Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.
Singing is not the main expression of worship. We learned that from The Song of Moses, in the February 2019 column.
The main purpose of congregational singing is to sing God’s Word in the fullness of the Holy Spirit to one another. The purpose of such congregational singing is to “teach” and “admonish” each other, and to express our thanksgiving to God. (Deuteronomy 31,32 with Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16.)
How do we worship God? Do we worship Him when we sing lyrics that praise him, and describe who He is and what He has done? That’s what most of us assume.
Let’s take a second look at this assumption: If the primary purpose of congregational singing is to “teach” and to “admonish” one another, then this fits neatly with the well-known definition of “spiritual worship” in Roman 12:1,2 “Your spiritual worship is to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Then you will not be conformed to this world, but you will be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so that you discern what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God”.
Putting it simply: We worship God acceptably when our bodies and our minds are transformed by doing the will of God.
Naturally, we think and behave according to the culture of the world around us. God’s thinking and behaviour is different to the world around us. We must sacrificially break from the world’s standards and discern what God’s standards are.
Our thinking and behaviour must be transformed to think and behave as God wants us to think and behave. That’s the “spiritual worship” that God wants.
It makes sense: Only a spiritual worshiper can offer spiritual worship. God looks at the heart before He listens to the words. If the heart is out of tune, the best song-lyrics in the church will not be acceptable to Him.
“Take away from me the noise of your songs, to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” — Hosea 5:23,24
So how do we transform our thinking and behaviour? How do we behave justly and righteously? By singing God-songs! By living the songs we sing!
That’s how God told Moses to fix Israel’s tendency to be conformed to the heathen cultures surrounding them as they entered the Promised Land. “Write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the people of Israel.” — Deuteronomy 31:19
This Song of Moses is recorded in Deuteronomy 32. See how this song persuades the people to accept God’s judgment on their apostasy, and to turn back to Him.
This song is an extended description of Yahweh as the true and reliable Rock, faithful, just and fair. Israel belongs to the Lord who found them in a desert land and carried them to safety (v10,11).
He stands in vivid contrast to the gods of the heathen among whom they will live: “The rock of our enemies is not like our Rock. They grow from the vine of Sodom and Gomorrah. Their grapes are poison.” — v32f
But Israel neglected the Rock who had fathered them, and provoked His anger with their useless idols. God’s anger blazes forth like fire and heaps disasters upon them.
(v18, 21-23). He calls them “to look for themselves and see that there is no other God but Me” (v39)
Imagine how you would feel, singing these words when you know you have rebelled against your loving Saviour-God.
This is the persuasive power of song. This is the kind of song which will “teach and admonish you” and make you a “spiritual worshiper” who will “worship God in spirit and in truth”, for that’s what the Father wants in worship (John 4:24).
Godly songs form the singers into the kind of worshipers whose “spiritual worship is to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Then you will not be conformed to this world, but you will be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so that you discern what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God” — (Romans 12:1,2)