Speak to One Another

As I continue my series on Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, I want to explore a common key thought in our two key passages: to speak to or admonish one another.

Here are the passages again.

Ephesians 5:18-20:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The Direction of Worship

The concept of speaking to, teaching and admonishing one another goes to the direction of our worship. It is surprising because you would have thought the primary direction of worship is God, not our fellow believers. And yet, when Paul talks about psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, he was concerned that the church should “make music in their hearts to the Lord”, but also, in the same breath, that the church should “speak to one another”.

In the many years I’ve been involved in worship ministry, worship leaders often get worried about loss of focus and they say something like this: “I feel the songs we are singing are getting too subjective. We should focus more on objectively praising God”. That is a very legitimate view, but somehow, I think it limits the work of the Spirit in worship. For example, as I mentioned in my previous post, even though the song “How He Loves” is very much me-focussed, it is ultimately God-glorifying. And I think it is true that sometimes, like Mary, Jesus is more God (if that’s the right phrase) when we are drawing from his sufficiency.

In the olden days, we used to sing a song called “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” When I think about it, it was quite ludicrous that we would all stare forward towards the screen, look heavenward, and then sing these words to God and as if He needed to be reminded that He ought to seek first His kingdom! In fact, that was probably a prophetic song that we should have been directing to each other. Maybe it would have served its effect better if we had looked into each other’s eyes and sung it!

But it is clear to me from our two key passages that worship actually moves in two directions (and if we must rank them in order of priority, we would say it like this): worship is to God, but also for the people.

This correlation exists precisely because God is God. His goodness cannot be contained within Himself because God (by definition) must be the highest example of selfless generosity.

Tom Inglis put it this way:

“Worship is something that God cannot give Himself. When we give God what He cannot give Himself, He gives us what we cannot give ourselves.”

Jack Hayford in his book Worship His Majesty says this:

A worship service is convened (1) to serve God with our praise and (2) to serve people’s need with His sufficiency…. We gather to worship God. But now, without supplanting the worship of God, we add a second focus: man’s need and God’s ability to supply it.

Our blessing God, and His blessing us, is actually part of the same continuum.

So let’s not be too religious about this. It’s okay to expect God to bless us too! And you can expect this to happen this coming Sunday (or any other time for that matter) when you come to worship.

The Teaching Function of Worship: Being Filled with the Word

I have already touched on the fact that Luther was very astute about the role of music in teaching the masses.

This is why Colossians 3:16 says that we need to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us.

Well after you’ve forgotten the sermon, you might still be singing or humming Brenton Brown’s song “Our strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord / We will wait upon the Lord”. It’s completely scriptural and you don’t even realise you’ve memorised parts of Isaiah 40. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are actually part of the process that causes the word of Christ to dwell in us. Not just for our brains to process, but to actually “dwell in” us and become part of our lives and character.

There is a further implication however, and that is for ministers of worship to be Scripturally faithful. These days, songs are getting more and more fluffy and less grounded in Scripture. Which is fine to an extent, because as I have said, the Holy Spirit can use anything to speak to us. But if we are not careful, we could be wasting a wonderful opportunity to instruct and teach our congregations, rather than just to leave them with a good feeling.

In a sense, this is a call to songwriters to write songs which don’t only sound good and are catchy, but to responsibly teach the truths of God and to unveil Christ, through those same songs.

Being Filled with the Spirit

So we’ve looked at Colossians 3 and “letting the Word of Christ dwell richly”. It is interesting that whilst Ephesians 5 uses the same sentence template, Paul introduces a complementary foil to the Word of Christ, namely “to be filled with the Spirit”.

Recently, Pastor Benny has been preaching about activating the gifts of the Spirit in Faith Community Church and I think that there is a real avenue to exercising some of the gifts right in the middle of our worship. In fact, I have found that if we’d take the step of faith, there is no more conducive environment for healing, prophecy, tongues/interpretation and words of knowledge than in a corporate worship setting. This is because, as I have said, when we bless God, He stands ready to bless in return.

Have you ever had conversations with people who don’t stop talking? You think sooner or later, they are going to have to breathe, but it seems they have a ventilator or something strapped to them and they never stop.

Worship can be like that: we can get so caught up in a 30 minute routine of our non-stop ramming things down God’s throat and He is just waiting for us to stop saying stuff so He can respond. And I believe that if we will just give Him some room, His response might actually take our breath away!

