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Worship in Song

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been trying to wrap our heads around the idea of worship. I think for most of us – if we’re sitting in church this morning – we understand that worshipping God is central to the Christian life, but we may not understand exactly what that means.

And so we’ve spent the last two weeks defining worship. We started off by looking the old english word for worship – “weorthscipe” – which basically means to declare the worth of something. So by simple definition, we worship God by declaring His worth. And we can do that both in word and deed – intentionally or without even thinking about it.

In fact, every person on earth worships something – although they may not ever realize it. We worship whatever it is that is most important to us. And we declare it’s worth by our actions. In fact, you can tell what people worship by their actions. It might be our own egos, the approval of others, money, relationships, career – but what we worship quickly become evident in the choices we make every day – that’s really how we declare the worth of these things.

How we spend our time, where we focus our energies, what consumes our thoughts, even how we spend our money – that all reveals what we truly worship. And if we truly do worship God – if we consider His worth to be above all else – we are actually worshipping God every time we choose to obey and honour Him. Our worship is evident in the choices we make.

Then last week we filled out that idea a little more as we looked at the Hebrew word for worship and found that the Hebrew word could be translated either as to worship or to serve. Worshipping God and serving God were basically the same thing to the Hebrews. And we talked about how we worship God by serving Him – by doing the things were were created to do.

We talked about how we need to have an on-going relationship with our Creator so that we can know what we are created to do – to know his will. And when we do that – when we are reading his Word and talking to God in prayer – listening to the prompts of the Holy Spirit throughout our day – then really, everything we do (no matter how big or how insignificant) can be an act of worship as we seek to obey God and bring Him glory through every little thing that we do.

But of course, all of that still doesn’t answer the question that we’ve been trying to answer. The whole reason we’re talking about worship right now is because for the last three months, we’ve been talking about spiritual disciplines.

And if you’ve been with us very often, you’ll know that these spiritual disciplines – or these Healthy Habits as we’ve called them – are the practices of Christians over the centuries that help us draw close to God – they help us stay connected to Him and to know Him more and to grow in our faith in Him.

We’ve based this whole series on the passage in John 15 where Jesus tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches and we need to stay connected to Him.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

And so we’ve been looking at the practices and the healthy habits that help us remain in Him. And worship is one of those practices.

But of course, in how we’ve defined worship so far, worship seems more like a way of life rather than a specific habit to develop. And that’s true – we need to live a life of worship – but at the same time, a regular habit of expressing worship is also very important in staying connected to God.

And maybe that’s a good distinction to make. There are acts of worship – and there are expressions of worship. And I realize those might seem like they could be the same thing, but let me see if I can clarify.

So far, we’ve really be talking about acts of worship. Acts of worship are the things we do, the choices we make in obedience to God, that show we want to honour and please God. This is worshipping God by serving God.

We mentioned last week how changing your baby’s diaper can be an act of worship. If that’s a job that God has given to you to do as caretaker of that little baby, then obeying God in doing that is an act of worship.

However, I probably wouldn’t say that changing a diaper is an expression of worship. We wouldn’t all gather together to change baby’s diapers to express our love and adoration for God.

And part of our difficulty in understanding the difference between acts of worship and expressions of worship is that in English, we have a limited vocabulary when it comes to worship.

I did a little digging and I found that in the Bible, there are 11 different words that all get translated as “worship”. There are 3 Hebrew words in the Old Testament – we looked at the one that means “to serve” – there is one Aramaic word found only in Daniel, and then 7 different Greek words in the New Testament and they all get translated into English as “worship”. So it’s no wonder we have a hard time understanding exactly what it means to worship God.

But basically, there are two main categories – two basic definitions of worship. One definition is, of course, to serve – like we’ve been talking about. But the other definition of worship primarily means to bow down – to express affection or respect or reverence.

We mentioned in our very first message on worship how we might envision worship as these ancient people bowing low to the ground around some big stone idol. Well, that really is one major aspect of worship. Bowing down – expressing adoration and respect.

