[Written by Jeff Koonce]
Do you ever think about why our worship service at Cross Creek is the way that it is? Why do we do the things we do, pray the things we pray, or sing the songs we sing?
Every week we tell the story of the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ was sent to rescue God’s people from sin and death. It’s not enough for us to just tell this story once and move on. We need to hear the narrative of the gospel every single week. Why do we need to be reminded of this all the time? Martin Luther said, “Every sin since the beginning of the world has been unbelief and ignorance of Christ”.
Since it’s our nature to turn away from Christ and back toward ourselves, we forget the story of God’s creation, Adam’s Fall, the redemptive work of Christ and our hope for the restoration of all things by God almost as quickly as we hear it. Every week we tell the story of the gospel again with the goal that our worship service is habit-forming, aiming our hearts and minds toward the right end, Jesus Christ.
To this end, we weave a thread of gospel narrative through our liturgy, the form of our worship – the readings, songs, prayers and other elements – retelling the gospel story through the theme of a service. In particular, we choose songs for their substance over their style, popularity, or personal preference. As a result, our singing in worship is not a diversion of beautiful sounds between moments of talking but continues the gospel story by engaging our hearts, our minds and even our bodies in worship.
And by hearts, I do mean emotions. I know we, as Presbyterians, sometimes scoff at that word, but emotions are not bad; they are part of our God-given make-up. In his book, The Worship Pastor, Zac Hicks states, “Emotionless worship is just as toxic to our faith as haphazardly emotional worship. We are gut- and heart-based creatures before we are head-based intellectuals.” Our emotions simply need to be directed in the right place at the right time.
In worship, we realign our love and emotions toward God. Historian and theologian Dr. Ashley Null says, “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” Our hearts lead the way and it is through music that we can express a full range of true emotions: joy, grief, sorrow, relief, and thankfulness. The Christian life is not easy, but it is good. We should take our cues from the Psalms, which are full of varied emotions, and, with truth and confidence, worship our Lord with the full range of our hearts.
We start with our hearts and emotions, but we do not end there. Our minds and our intellects are engaged during worship as well. Through their the richness and depth, the hymn texts we sing articulate and teach the gospel from a different perspective. Words combined with music illuminate a new depth of meaning that words alone cannot do while singing focuses our attention and aids in remembering. How many times have you walked out of service whistling the sermon?
Singing also physically engages our bodies in worship. We come to know the story of the gospel, not only by having it articulated verbally and conceptually to us but by participating in it. So it is through song that we share in the life and activity of the church by coming together as one body to lift one voice in prayer and praise to God, our Creator, and Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Singing is praying, and congregational singing is corporate prayer. Augustine is credited with saying “Whoever sings prays twice.” When we don’t know what to pray, we let the words of the songs we sing guide us and teach us to pray.
Therefore, when words alone are not enough to express our awe and wonder over who God is and what he has done sing:
“The heavens declare Thy glory,
The firmament Thy power;
Day unto day the story
Repeats from hour to hour;
Night unto night replying,
Proclaims in every land,
O Lord, with voice undying,
The wonders of Thy hand.”
The Heavens Declare Thy Glory
or to express, grief and shame over our sins sing:
“From the depths of woe, I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation;
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication;
If Thou iniquities dost mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O who shall stand before Thee?
O who shall stand before Thee?”
Psalm 130 (From the Depths of Woe)
or to express our joy and gratitude for our salvation through Jesus sing:
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”
or to express our longing and hope for God making all things new sing:
’Mid toil and tribulation, And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious, Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious Shall be the Church at rest.
The Church’s One Foundation
Sing, Cross Creek Church, and sing loudly!