righteous man who had everything taken away from him by Satan. He lost all of his livestock, his servants, and even his kids. Yet despite all of Job’s suffering, it said in verses 20-21 that, “…Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’”

The first time I studied this book, I was glued to these verses. Job’s response to suffering was to worship. This seemed so radically different from what I was exposed to as a young Christian. To me, worship was a happy thing; something we did when we wanted to thank God. In these verses, Job worshiped in his despair. 

To me, worship was a happy thing; something we did when we wanted to thank God. In these verses, Job worshiped in his despair. 

This account teaches me that worship is not just for the people who have it all together. It’s not even solely about singing. Worship, according to Job, is recognizing that God is ultimately in control of our lives. He is the one who blesses us with great things as well as the one who takes things away. All things belong to the Lord. This includes all that we have and all that we are. 

Job teaches that worship is approaching God in humility, acknowledging and exalting His great name, despite our circumstances. We are to worship in our times of mourning and in our times of rejoicing. The name of the Lord is to be blessed at all times.

When we worship we ought to remember who God is and who we are.

God is perfect but we are sinners. God is powerful but we are powerless. God is the one who gives and takes away while we receive and deny. He is worthy of all praise but we are worthless apart from God. I am convinced that this is the true heart of worship. David and Job understood and applied these truths. Afterall, God is the One who gives us the means to worship. He blesses us with our bodies, our possessions, our abilities and talents, and salvation.

When I lead through music at church, I am reminded that God has put me in this position. He has provided a means for me to play an instrument and sing. Christ died so that I might worship His Majesty. Everything that I do apart from Christ is meaningless. My music is nothing but noise and my singing is but mere gibberish (1 Corinthians 13).

We can only truly worship when we realize that the only thing we can bring to the altar is our complete and unyielding submission to God. Our lives are His. Our families, jobs, possessions, our very beings… We are to give everything to God. This is how we worship. As it is written in Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

In conclusion, I am certain that worship is more than music; it is everything. In fact, worship is not just something that we do at church once a week, but is a lifestyle. Every moment we are worshiping something–our jobs, status, money, happiness… However, none of those things can satisfy the way God can. Will you choose to worship God in spirit and in truth today (John 4:23-24)?

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