The main greek word for worship in the New Testament has the idea of a dog licking his master’s hand. You’ve probably all seen that… The dog comes up beside his master and gives his master’s hand a little lick – a little kiss, if you will. It’s the dog’s way of expressing love. And that’s the visual image of worship in the New Testament.

And it’s that expression of worship that needs to be one of our spiritual disciplines to help us stay connected to Christ. Not only do we need to obey our master, but we need to be in the habit of expressing our love and adoration to Him.

It’s kinda the same way in marriage. It’s one thing to love your wife by serving her (perhaps by going to work each day, earning a living, helping out with the housework, taking care of the kids) – but I’m sure your wife still wants you to express your love to her by saying “I love you” and by giving her a kiss and hug, or buying her little gifts. You really need both aspects. One without the other really seems incomplete.

  • If you only serve your wife, and never express your love to her – you might as well just be the butler.
  • And if you only express your love to your wife – but never back it up by serving her – your expressions of love are going to seem pretty empty.

You have to have both for a growing, healthy relationship.

And the same is true in our worship of God. Remember, that’s a relationship too. We have to worship God by serving Him, and at the same time we also have worship God by expressing our love for him. Both are essential if we want to remain in Him and grow deeper in our relationship with Him.

We looked at Matthew 4:10 two weeks ago where Jesus was being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. And Jesus, quoting from Deuteronomy, says…

“You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” Matthew 4:10

There’s both aspects of worship in this verse – there’s the serving and the expressing adoration. And we are commanded to do both. We must worship the Lord our God AND serve only Him.

So what does that look like for us? How do we express worship, how do we express our love and adoration for God?

Well, there are a lot of different ways we could do that – but one of the primary ways prescribed in the Bible is actually by singing!

And I know that when we first started talking about worship I said that worship is not necessarily singing, and singing is not necessarily worship! That’s still true. John 4:24 tells us that…

“For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24

The mere act of singing worship songs is not necessarily worship. It has to be an expression of authentic adoration based on the truth of God. Let me say that again – I think that’s important. Worship must be an expression of authentic adoration based on the truth of God. In other words, we can’t just say or sing “I love you” to God – we actually have to mean it. That’s worshipping in spirit. And we can’t worship God for things that He’s never done or for characteristics that aren’t his – otherwise we’re worshipping a false god. We actually have to know who God is and what He’s like – we have to worship Him in truth.

And you’ll probably find that the more you get to know God – the more you will naturally worship Him because He certainly is worthy of our worship! Now that doesn’t necessarily have to be expressed through song, but singing is certainly one of the foremost ways prescribed in the Bible to worship God.

The Bible has over 400 references to singing and over 50 direct commands for us to sing. The longest book of the Bible – Psalms – is an entire book of songs. That’s 7% of the entire Old Testament. And that doesn’t even include the Song of Solomon – which is basically a love song… And Lamentations – which is a set of funeral songs. And then there are lyrics for at least 25 other songs scattered throughout the Bible – and there is singing by all kinds of people from Moses to Jehoshaphat to Ezekiel to Paul & Silas.

We even see Jesus singing a hymn just before going out to the Mount of Olives on the evening before he was crucified.

And in Zephaniah 3:17 we read that God the Father even sings!

“The Lord your God is in your midst,

    a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

    he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17 ESV

I don’t know if you’ve ever pictured God loudly singing before – but apparently he does! And if God loudly sings about us, I think it’s fitting that we should loudly sing about Him!

Psalm 100:2 says…

2 Worship the Lord with gladness.

    Come before him, singing with joy.

3 Acknowledge that the Lord is God!

    He made us, and we are his.

Psalm 100:2-3

1 Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord –

    it is fitting for the pure to praise him.

2 Praise the Lord with melodies on the lyre;

    make music for him on the ten-stringed harp.

3 Sing a new song of praise to him;

    play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.

Psalm 33:1-3

Throughout the Scriptures, its very clear that one of the ways we are to worship God is by singing to Him. (It’s not the only way, of course, but it’s emphasized often enough that I think we would be foolish to neglect it.)

