Occasionally, during corporate worship, my focus is taken away from the God who is deserving of all my praise and drawn to the words upon the screen. Although I try to resist the distraction, it’s not easy. Sometimes I am diverted from a bit of bad theology. Yesterday, I chucked because a line was just weird. Other times it is because I notice the words don’t really mean anything. And then there’s the mediocre, or even bad, poetry.
It is clear from their enthusiasm that many worshipers either don’t notice or don’t care. Maybe the words don’t matter as much to my fellow congregants as they do to me. They might have some way to look past the lyrics, event to the recipient of our praise.
I too am able, for a time, to ignore unremarkable lyrics. When we sing a new song in church, I don’t begin by scrutinizing every phrase, word, and rhyme to see if it is worthy of my voice. Unless the words are truly silly or empty, I can be lead to worship several times with almost any song. It is only at that point when the repeated singing of a truly great song begins to open up deeper worship through its inspired lyrics, do I notice the inadequacies of those of an inferior one.
After this happens, every recurrence of the so-so song impedes worship, rather than enhances it. Some have told me that I have a problem, that I shouldn’t be so critical. This may be true, but I believe I have two legitimate defenses against this accusation:
- Does not our creator deserve the best that we can offer up? As we bring the sacrifice praise to the altar don’t we want it to be the best of the flock? Should we not strive to present songs of praise that are excellent, not just musically but lyrically as well?
- God gives good gifts for the edification of the church and the world. One of his gifts is the ability to create beautiful things–this includes poetry. Some have only the gift of appreciation, but even so, I think we need to make as much of these gifts as possible so as to honour the giver.
It is certainly true that God probably doesn’t notice the difference between our best attempts and our blemished ones, for they are offerings of a sincere, but fallen people. When God’s people are commanded to sacrifice the best lamb, grain or ox, it is for our sake. It is a reflection of how we think of him.
In the name of edifying the church, I will write a series of posts to help would-be lyricists take some steps toward becoming poets. These posts will also be useful for those who choose the songs we sing each Sunday, as they too will be equipped to better judge the poetic from the prosaic.
My assumption is that most of those who write the songs we sing in church started as musicians. Some of the more passionate and gifted move on to writing their own music. It is natural that some of these would then try their hand at writing a song, lyrics and all. What they may not realize is that developing the skills to write great lyrics takes at least as much time as it takes to master an instrument. A poet’s skill is in the same category as the composer of music, who has to acquire a whole set of new skills.
This series of posts, called The Poetry of Worship, is designed to challenge would-be lyricists to consider some principles of poetry that will start them on a journey toward writing songs that will evoke, not just the emotions of worshipers, but their imaginations as well.
Posts in this series: