Dumb as sheep

A number of years ago I led a worship team at the church I used to attend. Like most things I commit to, I poured my heart and soul into that worship team. I tried to make sure every teammate felt included and worthwhile. I made sure our group practiced hard so that the congregation could praise God with ease and focus, their worship uninterrupted by our mistakes. I took time to choose songs that not only fit with the sermon’s topic, but that also had different tempos — slower songs for times of prayerful reflection, faster songs for a call to action. And I consciously chose songs that I thought would appeal to both young and old and those with varying musical tastes — contemporary worship songs as well as traditional hymns.

And yet no matter how hard I tried, I still couldn’t please everyone.

Lambasted

One particular Sunday after our team had led worship, an elderly gentleman approached me. I greeted him with a smile, but he was not smiling.

“What is with all these contemporary worship songs?” he asked loudly. “Why do they just repeat, repeat, repeat, over and over again?” He went on for a few more minutes, spitting out his displeasure of contemporary worship music and lamenting the decline of the sacred hymn.

And then he walked away.

I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak for fear of tears. I felt verbally thrown up on, shocked and upset I hadn’t had the chance to engage this man in conversation, to ask him questions about his disappointment, to explain how challenging I found it to coordinate worship for the church.

Warring hearts

I’m no stranger to “worship wars” in church. I’ve seen churches split over the use of the blue versus grey Psalter hymnal. I’ve seen Christians upset by song lyrics updated to incorporate “inclusive language.” I know that there are some Christians who prefer the rich theology of hymns, others who find them archaic and inaccessible. I know some people absolutely love the simplicity of contemporary worship songs, others who think them too fluffy, an endless repetition of emotional diarrhea.

Coming from a conservative Reformed background, I was steeped in the singing of hymns. To this day, one of my all-time favourite hymns is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” It’s my favourite because of these words:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

I love these words because I relate to the image and reality of a heart that is not fully sanctuaried in God’s love and grace. I relate to the yearning for God to take my heart and simply “seal it” in knowing the depth and width of his love for me, so that I no longer have to struggle with doubt.

If I had a chance today to answer that gentleman’s question, What is with all these contemporary worship songs? Why do they just repeat, repeat, repeat over and over again? I’d tell him: Because our hearts are dumb. Dumb as sheep, in fact. Our hearts are so dumb that sometimes seconds after experiencing a moment of God’s love and grace, our hearts go back into hiding.

Our hearts are fragile and unsure. They’ve been hurt by rejection, oppressed by expectation. They’ve been ravaged by powers and principalities and accosted by our own inner dialogue. As a result, they are so encrusted in defense mechanisms that they struggle – even resist – to absorb the simple yet profound message of God’s love and grace.

“I love you,” God says.

“Yeah, I know,” we say.

“No, I really love you,” he says again.

“Yeah, yeah . . . I know.”

And then he takes us by the shoulders, looks right into our eyes, and says, “I love you.”

And a shackle breaks.

Easter once again

It’s going to be Easter soon. And the message of Christ’s gift and sacrifice, his love and grace will be announced from the pulpit and sung in our songs. But will the message get through? Will we allow our hearts to break a bit, soften a little, and even just be “okay” with the process of sanctification — the reality that it takes time and repetition for the message of Love to penetrate our hearts? I don’t know if I can — I really don’t — but I’m certainly going to pray that this Easter my “dumb” heart gets even just a little more rooted in Love.

Author

  • Julia Van Huizen is a part-time marketing director, freelance writer and stay-at-home mom. She lives in Stirling, Ontario.

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