Faith, Ministry

Defining Worship 3

We’ve looked at some different ideas about what worship is. Along the way, I made the statement that I have no choice but to take hold of a musical definition of worship. Then I tried to make that case a bit. But there is one more aspect of using a musical definition for worship that I’d like to share with you.

You see, I do not think it is the musical aspect, in and of itself, that is the key to worship. “Music is not worship itself, but music is a means of carrying our worship” (CeCe Winans, Throne Room , 48). I believe it has to do what music does to us, and what we do through music. We might think that music is just a background addition to our daily lives, but it is much more than that.

If you’re not convinced, pull out a movie and imagine what it would be like if there were no musical soundtrack added to it. The music playing changes for every scene: low tones for softer scenes; faster, louder music added to intense action; whimsical tunes for playful scenes. Each movement of the theme is crafted to trigger an emotional response that ties you deeper and deeper into the film.

One small piece of cinematic genius that comes to mind is the old snare drum and brass section theme for 20th Century Fox. The studio has used it for decades at the beginning of hundreds of films. But every time I hear it, in my head I jump into John Williams’ famous Star Wars theme, expecting to see the words, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” flash onto the screen.

The other side of the coin is taking into consideration what we do through music. I hold to the opinion that music is one of the greatest, most powerful mediums God ever designed and gifted man with. “Singing is meant to move us into praise. It provides a medium for the expression of emotion. Through music we express our joy, our thanksgiving. . . . If singing can occur in a concentrated manner it serves to focus us. We become centered. Our fragmented minds and spirits flow into a unified whole. We become poised toward God” (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 169).

We can use music it to lift our spirits, or to depress us. Sometimes we put it on at a party, or we sing Christmas carols as a family and friends, and there are those who dance to it in any variety of styles. We even take music and use it to express our deepest feelings about someone.

If worship is all of life, how can we read the Psalms and take the calls to worship and praise the Lord seriously? I’ve taken the liberty of sharing Psalm 150 with you. As you read it, notice what it does and does not say.

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!

One of the premier calls to worship in the Bible, this psalm speaks mostly of declaration, musical instruments, and praise. When you read the Word of God and you stumble upon (or maybe stumble over) a passage like this, what does it do to your theology of worship?

Now, if you’ve read these three posts about Defining Worship, you might think I’m just out here to cause some trouble. Well, that’s not true. It’s really about getting others to do some critical thinking about worship, to discuss worship, and to stretch and challenge what they believe and why they believe it.

I’m not out here to defeat all of the other definitions of worship. If you have one, make your case by posting comments to any of these three posts. There won’t be back and forth banter where you make a statement and I respond. Just make a comment or make a case. Think about worship; what it is, why you do it, how you do it, what it is for. And drop a line.