The Practice of Singing - part two

My reflection on Rob Bell's message on "Why we Sing" last week provoked a few further thoughts and conversations. The notion of singing vicariously, that is on behalf of someone else, opens up the possibility that we could be singing something that doesn't feel personally authentic, and yet not be hypocritical in doing so. The example we thought of here at Eastview was a song that has been popular for a few years - Michael W Smith's "Breathe" - which includes the words "I'm desperate for you. " Being firmly in the "Thinking" end of the Myers Briggs spectrum, I have usually felt this particular sentence to be over the top. I love the Lord, and would indeed be lost without him, but if I were truly 'desperate' for him I would surely spend my life in prayer in some monastery, so that nothing else could distract me from loving him. But the fact is that my life is a happy meld of spiritual and practical pursuits that I share - often quite unconsciously - with God. And that for me is the godshaped life, I don't feel called to be desperate.

Yet when our community was in deep pain the Sunday after our young leader Tony died tragically in a river flood, we sang that song and for me, that once, it felt authentic. I was out in the creche at the time - serving in that happy meld of the spiritual and the practical - but could see and hear the musicians leading the last bracket of songs through the glass doors of the foyer. I know the song well enough not to need words and there were too many tears flowing that day to see the screen anyway. And I truly felt desperate - desperate for the parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends of those who had died in the Mangatepopo tragedy - and even desperate for me who had only really known Tony in recent years, through my kids. That day, we were all desperate to feel God's peace, love and hope. Making sense of it was months, perhaps years away. So when I sing that song now, in different circumstances, I am open to the possibility that someone in the congregation is feeling quietly desperate, and I can sing on their behalf.

The other song we talked about singing authentically was Matt Redman's "The Heart of Worship." I find that song has lost its meaning, I said, because most of us have forgotten why it was written. It has become just part of the repertoire, and we sing it in a banal, trite way when in fact its message is deeply moving. I'll repeat the story of the song here for any who haven't heard it. In 1996, singer Matt Redman was leading a music group in Soul Survivor, a growing church with a lively youth ministry in Watford. UK. Good music had always been a major part of the service, and people often came forward to "do business with God." But that autumn, they realised they had lost their focus, they were rating the music by how often a song was sung and how well it was mixed. “We were giving the worship marks out of ten, says Matt Redman “Not that song again”, “I can’t hear the bass”, “I like the way she sings”…Their pastor Mike realised they had lost the spark, and just seemed to be going through the motions, singing with hearts far from God. “We had made the band the performers of worship and ourselves the audience. We had forgotten that we are all performing together, for God is the audience." So for a season, music was banned from Soul Survivor and thousands of youth learned the hard way that worship is a sacrifice. When the band was eventually invited back, Matt Redman offered a new song that spoke of his renewed vision and focus. "I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it, cos Its all about you Jesus."

Knowing that background gives me the sense of being on Holy Ground when I sing "Heart of Worship." I can't imagine our faith community going for six months without musical worship, let alone one where Matt Redman was up front. But that is his point isn't it? And for me its not just about sung worship. There are other things that can take on that same performance mentality, and we too can lose our sense of who it is all for anyway. So when I get all het up about a sermon not being up to scratch, or my powerpoints being imperfect, I need to pray, I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it. Interestingly we sang that song again on Sunday, and this time I found I wasn't so indignant about it being trivialised Because I realised that the song could hit just the right note for someone in the congregation that day, someone who needs to say Sorry Lord and to readjust their passions and priorities. Somehow that gave me a renewed sense of call about being there for others. And as Rob Bell says, that call is at the core of corporate worship.

To Chew Over: Can you think of time when you received a touch from God through words sung by others? Do you know of others to whom you have ministered by songs you have sung for them?

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 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, all about You, Jesus
Matt Redman.