I had the privilege yesterday of attending a Prayer Partners’ Ministry meeting. I have long respected intercessors. Many revivals have started because people have prayed tenaciously and unrelentingly for God to move.
I’m not an intercessor, even though I identify most with intercessory worship. I simply can’t pray like a hard-core intercessor. In fact, I can’t really focus for more than 10 minutes on prayer without my mind wandering. Church bulletins are the worse distractors. You can be trying to pray, and suddenly the corner of the church bulletin peeps out from the inside cover of your Bible. You have no choice but to pick it up and spend the rest of your prayer time contemplating what meetings are coming up at church.
Going into a room full of about 35 intercessors was quite intimidating, actually. First of all, they are mostly women over the age of 50 (perhaps I am being conversative!) but having Ling as part of the group brought down their average age somewhat. Secondly, they pray with passion and the Holy Spirit has a knack for manifesting all sorts of revelation gifts in their midst. I think it has to do with the fact that through their own personal prayer time, they have cultivated the art of hearing God’s voice.
It was also a strange for me because I wasn’t part of the prayer ministry. I had come because Ling (who was part of the ministry) was asked to lead worship and she asked me to provide musical accompaniment. It was a pleasant role reversal! Ling is actually a really good worship leader, but she doesn’t know it yet!
So here was Ling leading a bunch of intercessors in worship when about 10 minutes into it, one of the ladies bursts forth into a new song in soprano. Her voice just soared above everyone in pitch and loudness and you could sense that the Holy Spirit was just moving on the people. The new song does that.
In my estimation, the new song (as an important component of worship) was given some impetus in the 1990’s, popularised by the ministries of Kent Henry and Lamar Boschman. Boschman’s book The Prophetic Song is probably the seminal text on this topic.
This has led to a particular stream of worship practised by the likes of International House of Prayer and Burn 24/7. However, this type of worship is very much at the fringe of contemporary church practice. Today, much of the “new song” sung by churches have been relegated to fixed chord progressions during musical interludes. It is actually devoid of much prophetic edge and certainly doesn’t have the same impact as that one lady’s spontaneous singing during the intercessors’ meeting.
Psalm 96:1 says this:
Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord all the earth.
And in Psalm 98:1, the Psalmist exhorts:
Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.
The Psalms seem to place uncharacteristic importance in the “new song”. The Bible never says “sing to the Lord an old song”! And yet, church hymnology is almost entirely premised on old songs. Even the latest songs on Hillsong’s recent release are “old songs” as soon as they have been written down, rehearsed and recorded.
Psalms 22:1 gives us an important insight:
But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.
We often quote this verse during a call to worship, believing that as we praise God in a church service, He will inhabit our praises (as some translations put it). Enthroning of course is so much more than inhabiting, because when God is enthroned in our midst, it means we invite the flow of his rule and authority into our circumstances.
The word “praise” in that passage is tehillah (not tequila!) and it actually means “hymns or laudations of the Spirit”; it means a song birthed of the Holy Spirit and spontaneously sung.
Years ago, I used to write cards to my friends on their birthdays. I don’t do this anymore because I take my friends for granted now! But in those days, I wouldn’t care much about what was printed on the card. When I perused the cards on the shelf, I would usually look for the drawings or pictures to see if they had some association with the proposed recipient of the card. Sometimes, the inside of the card would be blank. If they had a pre-printed message, sometimes the less it said, the better.
I would then write a pretty detailed, personal message to my friend, expressing my thanks and appreciation for their friendship; I might recollect some special moments we’ve had together; I might also express a hope of how our friendship might develop in the future.
When you open a card like this, you don’t really look at the “Hallmark greeting”. You are more interested in the stuff that is scribbled (sometimes illegibly and often inarticulately, and almost always non-rhyming) in pen. Why? Because that stuff came from the writer’s heart, not from some paid minion in a card factory (no offence if you work as such said minion).
In the same way, when we sing a new song to God, something is birthed in and of that moment. It’s unrehearsed, sometimes rhythmically awkward, seldom rhyming and often inelegant. But there is something about the quality of the heart behind it that makes God say “yes, I will inhabit your praise; and I will cause my reign and authority to flow in your midst.”
There is a flow-on effect too, because whenever God reigns in a place, He will draw people to Him. So the Psalmist says in Psalm 40:3:
He put a new song (tehillah) in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.
In the New Testament, Paul exhorts us to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (the equivalent of tehillah) as we are filled with the Spirit (not filled with spirits and tequila!). In crude terms, the spiritual song should occupy one third of our hymnody!
This is my encouragement for us to rediscover and re-deploy the new song in our worship services. We don’t have to go the whole way like IHOP has (and to be honest, I still struggle to concentrate and engage in IHOP-style worship – I think I’m probably not holy enough. Did I mention I’m not an intercessor?) but there is definitely room to allow a Spirit-inspired outburst of spontaneous and sustained praise and prophecy during our worship services.
Worship leaders will need to consciously give this extra space in the worship service and not overclutter their song lists. And worship leaders will also need to teach their congregations the biblical foundations for the new song and encourage them to step out of their comfort zones, even if it means hearing yourself sing off-key and off-rhythm. I can assure you that God doesn’t mind (although He might mind if the worship leader was off-key and off-rhythm!).
In 2007, I led a team of five people on a mission trip to Sapporo, Japan. Whilst Japan has a rich Christian heritage, it currently has a Christian population of less than 1%. (In future posts, I might tell you more about Japan and what God is doing there). One of the thing we were asked to do was to teach a half-day worship seminar.
Our missionary contact there had felt that it was important that we teach the church how to worship because he understood this principle of how worship invites God’s rule into a situation and ultimately into a church, city and country. For me, it was a key issue that we taught the church how to engage in the new song.
We were blessed to very skilled teachers and worshippers on our team. About 40 people had attended from the host church and its sister churches. A group of youth had also heard about the seminar and had bussed in from a town about 3 hours away called Hakodate.
I asked Ling to teach about singing the new song (along the lines of what I have shared here with you) and then to conduct a clinic where participants would be encouraged to spontaneously sing to the Lord. We started by getting everyone to list out various names of God. Once that was done, I began playing the guitar and Ling exhorted them to start singing the names of God. Silence ensued.
I think we really underestimated the conservatism of the Japanese culture, let alone the culture of the Japanese church. And then, I had an inspired idea. I told the attendees that maybe rather than singing the names of God, we should just sing “oooooooohs” and “aaaaaaaaahs”. That made a lot more sense since, looking back now, obviously we had written down the names of God in English and they were going to sing in Japanese. “ooooohs” and “aaaaahs” on the other hand, were common to both languages.
So as I played a simple chord progression, one by one, the attendees began singing these simple sounds in various melodies. The sounds began conjoining and harmonising over the foundation chords and one by one, the attendees began to stand and sing louder and louder. A beautiful sense of God’s presence just filled the room at that moment.
Now, I mentioned that the Japanese church was very conservative. But at the height of the singing, a lady in the back was so overwhelmed by the Spirit of God that she fell back into her chair. It was a very “pentecostal/charismatic” thing to do, given that we were in an evangelical church.
At that moment, I felt that there was a breakthrough in the realm of praise for the church in Sapporo.
Something powerful happens when we sing the new song. I hope that we can experience moments like this, and the one I experienced on Saturday at the intercessors’ meeting more and more through all our churches! So let God put a new song in your mouth that many will see and hear and put their trust in Him!