Just the other day I was watching a video of a live performance from a very accomplished worship ministry in Austin, Texas. Austin is known as the live music capital of the world, so this church makes a point to serve their congregation within that context. They craft the sound of their songs to whatever is the most engaging sound for their city, which happens to be mainstream worship.
However, unlike much of mainstream worship, the songwriters from this church have a great balance of scriptural content in their songs. They are experts at expressing heavy concepts, like the depravity of man or God’s judgement, through songs that are simple enough for the unchurched to easily understand. If you heard a song of theirs without listening to the lyrics, it would sound much like most of the worship music you would hear on the radio, but if you dug into the lyrics you would hear some strong, tough truth.
After I watched this video I scrolled down to the first comment I saw below and it read, “All your guy’s music is so depressing, don’t you know how to rejoice in Jesus?”
Granted, if you start judging society based off of YouTube comments, everything may start looking pretty bleak, but this was still insightful as to how our hearts naturally respond to the weighty truths of scripture.
This church in Austin can shape the sound of their music to be as uplifting and encouraging as possible, but because they are truly teaching scripture through song, many people will be offended, depressed, and uncomfortable.
So why do we tackle such heavy concepts in our songs? Why can’t we just “rejoice in Jesus”?
Well, naturally we want an uplifting experience, but we can’t cultivate this in a trite or shallow way that misses the fullness of God’s glory. It’s the full spectrum of truths about God that grounds our worship and our hope. Here are a few key reasons why deep, thorough and sometimes somber worship is crucial for a healthy church:
In trying to express a full picture of the gospel every morning in our worship services, it is important that we tackle its most uncomfortable truths. In the songs we sing at FBC we try to acknowledge every morning that God is holy and we are sinners in need of a savior. This must always be coupled with rejoicing in the pardoning work of Christ on the cross. In confessing our depravity we are reminded just what we have been saved from. It is important for us to be clear with these truths despite their offensiveness.
Tim Keller explains it this way,
“The cross is by nature offensive! And we can only grasp its sweetness if we first grapple with its offense. If someone understands the cross, it is either the greatest thing in their life, or it is repugnant to them. If it is neither of those two things, they haven’t understood it.”
Let’s be honest, many of us don’t feel like rejoicing first thing in the morning. My brother and I often joke that we are practically useless in the first couple hours of the morning. My poor mom and dad had to sometimes literally drag us out of bed when we were younger. So being hit with a song like “Happy Day” right when I walk into service isn’t always my cup of tea. But, we do want to be thoughtful and gentle when it comes to someone who is truly suffering that morning.
The death of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis, a job layoff, whatever it may be, it is the worship leader’s job to have something for the suffering Christian to sing. This may not always feel uplifting those who are not in pain that morning, but it is absolutely vital for those that are.
These lyrics out of Dustin Kensrue’s “Rejoice” are a great example of this:
“All our sickness all our sorrows Jesus carried up the hill He has walked this path before us He is walking with us still Turning tragedy to triumph Turning agony to praise There is blessing in the battle So take heart and stand amazed
Rejoice! When you cry to Him He hears your voice He will wipe away your tears Rejoice! In the midst of suffering He will help you sing”
Scripture is full of very somber examples for congregational worship. King David poured out his heart and his troubles through music. The Israelites regularly cried out to God in submission through song. Because of this, the Psalms are rich with elements of lament, judgment, and confession:
“In the day of trouble I seek the Lord; In the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.” (Psalm 77:2-3)
“The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; He utters his voice, the earth melts.” (Psalm 46:6)
“For you know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only have I sinned, And done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:3-4a)
Along with the Psalms, God’s word gives corporate examples of profoundly sobering songs in Revelation, Lamentations, Isaiah and more. Lamenting the falseness of the world, declaring God’s coming judgment, and confessing our sin are crucial parts of our spiritual formation. God designed these things to help express our reliance on Him and our trust in His sovereignty.
Passionate, joyful singing should be the primary expression of our congregational worship. When we respond to the fullness of God, who He is and what He’s done, our response should be a joyful noise! But if our songs consist of only sentiment and emotional uplift, and are not informed by scriptural substance, our worship will be thin and weightless. It’s the spirit of God revealing Himself through the word that produces true, lasting joy. May our times of singing together be full of truth and full of rejoicing!
Click Here to view a Spotify playlist that has our current rotation of songs for cooperate worship. This is designed to help you worship throughout the week and prepare for gathered singing on Sunday mornings.