So in our worship, I want to encourage leaders to make room for the Holy Spirit. Let Him speak through us and to each other through and in our psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. In our worship services, let us gather to worship God, but let us gather also that we might be taught and encouraged and blessed.

A Historical-Prophetic Approach to Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Today, I want to continue the series on Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs.

As a recap, I introduced two key texts.  The first is in Ephesians 5:18-20:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The second passage is Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In one sense, we can see these passages as defining different styles of songs which are sung in the church.  I have suggested in previous posts that perhaps the distinction between the three categories may be quite artificial.  That is certainly the perspective I take in the current renewal of worship.

But I’ve found it interesting also to look at psalms, hymns and spiritual songs from a historical-prophetic perspective, where the different types of song can be seen as representative of the different eras in the history of worship music.

Firstly, hymns.  The classic hymn can be described as doctrinal statements set to music.  Certainly, Luther saw this as an important burden: that music carry a teaching function.  As hymns evolved however, they started taking on a very personal, experiential flavour, describing a person’s encounter with God, such as “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine”.

We could say that in hymns, we are declaring God’s wonder and works through song.  From a historical perspective, hymns represent the first great era of the recovery of worship after the Dark Ages.

The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of the Jesus People movement. The movement brought a new immediacy and impetus to relevant expression.  

Andy Park observes in his book To Know You More:

This new generation of Christians had to find a way to express their newfound love for Christ.  In this milieu of radical cultural change and genuine spiritual renewal, it was only natural that a new style of worship would be born.  Baby boomers rejected the rigid forms and styles of their parents’ generation.  For the boomers, rock music was their language of choice.

But not long after the birth of what we now call the “Praise and Worship Era”, there was a distinct move towards the objective and back to Scripture.  In the 1970s, Dave and Dale Garrett from New Zealand rose to prominence with “Scripture in Song”.  This was, in effect, the era of the modern-day psalm.

If I were to define “psalms”, I would say that the psalm is Scripture set to music.  In psalms, we declare God’s word through song.

The Praise and Worship Movement hit its zenith in the late 90’s with the catch-cry “an audience of One”, rejecting the subjectivity of the hymns and the earlier “psalms” and instead emphasising the need for objective praise.

Around the early 1990s (possibly earlier), a new sound began to emerge, which I would call “spiritual songs”.  The early pioneers were Kevin Prosch and Kent Henry.  In this movement, the songs of the church began to take on a more spontaneous character and a more prophetic edge.  Scripture reading, prophetic release and intercession began to intermingle with singing and music.

In the New Testament, the Greek term for “spiritual song” is ode pneumatikos, songs that are breathed or inspired by the Spirit of God.  In the spiritual song, we welcome God’s will in song.

This stream was given wide exposure through Delirious and continues in the music of the International House of Prayer and the likes of Jason Upton and Rick Pino.

In a way, whilst I have generalised a fair bit, we can see distinct prophetic moves of God through worship music represented by psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

Where does that leave us today?

Well, I believe that the three streams are merging.  The distinctions between each stream are going to get more and more nebulous.  We will reach into the hymnody of our forebears, respecting our historical/denominational influences and we will push prophetically forward in contemporary (post-modern) expressions.  Our songs may seek to embed doctrine, and yet be entirely experiential.  We will be completely content with the healthy tension in saying that worship is objectively to God, but subjectively for the people.  We will be less and less fussed with form (even though we will seek to push artistic boundaries) and more and more concerned with substance.

Let me give you two examples in which to process this new paradigm.

I remember in the mid-1990s when our church started to sing Delirious’s “History Maker”.  It was a song like no other before it. It was edgy and raw, but it also didn’t lyrically fit the mould of “audience of One” worship.  Leaders in our church worship ministry started asking:  is this even a “worship song”?  Should we sing it as a “worship song” or present it to the congregation aan “inspiration song”?

I can tell you now that as our concept of worship has evolved and broadened, there’s no argument about it:  “History Maker” is a worship song because it depicts a generation of sold-out, sacrificial worshippers desiring to change their world for God.

A more recent example is John Mark MacMillan’s “How He Loves”.  Essentially, it is a song entirely about God’s love for me.  It  does nothing to express praise directly to God.

But, I submit, it is still worship.

