Hoping to Worship Well in the New Year

On the first Sunday of this new year, we (my family & I) attended another church. For some, this would seem an unusual way to begin, but for me, the pastor of a church, it’s a very infrequent occurrence. Since I take the week off between Christmas and New Years, I always have opportunity to check out other churches on that first Sunday of a new year.

One of the choruses sung during the service was “Be The Center.” Michael Frye is the author; Vineyard is the publisher. Here are the lyrics:

Jesus, be the center, be the source, be my light, Jesus.
Chorus: Be the fire in my heart, be the wind in my sails, be the reason I live, Jesus, Jesus.
Jesus, be the center, be my hope, be my song, Jesus.
Jesus, be my vision, be my path, be my guide.
Chorus: Be the fire in my heart, be the wind in my sails, be the reason I live, Jesus, Jesus.

This song was new to me, so I simply listened while the worship team sang (I think the congregation of over 1,000 was singing, but the amplification was so loud in this auditorium you could not hear others singing, even those immediately behind me). The tune was nondescript, kind of a lilting melody that would never stick in one’s mind to find yourself humming unconsciously later on in the day.

Some of the phrases don’t bother me. I mean, Jesus Himself calls Himself the light of the world. However, I’m really wondering what was going on in the writer’s mind when he wrote, “be the wind in my sails”? I mean really! Where in Scripture would you ever find such a romanticized piece of pap? I was almost expecting Bette Midler to jump out from behind the curtain and sing, “You Are the Wind Beneath Me Wings.”

This particular church has two services: the early service has a full orchestra and features “traditional” music, while the second service is called a “celebration” service featuring contemporary worship music, a full-size praise band and all the trimmings. The thing I wonder about is this: if the second service’s intent is to reach out to the unchurched and the formerly churched, then how in the world are you going to help them see the real Jesus of Scripture with songs such as “Be The Center”? But wait, I think I just answered my own question: “…how in the world are they going to do this…?” In the world, it’s all possible: just name your target, claim a method and gain an audience.

How much better, and worthy, it would be to offer the world a more godly version of hymnody, such as I found on Slice of Laodicea (http://www.sliceoflaodicea.com/) today:

Word of God the most high, our sole hope,
eternal day of the earth and heavens
as we break the silence of the peaceful night
divine saviour, look down upon us.

Imbue us with the fire of thy great mercy
so that hell itself will flee at the sound of your voice
disperse the sleep which leads our languishing souls
to stray from the path of righteousness.

O Christ show your favour to your faithful people
who have come together to worship you
receive the praises that they offer up to your immortal glory
and may they come back laden with the gift of your grace.

May God grant me the grace to worship Him in spirit and in truth this new year.

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5 Responses

  1. Be the wind in my sails is metaphorically saying that “I” want God empowering everything “I” do in life. If that doesn’t strike you as scriptural, if that doesn’t fit in your theology, you might need to reexamine some things!

  2. First off, don’t ever be afraid to be anonymous; but don’t fear leaving your name. I’ll never be one to track you down or do personal attacks or the like. Plus, it’s just so much nicer to know a real name to comments, whether helpful or critical. I’ve been in pastoral ministry for 20+ years and usually, if someone writes me a real letter (rarely happens anymore) and sends it anonymously, I’ll simply not read it. I found very early on that those letters were never worth the time or the emotional energy to bother reading. It seems to be different when reading online, however. I understand the “need” at times to remain anonymous for security reasons.

    Secondly, with regard to comments about music, I have three main criteria I use in choosing hymns, choruses and songs at our church:

    1. Direct Scriptural quotations: always the best; can’t go wrong using God’s Word directly

    2. Strong Scriptural allusions: not a direct quote, but the reference is so strong, if you’re familiar with Scripture, you know where the thought is from

    3. Scriptural formulations: doctrinal expressions, or personal experiences based upon Scripture, not simply personal warm fuzzy feelings.

    I’ll probably make this into a post on the blog since it’s getting a bit long here, but just thought I’d respond to you. Thanks.

  3. I think your too negative in your consideration of “Jesus be the Centre”–it may be simple but to the Unchurched or those we hope to invite to meet Jesus–it is clear and understandable—unlike the Hymn you preferred!—we sang Be the Centre yesterday and the tune is still with me and my wife!

    Your right Bette Midler would never sing Slice of Laodicea–Thank God!

  4. Ron, thanks for your comments. I wasn’t trying to be “negative” – at least not for the sake of being negative. I was trying to be critical in a positive manner, in getting us to think seriously and hard about matters, in this case, in what we sing.

    My convictions on singing songs for the unchurched: I really don’t want to “dumb down” (Marva Dawn’s book title, by the way, not my own) what we sing to reach a certain level. Neither do I want music that is so “classical” that not even the believer can reach up to sing it. Worship is for the believer; it can’t be otherwise. The ungodly, the unbeliever do not worship God; they worship themselves, another god, or some other object, but they do not worship the One True God. My desire is that the worship of God’s people be so compelling that an unbeliever is drawn to the glory of God in the face of Christ as reflected in His people.

    Anyway, for what’s it’s worth.

    Thanks again.

  5. I don’t think you’ve taken enough time to look at the 1000 people that were there singing “Be the Center”. They are a different generation and with time humans change. We change the way we dress, our hobbies and interests, even the way we speak with time. Its completely natural if Christ chose 2006 to come to earth and redeem us instead of 0, do you really think he would dress, act, and talk the same as he did then?

    If you sing songs with phrases like “Imbue us with the fire of they great mercy” a good portion of that 1000 people would probably have to break out the Oxford just to know what that really means. I don’t think God is honored by music when our hearts our not in it, if that were the case we could worship God by simply playing a recording all day. We worship God with music when we sing with emotion and are pouring our hearts out to Him. I don’t believe that is possible by trying to be someone or something we are not. Dressing in the ‘right’ clothes and mouthing the ‘right’ words to the ‘right’ song are no better then a recording, if anything it is disrespectful to our God.

    I do want to make it clear that I think people can and do worship God through songs like you mentioned. Hymns bring up very powerful emotions and I’ve seen people in tears pouring out the hearts to God with hmyns like “I surrender all”… however that doesn’t mean that is the method everyone should choose to give worship to God.

    It does have to be scriptual… but “Imbue us with the fire” isn’t in the scripture anymore then “be the wind in my sails”. Both are expressions, you just happen to be more comfortable with one then the other. You were unable to worship with “Be The Center” because that is not how you talk or think… that is the same way younger generations stumble when the try to worship with hymns like you mentioned. I encourage you not to be a stumbling block to future generations simply because they have different ways of expressing themselves.

    OK, that got kind of long… sorry.

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