TALK TALK TALK
What do you readily give your words to? What do you talk about at home? What do you talk about in your workplace? What do you talk about when you’re out with your friends? What is easy for you to talk about?
When I think about these questions here are some things come to mind for me: a new piece of music gear, a song idea I’m pumped about, my sports team winning a game or a movie that I really like. These are only a few that come to mind from a long list. Talking about any of these things is really easy for me. If you were to watch me talk to another person about one these things I’m sure you would see the excitement in my eyes. You would hear the urgency in my voice as I tell the story. You'd see a body posture that communicates excitement, passion, and a belief in what I was saying. I am praising in these moments.
If it is so easy for us to talk about things that we are excited about, why do we so often find it difficult to sing at church on Sunday? This may seem like an unfair question and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t get excited about things we enjoy or only ever talk about Jesus. I only want us to consider why, sometimes (or usually for some of us), it’s difficult to give God glory and praise with our voices when we gather on Sunday mornings. Give it some thought. What keeps you from singing on Sunday?
Sing Sing Sing
When we gather as a church to worship through song, we are collectively setting our hearts on The Lord. There is an intentionality to it that has little to do with our taste in music or our emotional state and more to do with “ascribing to The Lord the glory due his name” (Psalm 96:8). There is an aspect of it that is simply a declaration. I won’t deny that there are times when our singing is an outpouring of our emotions, however I fear that a lifetime of “heart-stringy” music within the church has taught us to limit our understanding of gathered worship to an expression of what we are feeling. This is an incomplete understanding. If gathered worship is “an expression of what I am feeling” then you would honestly see me sing a lot less on Sunday mornings. Looking chiefly for an expression that “suits my mood/taste" in our times of gathered worship will continually leave us frustrated with aspects of the gathering that don’t meet our expectations.
The reason for our participation is simple. God is worthy to be worshipped regardless of our emotional state of being. No matter what our lives look like, or the particulars of our individual circumstances, God's nature and character compels and constrains us to worship him with the fullness of who we are. The motivation to worship God is found in the unchanging truth of who He is.
Gathered Worship as Discipline
I have a growing conviction that it would be helpful for the church to not only view gathered worship as an expression, but as a discipline. In an excerpt from Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him…” This applies to us in the context of gathered worship on a Sunday. This may be criticized as promoting a “fake it till you make it” approach, but I strongly disagree. We know who God is and in worship we command our hearts, minds, and bodies to fall in line with ultimate reality.
We see the Psalmist do this very thing. In Psalm 42 and 43 David repeats these words a number of times,
"Why are you cast down, O my soul,and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God"
There are many Sundays when I am commanding my soul to “hope in God” and to “again praise him”. These are times when I have to lead with my words and in turn my heart follows.
I want to lay out a challenge for us as the Church. I want to challenge us all to sing out when we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ on Sunday mornings; to set ourselves and our preferences aside and turn our eyes to the Lord, rejoicing in the truth we get to sing about him. May we be a people that boldly proclaims “I will speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness"*, that we might “make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom”.*
Marc Willerton is on staff at Westside Church, where he oversees the music ministry. Marc is married to Charlene and they have a wonderful son named Oliver.