Originally written on March 2, 2008. Worth a repost today because I got the chance to sing worship songs in front of the general populace for the first time in several years, and I honestly didn’t realize how much I missed it. With thanks to everyone involved in worship at Connect Rome for putting this “mini choir” together…
I hit a strange point in my Christian life very early on, when I started going to a Vineyard church in graduate school. Every young Christian believes that we’ve going to grow up in the faith forever, and that getting to know God is going to be absolutely wonderful all the time, and is completely mystified when he begins to run into roadblocks and starts to struggle to find people going through the same thing as him, and starts to gradually but surely feel alone – without even God beside him.
And obviously, when I say “he” I really mean “me.”
Many people who know me also know that this was also the time my Usenet geekdom was at its peak; several people know me BECAUSE this was the time of my life when my Usenet geekdom was at its peak. And going through some really sweet stuff over the past month brought back to mind an old rec.music.christian thread about worship music – and the exchange between me and a guy named Michael Straight.
My complaint in that thread boiled down to this:
my question, to all the praise and worship types, and to vineyard types in particular, is this: what is the purpose, the vision, or whatever, of those who write vineyard worship music? obviously, the ultimate purpose is to provide songs to worship the Lord with. but a lot of the songs elicit personal responses…to pick examples that i’m familiar with, “light the fire” really doesn’t strike me as a worship song at all, but a prayer. (in my mind, at least, there is a SIGNIFICANT difference.) the chorus of “his banner over me” has a line about “we can feel the love of God in this place” (that may not be quite right) which, i feel, is lying to God if you don’t feel the love of God in that place. stuff like that. what’s the point of putting lines reflecting human emotions that one may or may not feel into a worship song that’s supposed to glorify God?
i realize those who write worship songs for the vineyard aren’t the only people guilty of this, but vineyard songs are the ones that strike me as having this characteristic most often.
Michael came back with an absolutely gracious response, one of the kindest and sweetest in my long and distinguished history of Usenet bickering, that clobbered me between the eyeballs:
I’m not a Vinyard member, but I went to one of their kinship groups in college and really enjoyed their music. I guess that one could take the attitude that “if I’m not glad to be singing, it’s hypocracy to sing a song that says I am” or whatever the emotion is that the song in question talks about. But I always kind of took those songs as a reminder that, no matter how down I might be about life, at rock bottom I do have something to be happy about and it’s not hypocracy to be legitimately upset at the bad things happening in my life but also taking some time to celebrate and be happy about what God has done.
Its sort of like my attitude about communion. Someone who comes from a tradition that takes communion infrequently asked me once if I refrain from taking communion some Sundays when my heart isn’t right (refering to Paul’s admonition in 1Corinthians). I told her that, yes I have refrained once or twice, but I usually see communion as a time to get right with God, not something I can only participate in after I’ve gotten my life together.
The same goes for worship. There’s an old hymn with the line “You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices.” If you’re not happy, if you’re not feeling good about God’s love, it’s worth some effort to try to be happy and feel good about these things. Sorrow and pain are legitimate emotions to bring to God, but I think sometimes it’s good to make an effort to realize and be glad about who God is and what he’s done for us.
All that is to say that, for me, I took those songs as expressing what I ought to feel, what I’d like to feel, and what I frequently did feel when I let myself think about who God is and how much I owe him and how it’s just right to get excited about him, no matter what’s going on in my life.
I honestly wanted to rip Michael to shreds for that post, because I didn’t like the idea of pretending to be happy when everybody around me was pretending to be happy and all you fakes can just go away now because I’m the guy here who has the REAL problems and the REAL struggles and there’s no way you can tell me that what I’m going through doesn’t deserve a hearing…
…but as I read and re-read Michael’s words, I began to see that he wasn’t talking about any of that. He point-blank said that “sorrow and pain are legitimate emotions to bring to God”, but he was proposing something else as well – that it wasn’t right to DELIBERATELY CHOOSE to remain in those emotions. God is worthy to be praised. God is worthy to be glorified. God is worthy to have me get over my own stupid self if my own stupid self is getting in the way of him doing his thing.
If you don’t feel the words “we can feel the love of God in this place”, then SEEK to feel them. God’s love is worth it.
There is a lot I’ve had to be angry about as 2007 has turned into 2008. Instead of deliberately running away from God, though, as I really was trying to do in my younger self, I have begun to seek out God’s love in less obvious places, in people I wouldn’t ordinarily be in contact with, and focus on God instead of my anger. One of those less obvious places turns into worship with astonishing regularity these days, and it’s really sweet.
And we sang a song on Friday night that I haven’t been able to stop singing all day.
And – wouldn’t you know it – it’s a Vineyard song. And it’s one that plays more like a prayer than as a worship song – not that the difference is that big of a deal anyway.
It’s 14 years late – but thanks, Michael, for bringing the word. I still hear it, and I still need to hear it.
(Permalink for – shock, horror! – a worship video.)
(And, on January 30, 2011, a double bonus permalink for – double shock, double horror! – another worship video.)
Edited on 8 March 2014 to fix linkrot for re-linking on social media.