Is Your Favorite Church Song Really ‘Worship?’
- Alicia Purdy Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2019 22 Jul
It’s quite possible that you read the headline of this article and frowned a bit. Most people don’t like to have their worship preferences, let alone music at all, questioned. That’s okay! Because none of us ever want to slip into complacency or routine in our walk with the Lord. At some point or another, each of us can benefit from a thought-provoking question.
“Examine yourselves,” Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “seeing whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”
It is a good (and even necessary practice) to examine what we watch, listen to, sing, read, and do. This is especially important in worship, however; because the words of worship are meaningful to God.
Music has an undeniable spiritual power and your words can speak life or create an emotional or spiritual atmosphere — for better or worse.
That being said, do you ever wonder if your favorite church song is really ‘worship?’
It’s important to make a distinction between what is worship and what is worshipful.
They are two different sides of the same coin; but they are definitely different! It’s completely understandable that people who are new in their faith, or haven’t explored the topic of worship more deeply, might misunderstand the Biblical definition and purpose of worship.
We all walk with the Lord at a different pace and every person catches revelation from the Holy Spirit at different times and in different ways. But every Christian should stay sharp by regularly taking time to evaluate what we’re hearing, receiving, being influenced by; and, yes, singing!
Aren’t all Christian songs about God worship in one form or another?
One could make the argument that songs written by Christians are, in some form or another, produced from a heart of worship. Certainly, our intention as Christians is to honor God and that shines through in our music.
However, a song that shares a Gospel message, or one that describes a life situation where God was part of the solution, or a song written about ‘things that Christians experience’ aren’t worship as defined in the Bible.
The Bible defines worship as ministry to Him.
Worship is exclusively God-focused. Thanksgiving, adoration, sacrifice, exultation, blessing, and the proclaiming of His great name are all components of ministry to the Lord.
Does He need our ministry to be God? No. However, worship has a circular design where we bless the Lord and He blesses us in return (Exodus 23:25).
We don’t worship to receive blessings, but blessings are built into worship because God is good and His desire is to bless what is bless-able.
What is meant by “minister to” or “minister before” me?”
There are a number of Scriptures where the Lord uses the phrase “minister to me” or “minister before me” when speaking of the Levites and other worshippers, such as Jeremiah 33:22, or Ezekiel 44:15-16 in which the Lord says the Levitical priests “shall come near to me to minister to me...” “they shall enter my sanctuary, and they shall approach my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge.” (ESV).
In the Old Testament only specific people could minister to the Lord. But because of Jesus Christ, we are all considered priests of ministry to Him (1 Peter 2:9) so we share a responsibility as priests of God is to minister to Him.
It’s not a mandate under the Law any longer to minister to the Lord to keep the mind and heart Godward, but is now a willing ministry done out of love and gratitude. We sacrifice ourselves...our desires, our feelings and emotions, inhibitions, our self-consciousness and set those things aside to focus exclusively on the Lord. (Hebrews 12:1)
What is the difference between worship versus worshipful?
You already know that not every song ever written about God is intrinsically appropriate for worship. In the same manner, not all songs written by Christians are worship.
This is not to be a point of contention and judgement, but rather a challenge to stop and think. Your words are creative and life-giving, in the same manner that God’s are. When you sing, you are speaking words that really do mean something in the spiritual sense. So what are you singing?
Because faith is grown out of the things we hear (Romans 10:17), music needs to evaluated and considered, especially worship music. Who is this song singing about? Who is it singing to? What is the message here, to minister to the Lord or minister to me?
True worship ministers directly to the Lord in thanksgiving. Worshipful music is about God, or aspects of His nature or is a testimony of what He has done. These are very good things! In fact, these are important components of a worship service because, remember, “faith comes by hearing” and Paul wrote that we “sing to each other” at times as well (Ephesians 5:19).
Praise and worship and worshipful music can work together to bring a beautiful atmosphere of faith and lead into a Godward time of worship. However, if all you’re singing is worshipful music without a time for true, God-centered adoration, you’re missing out.
Why? Because when God is worshipped, as in Psalm 22:3 in the original Hebrew, He sets up His dwelling place there. He 'inhabits' or dwells within praise. And in His presence is where the real spiritual power exists to transform the world, starting with you.
Your heart is what really matters to God.
It’s true! God is so good to accept our hearts even if what’s in our hands falls short.
It might make any of us uncomfortable or angry when challenged to examine our worship. But this habit should be an ongoing part of our walk. Is there “right” and “wrong” worship? That’s between you and God. But we shouldn't just assume that what we’ve always done is the way things should always continue to be done. That may be an “old wineskin” mentality.
Worship is deeply personal and it should be so. Because of that, we tend to gravitate toward our preferences and what “speaks” to us. While that’s not wrong, necessarily, it can cause us to drift from the point of worship – ministry to the Lord – and instead fall into a place where all we do is sing about God in light of ourselves, instead of to Him.
Some songs are more for private worship, instead of a corporate gathering.
Some are long and wordy or overly poetic and difficult for a new believer to understand. Others are too “me-centered” without a real and discernable emphasis on Jesus Christ.
As a songwriter, I can tell you that some of what I write feels like my insides were laid bare as I pour out my heart before the Lord with my tears and thankfulness and joy. But will we sing it in church? No.
Private worship is a necessary, vital part of your relationship with the Lord and worship was given to us as a way to stay in His presence and stay connected to Him on an intimate, personal level.
However, some of what people experience in private worship, some of the things we might say or write or cry out, simply don’t translate to a church setting, and God’s vision of worship loses focus.
If you’re ever looking for an interesting way to do your devotions, take out your favorite song from church, look up Scriptural references for its lyrics and study them. Can you find any Scriptural foundations at all? Are the lyrics clearly related to the Word of God related or really loose interpretations or more concept-based? This type of personal evaluation is crucial to your growth.
And as we’re all growing always, not one of us should ever feel “judged” or that we’re “doing it wrong.” I’m just a big believer in challenging myself and others to evaluate our words and actions at every opportunity! God is worthy, and worth it – every effort and every sacrifice.
As Paul wrote, “Study to show yourself approved by God, a workman who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
So, I’m very curious by now: is your favorite church song really worship?
Alicia Purdy is an author, blogger and professional writer with an M.A. in Journalism, and a human with an ongoing education in all things life-related! Her passion is to write about real life and a real faith in a real Jesus to inspire, encourage and entertain people from all walks of life. She is the host of “Living Out Loud!”, a weekly radio show broadcast at the ALIVE Radio Network. You can learn more about Alicia’s books and free devotionals at her blog: TheWayoftheWorshipper.com and even more at TheEssentialLife.Us. And if you need a laugh today, check out her snarky side at An Everyday Kind of Jesus. Alicia and her husband have 5 kids ranging from 20 years old all the way down to 3; and 1 cat, named Chester. You can find and follow Alicia on Facebook and Instagram. If you meet her in person, she will most likely try and wipe you down with essential oils and then ask if you want to grab a coffee.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/oneinchpunch