I believe God wishes to challenge us each and every day when it comes to how we worship Him. Music is a wonderful way of expressing our love and respect for Christ. It’s just one of the many ways in which we do so, and it seems that it’s more powerful and expressive for us as human beings as opposed to deeply contemplating the mysteries of God and His Word.
Take a minute and think about what comes to mind when someone mentions “worship music.” Hillsong United? Phil Whickam? Maybe Sonicflood if you’re old school like me? These are great examples of musicians and groups of musicians who use their talents specifically to praise the Lord.
Though a trend I’ve noticed in the church as whole in recent memory is the utilization of music from these evangelical super-artists mentioned above. Their music is simple, easy to sing, easy to understand, and chock-full of passion. These are important elements to have in worship music if you want people to join in on Sunday mornings!
But what about the other musicians who have created beautiful worship music as well? Eric Owyoung, Reese Roper, Paul Meany… I’m sure only a few of you know who these guys are. These artists are sort of known for their ambiguity and ability to create incredibly deep lyrics while still maintaining a unique sound and focus on Christ.
Let’s take look at Paul Meany as the example, being that he’s the frontman for my favorite band, MuteMath. One of their most popular songs was actually one of the very first they produced, called “Control.” On the surface, it’s a pretty mellow alternative rock song. It’s got a good beat, great vocals, some nice guitar riffs. But take a moment here and just listen to the lyrics. Who and what is Paul referring to?
Pretty great stuff, right? It’s always been in my top 5 songs just for the lyrical aspect alone. Let’s dig in to some of those lyrics now:
“There is no better loss than to lose myself in You.”
“Surrender has somehow become so beautiful.”
Right off the bat, Paul talks about giving himself up for God. He refers to becoming so enveloped in God’s love that he is literally lost, and what could be greater than this? Later in the second verse he changes those first lyrics to “there is no better find than to find myself in you.”
“You can take my world, You can fill the air, take control…”
“There’s no reason I should breathe unless You’re in the air…”
There’s a great deal of emphasis here on air and atmosphere; the presence of this idea is strong throughout. And you can draw parallels of “atmosphere” to one’s own life, their environment, who they are inside, any number of things! That’s why I love this ambiguous style of lyric-writing; the answer is so obvious, yet there are multiple ways to interpret what the writer is saying.
So why am I using this song as an example? Well, why not? I’ve certainly never heard it on Sunday mornings, and yet it manages to pull on all the right spiritual strings in my heart. I believe the reason is that this song suffers from the same problem other similar music has: it’s not explicit enough! Not once is God mentioned by name, and the lyrical subject remains nebulous because, well, that was the artist’s choice and purpose for his music.
Since we’re talking about musical worship, let me touch real quick on another form of worship that God loves: reading his Holy book. When I read the Bible, I get far more out of it when I dig into each verse and look beyond the surface of what it says; piecing together references from other scripture, discovering the allegory behind a certain passage or other hidden meanings in parables and stories. Especially when we’re discussing scripture with our brothers and sisters, we all benefit from diving deep into the Bible, rather than just touching upon the surface and getting our feet wet.
One can think of musical worship in a similar way. Can we sing those gorgeous but simple songs on Sunday that praise God directly and leaves no question in the congregation? Absolutely! I love doing that every week. But can we also discover worship in other Christian music that requires a little thinking and putting two and two together? I think we should.
I don’t expect the church to start playing music that sounds “secular” to the untrained ear. But most of us are only at church one day out of the week; those other six days should be filled with just as much passion as if we were attending church! Expand your horizon and start thinking about the other stuff on your iPod that doesn’t make the cut for worship service. This challenge may be in the form of simply being more expressive in how we worship God, or it may come in the form of using our gray matter to really think about what we’re singing. You may just find that musical worship is on a broader spectrum than what you hear on Sunday mornings.