And I know that not everybody loves to sing – especially not in public. I get that. But I think we need to remember that when we worship God – it’s not about us. Worship is not about our enjoyment, our comfort, our entertainment, or any of that. It’s about God. It’s about God hearing our praise and adoration for who He is and for what He’s done.

And I don’t think the church in general has helped much in recent years as our worship services have become more of a performance to watch and listen to rather than a congregational offering of praise to be part of. I know in many churches it’s actually really difficult to sing along with some of those songs. Some songs are too high for a lot of guys to sing or the melody is difficult to follow… or the leaders aren’t even singing the melody – they singing their own thing…. And so people just naturally don’t sing along.

But when I read the Bible, I really get the sense that God wants to hear every voice. Ephesians 5 seems to indicate that singing is actually a natural by-product of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. Ephesians 5:18-19

It seems that singing is for every Christian! Everyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit should be singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs – making music to the Lord in their hearts.

That’s a key way of fulfilling our command to worship God!  And it comes with great benefits for us too! Singing worship to God actually has some really cool side-effects.

And that’s how I want to wrap up this message today – I want to give you a couple awesome side-effects of singing our worship to God. And these aren’t my original thoughts by any means. The basis of these points come from a guy named Bob Kauflin and you can look up his thoughts on worshipmatters.com if you like. But I found similar thoughts from all kinds of people as I did my research on this whole topic of singing worship.

So here’s the first awesome side-effect of singing our worship to God.

  1. Singing our worship together produces Unity.

Church is not the only place where people sing together in public. For example, thousands of us all sing our national anthem together at hockey games and other sporting events. Go to a rock concert and when your favourite artist plays their signature song, everyone sings along. Go to a birthday party and everyone sings the “Happy Birthday Song”, don’t they?

New Years Eve – Christmas – weddings – there are all kinds of events where we sing together. And we do so because we all share something in common. Whether it’s national pride or birthday well-wishes for a friend – we sing together because we share something in common.

And when we focus on what we have in common, that naturally draws us together – it unifies us. And that’s exact what we want to see happen in the church. Ephesians 4:3 says…

“Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

6 one God and Father of all,

who is over all, in all, and living through all.

Ephesians 4:3-6

As Christians, we have a LOT in common! Singing together is a fantastic practice to remind us of that and to draw us together in unity.

A few years ago Heather & I were able to attend a Christian conference in Edmonton called “Break Forth” – and it’s just a huge event with all kinds of big name speakers and worship leaders and teachers.  Sometime the music wasn’t my personal favourite – (it was pretty loud and sometimes awfully repetitive) But one of the cool things that we got to experience was during one of the worship sessions, they sang a hymn – and I don’t even remember what hymn it was – but being there in that auditorium with about 10,000 other people all singing the same hymn, expressing that same love to the same God for the same hope that He gives us – that was pretty cool. It was almost like a small glimpse of what the worship in heaven will be like. Can you imagine? Millions of people + millions of angels – all singing praises to God?! That’s going to be something incredible to be part of!

And actually, the apostle John got to experience that already – He records for us in Revelation 5:11…

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand—thousands times thousands— 12 all of whom were singing in a loud voice:

“Worthy is the lamb who was killed

to receive power and wealth

and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature—in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them—singing:

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb

be praise, honor, glory, and ruling power forever and ever!”

Revelation 5:11-13 NET

What an incredible scene! And we get to be part of that one day, but for now, we get to practice that every week right here. And maybe our worship isn’t that spectacular – but I don’t think God minds. I think He just loves to hear his children singing praises to Him together in unity.

