Every month our church puts out a newsletter called “the park bench”. It’s filled with articles and information regarding all the goings on that month. As a follow up to my “How and Why We Sing” talk, I wrote this for my little back page column called the “backbeat” (get it? ’cause “backbeat” is a musical term, and it’s on the back page of… never mind). Enjoy!
In the ongoing conversation of why and how we sing there is one aspect that, despite the fact that it lies at the heart of what we do, often goes unmentioned. We often talk about the Biblical exhortations regarding singing, song and skill. We talk about the softening of the heart, and how music can awaken ones emotions to the realities of God. We even talk about style and theology and cultural relevance.
But, the one aspect that seems to rarely get mentioned is relationship. Relationship lies at the heart of, not only singing, praise and, ultimately, worship, but it lies at the heart of all matter of artistic expression. Relationship is something that cannot be removed from the singing that we do together.
I often say that the music that we make is an expression of the relationships that we have. When we are in good relationship, the music and experience of making it can be unparalleled. This might be difficult for those without musical experience to understand, but when I get together and make music with friends, the best times are like an engaging (and often hilarious) conversation. We’re saying things to each other, interacting with each other through music. The joy of hearing our uniqueness and personalities converge together into a unified and harmonious song is a deeply spiritual and worshipful experience. However, if there are tensions and unresolved differences, then there is nothing more sour, disconnected and unenjoyable than the musical conversation that takes place.
I believe that the same is true of us when we, as a church, sing and make music together.
When we, as believers, are in relational harmony, our singing together reflects that; we trust each other, we are more vulnerable and honest. The love and care and encouragement that we share with one another flows through the room intertwining with our confessions and proclamations of God’s greatness – it’s beautiful to see and it’s beautiful to hear.
But, when relational discord creeps in, something changes. The trust and openness that once flourished withers; walls go up and isolation grows. We become self-conscious and distracted, our eyes glance around the room more, looking to see if “they” are here. And all the while, our song gets quieter, the conviction and power of our praise diminishes and the light of God’s glory becomes dimmer. It’s a terrible waste. And what’s worse is that we are mostly unaware. We can tell that something is off, something is missing, but we can’t quite put our finger on it.
Our songs are a gift to God. When we raise our collective voice to sing of his greatness and wonder we are blessing him. Scripture sometimes calls it a “sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15), Paul Baloche has called it an “offering of worship”. Regardless of what it is called, one thing remains true – when we sing to God, in some undefinable way, we are bringing more than just a song.
Our relationships with one another are immensely important when it comes to the the gifts that we offer to God. Jesus said, “Therefore if you are offering your gift at the alter and there remember that your brother has something agains you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23,24).
We don’t present offerings the same way that they did in Jesus’ day, but the heart of the matter remains the same: we need our relationships to be right if we are to truly worship God. And, for our relationships to be right, we need to let forgiveness rule the day. We need to forgive each other just as we ourselves have been forgiven.
In Ephesians 4:3, Paul implores us to “Make ever effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. When we are unified our singing is unmatched in its beauty and power. When we are unified the light of God’s kingdom that shines from us is blinding.
May God keep our hearts pure and our love true. May our offering of worship bring the Father joy, our sacrifice of praise bring the Son glory, and the unity of the Spirit be kept through the bonds of peace.
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