Praising in the Storm: Reversing the Current Trend of Consumeristic Worship
Setting the Mood: In culture, music is often used to cultivate pleasure and set the mood. We rock out to 80s synthesizers and electric guitars as we cruise down the highway to the beach. We bring a date to the symphony to take in the stately beauty of time-tested classical masterpieces – and it's a romantic setting, too, which never hurts. We pop in our headphones as we run and curate a playlist of whatever songs will keep our endorphins high and our feet flying. We consume music like we consume other fuels like veggies, air, and coffee. Even if we interact by drumming on the seat in front of us or singing along with the radio, we're still involved in a consumer relationship with the sounds and words that enter our psyche.
Sunday Morning Hype:
Unfortunately, this mindset often influences our attitude towards worship. We sing along with the band on Sunday morning to hype up our energy and clap the last bit of sleepiness from our joints. We weep along with the slow songs during communion because we hope that sadness equates to holy reverence – and we hope that the repentance we feel will stick. We look to the music and lyrics to validate our mood or energize us enough to temporarily forget about it. We drink a double shot of morning worship and call it a successful Sunday.
Daily Dance Party:
Unfortunately, our consumeristic relationship with worship isn't limited to Sunday. What about during the week? Do you use slow repentance jams to prepare you for a time of prayer? Do you cue up something vaguely dance-pop (but still worshipful) while you do chores around the house? What songs do you use to celebrate if today is your best life, or to soundtrack your journaling about how life couldn't be worse? Is your approach to engaging with worship songs – music purposed to lift words of praise and petition to God – any different than the approach you take to your intake of popular, non-Christocentric music?
Identifying the Dilemma:
If you haven't guessed by now, my questioning tone of voice is meant to highlight a reality that has sometimes become the norm for even the most earnest followers of Jesus. It's not always easy to see how the way we interact with the music in our popular culture often shades the way we approach offering our praises to God. It is easy to explain, though. God created us to be wonderfully emotional people who experience many of the colors of life through the feelings that we have. But our sinfulness adds an idolatrous twist to the way we seek to soothe and satisfy our emotional needs. Instead of asking God to strengthen or heal or purify what is going on inside of us, we settle for a quick fix. We seek to medicate our emotions directly rather than ask for help from the One who originally gave them to us.
Ministering to the Affects:
As a leader, have you ever talked through your church’s emotional needs? For example, "How can a grieving mother who lost a child still sing along with gusto during the Easter Morning opening salvo?" Or "Maybe we should use a more somber post-sermon song to enable people to contemplate the weight of Jesus' sacrifice." Or "What is the emotional tenor of this passage and how can our music underscore it?" The emotional complexity of a Sunday morning can be a lot to navigate! Pastors work hard to be mindful of ministering holistically, which means preaching not just to the intellect but to the affects as well. But as deeply as sermons and other elements touch the innermost places of our being, music can often reach even deeper and thus should also be employed with careful discernment. [quote]But as deeply as sermons and other elements touch the innermost places of our being, music can often reach even deeper and thus should also be employed with careful discernment.[/quote]
Educating Emotional Worshippers:
What I'd love to see is the gap between leader and congregants be bridged by teaching them a fuller understanding of why and how we sing to God in the first place. Leaders can consider a parishioner's emotional state or use music to underline the content of the Word, but there's only so far their pastoral care can reach if those in attendance still enter into worship with the consumeristic approach of amplifying, modifying, or validating their experience. We need to be mindful of helping our congregants open their own eyes to what is or is not a healthy engagement with singing songs and using music in a worship context.
Submitting to the One who Saves:
Let's quickly glance at the Psalms, our best example of a God-fearing, Spirit-breathed, Christ-worshipping songbook. When David and the other gifted songwriters of Israel crafted these expressions of praise, they certainly didn't limit their vocabulary to a palette of primary colors. They painted with the entire spectrum of emotional outbursts, from shouts of victory to cries of hopelessness. There's nothing wrong with engaging our feelings during times of musical worship. But take a look at what they did with their emotions: No matter the context, they ultimately submitted their experiences to the will of their Creator – to the one who intimately knit them together before any good or bad days had yet come to pass. I'm reminded of this line from an early Casting Crowns song: "And I'll praise You in this storm / And I will lift my hands / For You are who You are / No matter where I am." Wow. We are to offer up praise because of who God is and not because of how we feel about our circumstances. Worship moves us beyond our feelings to being with God. [quote]Worship moves us beyond our feelings to being with God.[/quote]
I want to finish this post with a few questions to prompt further reflection for all of us as we seek God's guidance for what He desires of our worship. In the coming weeks, we will learn about how many different means we are gifted with to worship our Creator. As we do, I encourage us to stop and think next time we turn on the pop station for a mood booster or sit down in church hoping that the band plays the right song for our morning. When you do, I offer you these questions: What does it mean to sing praises in submission to our Savior? What does it mean to praise Him in the storm? Praise Him when He gives? When He takes away? When we love everything and everyone or when the world seems bent against us? How does entering into worship before the presence of God require us to submit our emotions to Him and pray for His reach into the deepest parts of ourselves? Worship can only become transformative once the clay realizes its place before the Potter. This requires very little consumerism and a whole lot of submission. [quote]This requires very little consumerism and a whole lot of submission.[/quote] May we pray that we continue to grow less interested in receiving and more willing to give when we sing praises to our God.