Recently, I heard again a message by Joseph Prince about boasting in God’s love for us.  The starting point for Prince’s thesis was that the reference to John’s being the “disciple whom Jesus loved” could only be found in John’s gospel!  In other words, John refers to himself as the “beloved”.  And the point is this:  when you receive God’s love for you, you will be inspired to love God back.  We no longer need to be told to love God.  We do not need to strive to love God.

Further, when we learn to receive from God, it makes God feel more like God.  Take the example of Martha and Mary.  Martha kept serving to the point of exhaustion and frustration, but Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and “took” from Him.  Who made Jesus feel more like God?  Martha who sought to minister to Jesus’ apparent tiredness out of her own strength, or Mary, who recognised Jesus’ inexhaustible sufficiency?

In summary, in the current revolution of worship, we recognise that becoming is through beholding.  There are no longer rules, but worship revolves around relationship.

So a song like “How He Loves” is a perfect representation of worship today:  to be able, like John and like Mary, to humble ourselves before Jesus and to receive His love for us.  If nothing else, this elevates His deity all the more and is, quintessentially, worship.

In the current move of God in worship, the streams of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs will merge into a mighty river of God’s presence.  Expression, style and content will be subsumed within the relational graced-based focus on the person of Jesus, that in worship, He may be unveiled in all his loveliness, so that the world may see and put their trust in Him. And yes, this is revival!

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Have you ever had that scary moment when your pastor comes up to you and says “Can we have a quick chat?” You hesitate but then say, “uh, okay” and then you both translate five steps towards the side of the room where he clears his throat a little, narrows his eyes ever so slightly and then says to you in a hushed tone: “Do you think we can do more hymns?”

This happened to a friend of mine lately. And I could sympathise with the dread he (my friend) felt.

Not because I don’t like hymns, mind you. By hymns, I assume that this pastor was talking about some of the older songs like “Amazing Grace”, “I Surrender All” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”. I love those songs. I love their richness and their theological depth. But as an unskilled musician (should I even admit that?), I find these types of songs incredibly difficult to arrange successfully.

Even when skilled musicians do them, I don’t always like them. An example a few years back was the Passion album, Hymns Ancient and Modern. I felt that all the use of electric guitars and simplified power chords really took away some of the beauty and majesty of those “hymns”.

And actually, what are “hymns” anyway?

So this got me thinking and today, I want to begin a series on “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs” using as my texts the following key verses.

Firstly, Ephesians 5:18-20:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The second passage is Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

These passages seem to characterise the songs of the church into three distinct types: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

In this series, I want to explore this triptych and ask some of the following questions: are these three different types of songs or is Paul just using telescopic language to describe the same type of song expressed in three ways? Can we read these songs (as some often do) as representing historical eras in the church and if so, what of their significance? Should we go back to singing those old songs that my friend’s pastor was talking about?

Before I launch into some of these issues in my next few posts, I want to end this introductory post by sharing something which a friend of mine had posted on Facebook and I found quite amusing. It was about the difference between a “chorus” (which apparently those of us in charismatic circles like to sing) and “hymns” which are the staple of mainline churches. I found it pretty insightful. Enjoy!

Epochal Song 4: As the Deer (Martin Nystrom, 1984)

I first came across “As the Deer” shortly I became a Christian.  I was attending a family “care group” and one of the group members, who was a very seasoned worship leader in the church, led this song off the piano.  I immediately fell in love with the song.  Today, when people ask me if I have a favourite song, the answer is “I don’t” but “As the Deer” certainly ranks as one of my favourites.

After all these years, it still moves me when I sing it.

Martin Nystrom wrote this song at a time when he was feeling the heartache of being rejected by a girl!  God led him to Psalm 42 and he began to pour out his heart before God through that psalm and “As the Deer” was born.

I have included this song on my list of Epochal Songs not only because of its staying power (to this day it remains in the canon of “classic” worship songs sung by the church) but I believe that this song began to set a benchmark of intimacy in the church, bringing us back to the scriptural experiences of the psalmist and causing the church to realise just how personal the Psalms can be.

We relate to this song because all of us go through times of loss, rejection or hurt and it causes us to cling ever more desperately to God, causing us to cry out from the depth of our hearts “You alone are my strength, my shield / To You alone may my spirit yield / You alone are my heart’s desire / And I long to worship Thee”.