We've all heard traditional "church" music at some point in our lives. Whether we grew up in the church, or only attended church on holidays like Christmas, New Years Eve, and Easter. Never been to church? It's likely you've still heard your share of hymns ( a religious song or poem, typically of praise to God.) in movies, at funerals, or even at a sports game (God bless America sounds like church music to me). Ever hear the song "Amazing grace"? It's just an old didy the President of The United States recently sang at a eulogy, and is estimated to have been recorded over 6,000 times, and quite possibly the most recorded song ever on the planet.
Some of the most succesful American singer songwriters of all time have roots that we can trace back to their musical beginnings in the local church. Yet there still remains a bit of confusion surrounding "church" music, a sense of obscurity both for the secular world, and the christian world alike. Walk into any charismatic church on a Sunday morning during praise & worship, observe and you'll see some people totally unengaged, others clapping, and singing in the most monotonous manner possible, and some lifting their hands, maybe crying, maybe smiling but definitely in a state of rapture. As a Hip Hop artist I've performed in front of plenty of people in various types of settings from NYC to Paris France. As a christian who grew up in church, I've participated in praise and worship from the pew for years; but when I was recently asked to lead worship at a church in the Bronx, I began to shrink in fear realizing the magnitude of worship, and how I/we sometimes take it for granted. Here are a few thoughts, and notes I prayed on, and scribbled in my notebook days prior to my first day as worship leader at Elements church in the Bronx.
Praise and Worship is NOT a genre of music, such as Gospel, or Christian Contemporary Music, but is essentially a form of prayer which we are commanded to do.
Revelation 22:9 But he said to me, "Don't do that! I am a fellow servant with you, your brothers the prophets, and those who keep the words of this book. Worship God."
This is what the angel told John on the island of Patmos, when in reverence toward the heavenly angel, John bowed in worship. The angel commanded John to worship God. I doubt John had a full band, sound system, and big screen ready to display lyrics available to him on the island. In theory, we can remove musicality from worship all together without compromising its sole purpose, which is to praise and worship God. Unlike genres of music, praise and worship is not dependent upon lyric, melody, instrumentation, performance, artist, or audience. I will venture to say worship isn't even dependent upon sound, because the cry of our heart will reach God infinitely quicker than any note we can sing, or play.
Praise and Worship is NOT about our talent, voice, and instrument, but about our heart, offering, and sacrifice.
Mathew 15:8 These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrine the commands of men. (Isaiah 29:13)
In theory, the most skilled musician, and vocalist can be ineffective in their attempt to worship, while a person with virtually no musical ability at all can lead even the heavenly angels in worship.
Offer up a sacrifice of Praise (What Are We Offering God?)
Romans 12: 1-2 Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
Hebrews 13:15 By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
When we come before God to worship whether privately, or collectively we are actually presenting an offering, a sacrifice. So what are we offering God? A lyric? A song? A well rehearsed routine? (Insert comic relief here) A two-step, soul clap, and a nice looking choir robe? (We don't rock robes at Elements church by the way, nothing against robes; just saying) We ought to have a healthy fear when it comes to presenting anything to God. In the old and new testament God has expressed terrifying indignation toward those who offer unworthy sacrifices.
Genesis 4:6 Then The Lord said to Cain, "Why are you furious? And why are you downcast? If you do right, won't you be accepted? But it you do not right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it."
Malachi 1:14 But cursed be the deceiver who has in his flock a male, and takes a vow, but sacrifice to The Lord what is blemished. "For I am a great King" says The Lord of hosts, "and my name is to be feared among the nations".
Acts 5:3-4 Then peter said, "Ananias, why has satan filled your heart to lie to the holy spirit and keep back part of the proceeds from the field? Wasn't is yours while you possessed it? And after it sold, wasn't it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."
The Elements of Worship
Psalm 51:15-17 Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not want a sacrifice or I would give it, you are not pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, you will not despise a broken and humbled heart.
A humble heart. A repentant heart. Complete and total surrender before God. Adoration. Awareness of our frailty, and God's omnipotence, gratitude, and thanksgiving for who God is, and for all God has done. Knowledge. We cannot worship a God we do not know personally, and intimately. When I first met my wife I complimented her, but as I got to know her over the years my affection toward her grew deeper, and my way of expressing my love and appreciation for her far out weighed the compliments I showered her with early on. To "keep it 100" as the kids say, some of the initial compliments at times (Disclaimer: At times, not all the time. I love you sugar, I loved falling in love with you then, and love falling in love with you now) - but at times those compliments came from shallow, and selfish motives, just as some of our early vows to God have. "God get me out of this mess and I'll serve you forever!" How many messes will we try to game God to get us out of, with no real intention of getting to know him? Today the praise I give my wife comes from a place of experiencing and learning who she is, who I am, and who we are as one. The same applies to praise and worship. Lip service is worthless, and even dangerous. What song does our heart sing? What lyric is our soul writing? What melody does our mind make when reflecting on our savior? God is not impressed with our bands ability to jump and play at the same time. God isn't impressed with our cool new songs. God is much more concerned with the song of our heart. As a creative artist my prayer is constantly "Lord purify my heart, and the art within it."
So whether you are a new believer in Christ or as seasoned as a pack of Adobo, let's be intentional in getting right before God, and make a joyful noise. God bless you!