The second awesome side effect of singing our worship is that

2. Singing our worship helps us remember our theology

For whatever reason, God has wired our brains to remember music and words set to music much better than just words alone or even images. For example:

  • We may not be able to remember the names of the folks we met last week, but we can remember that song from the McDonalds commercial from 20 years ago! Can’t we?
  • When we try to teach our kids the ABCs, we teach them the ABC song….
  • At camp they sing a song that names all the books of the Bible – And today there are a lot of campers who know where to find those books in their Bibles only because of that song.
  • We even learn grammar and proper spelling through little rhymes and songs…

“I” before “E” except after “C” or when pronounced “A” as in “neighbor” or “weigh” or on weekends and holidays and all throughout May – and you’ll never be right no matter what you say….  That was the version I learned anyway. I’m not sure how accurate it was….

Putting information to music is one of the best ways to remember it. We even see that in the Bible!

In Deuteronomy 31, it’s the end of Moses life. He’s old and about to pass the torch over to Joshua to lead the people of Israel. And so God calls Moses and Joshua to stand before Him at the tabernacle.  And God basically says to them, “I know that the people of Israel are going to abandon me. Not too long from now, they’re going to serve other gods and break my covenant with them. And when that happens… all this terrible stuff is going to happen to them. I’m going to send disaster upon them. And then God says….

19 “So write down the words of this song, and teach it to the people of Israel. Help them learn it, so it may serve as a witness for me against them. 20 For I will bring them into the land I swore to give their ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey. There they will become prosperous, eat all the food they want, and become fat. But they will begin to worship other gods; they will despise me and break my covenant. 21 And when great disasters come down on them, this song will stand as evidence against them, for it will never be forgotten by their descendants. I know the intentions of these people, even now before they have entered the land I swore to give them.”

22 So that very day Moses wrote down the words of the song and taught it to the Israelites.

Deuteronomy 31:19-22

And there you have it. If you want people to remember something – teach it to them in a song! (And by the way, the next chapter – Deuteronomy 32 – records that song for us today some 3500 years later…)

But because of how effective music is in helping people remember stuff, it just makes sense that God would teach them important things through song. And that’s probably also why the book of Psalms, like we said earlier – is 7% of the Old Testament. Those songs were a primary way for the Israelites to learn and remember who God is and what He’s like. It’s packed with theology! Let me show you just one quick example from Psalm 145 – this is a song that David wrote. And I don’t know the tune, and it likely isn’t as poetic in English as it once was in Hebrew, but let me at least share with the lyrics. Starting at verse 8.

8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful,

    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.

9 He will not constantly accuse us,

    nor remain angry forever.

10 He does not punish us for all our sins;

    he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.

11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him

    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

12 He has removed our sins as far from us

    as the east is from the west.

13 The Lord is like a father to his children,

    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.

14 For he knows how weak we are;

    he remembers we are only dust.

15 Our days on earth are like grass;

    like wildflowers, we bloom and die.

16 The wind blows, and we are gone—

    as though we had never been here.

17 But the love of the Lord remains forever

    with those who fear him.

His salvation extends to the children’s children

18     of those who are faithful to his covenant,

    of those who obey his commandments!

Psalm 145

That’s a lot of theology pack into one song. Wouldn’t you rather have your kids singing songs like that rather than “Who let the dogs out?” or “What does the fox say?”

Well, that’s one of the main reason why we sing the kids songs during our kids feature or at our kids club. It’s a little theology that they’re probably going to remember for the rest of their life.

I can preach 100 sermons, and I doubt that anyone will be quoting me in ten years. But I’ll guarantee that the songs we sing together in church will go with you for decades!

And of course, that puts a lot of pressure on our music teams – their preaching through song will likely have a much longer lasting impact than my preaching. So we need to be very intentional about the songs we sing.

And even in your own home, I’d encourage you to be choosy about what music you play there too. Not that all your music needs to be hymns – but just be aware that the music you listen to and sing along with, will stick with you for a long, long time. So why not take that opportunity to fill your minds with truth – with things that actually matter?

16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.  Colossians 3:16

Music is a pretty powerful tool. Why not use it to fill your lives with the message of Christ!? Worship God in song – not only here at church – but in your homes, in your cars, in your showers! Wherever you are!

Use this fantastic tool of music to focus your attention on God – to fill your mind with the truths of Scripture – to teach theology to those around you – and to honour and glorify the One who made you.

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