Summer in Song….The heart of worship

Last year, as a congregation, we spent the summer looking at various Psalms. This summer, we’re going to do ‘Summer in Song’. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at some hymns and songs and the stories behind them. We’re then going to look at the bible passages linked to them (or the ones I think could be!) and see what we can learn from them. I’ve tried to find a mix of ‘ancient and modern’. My prayer is that God will both teach us and bless us as we consider the reasons these songs were written, the words of the songs and the Word of God.

This week, we’re going to start with a ‘newer’ song written by Matt Redman which we have sung many times as a congregation. It’s called The Heart of Worship. https://youtu.be/0XsB0ltXmRs

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart
I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the ways things appear
You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
All about You, Jesus
I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You
It’s all about You Jesus

King of endless worth
No one could express
How much You deserve
Though I’m weak and poor
All I have is Yours
Every single breath
I’ll bring You more than just a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
All about You, Jesus
I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You
It’s all about You Jesus
Its all about you
Jesus

Matt Redman was a worship leader at Soul Survivor Church in Watford where Mike Pilavachi was the Minister. In the early 1990s, Soul Survivor was attracting lots of younger people by its ‘modern worship’ and it was considered to be an exciting time for the church at the forefront of the modern worship movement. Here is how Mike Pilavachi described what happened at that time:

“Since it began, Soul Survivor has always given plenty of time over to worshiping through music. Over the years, people have poured out their hearts to God through it, and there have been plenty of examples of great things happening as a result. However, there was a season when we realized that something was “up” with our worship.

At first, it was difficult to put our finger on the problem. On the surface, everything was just fine: the musicians were tuning their instruments and the sound men were getting out of bed on time. Each service contained a block of songs that focused on the cross and gave people the chance to get down to business with God. To make this easier, the music was (nearly) up-to-date, the chairs had disappeared, and the lights were low – what better atmosphere for young people to worship God?

Yet, we seemed to have lost the spark. We seemed to be going through the motions, but I noticed that although we were singing the songs, our hearts were far from Him. Was it Matt Redman’s fault? I listened. He wasn’t singing any more off notes than usual. Then one day it clicked; we had become connoisseurs of worship instead of participants of it.

In our hearts, we were giving the worship team grades on a scale from one to ten: “Not that song again,” “I can’t hear the bass,” “I like the way she sings better.” We had made the band the performers of worship and ourselves the audience.

We had forgotten that we are ALL the performers of worship and that God is the audience. We had forgotten that sacrifice is central to biblical worship. We are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices – this is our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1). We are called to offer our sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15).

We were challenged to ask ourselves individually, “When I come through the door of the church, what am I bringing as my contribution to worship?” The truth came to us: worship is not a spectator sport. It is not a product moulded by the taste of the consumers. It is not about what we can get out of it. It is all about God.

We needed to take drastic action. For a while, in order to truly learn this lesson, we banned the band. We fired Matt Redman!

Then we sat around in circles and said that if no one brought a sacrifice of praise, we would spend the meeting in silence. At the beginning we virtually did! It was a very painful process. We are learning again not to rely on the music.

After a while, we began to have some very sweet times of worship. We all began to bring our prayers, our readings, our prophecies, our thanksgiving, our praises, and our songs. Someone would start a song acappella and we would all join in. Then someone else would take it on to another song. The excitement came back. We were not having church; we were once again meeting with God. With all the comforts stripped away, we worshiped from the heart.”

Matt Redman, who had been fired as worship leader, found this time difficult to start with but it led him to ask himself some questions about his motives. Was he there to serve God or to build his own kingdom? He wrote these words as a personal reflection of what was happening during this time.

Mike Pilavachi gives us the bible passage to accompany the song this week but I’m going to add it here in the Passion Translation as it’s sometimes useful to read the bible in an unfamiliar way. It’s from Romans 12: 1-2:

“Beloved friends, what should be our proper response to God’s marvelous mercies? To surrender yourselves to God to be his sacred, living sacrifices. And live in holiness, experiencing all that delights his heart. For this becomes your genuine expression of worship.
Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.”

Worship is not something that is organised for us on a Sunday (or in a letter, or even on zoom!), it is about the whole of our lives. It is about having an attitude of surrender that says that God has every bit of us and can use it in whatever way he chooses to bring glory to his name. Worship is about living every day knowing that others are watching us to see if our faith actually means anything to us. It is about allowing God to transform us and mould us into the people that he has created us to be. (For we are God’s handiwork….)

We are hoping to return to some form of corporate gathering over the next few weeks which is going to look somewhat different from what it did before Covid hit. We will not be able to sing together. We will have to sit in a certain spot at a certain distance away from others and won’t be able to chat or hug or be close together to pray for each other. We won’t be able to mingle before and afterwards. The comforts of familiarity will be stripped away to a certain extent and we will need to find new ways to connect with each other and with God. Does that mean that we shouldn’t come back together? No, I don’t think so. It might feel odd at first, as it did for the Soul Survivor church when they had their familiarity stripped away. We might find that we have periods of silence where we once would have been singing together. We will spend more time in prayer and in reflection than maybe we have before. All of it will still be worship if we come, individually, asking God to work in us, to transform us, to mould us more to his image and if we come seeking for God to be glorified in everything that we say and do.

My prayer is that we will find, as Matt Redman did, that Jesus is the heart of our worship and that, whatever corporate worship looks like, God will use us and bless us and change us through it.