Let every generation sing a new song of praise!
In the March 25 issue of Christian Courier, Tom Wolthuis asks us to think about the words and phrases that play an important role in our spiritual life. His list, he writes, has been heavily shaped by worship. When he worships in other traditions or in contemporary style, he misses these well-known, shaping words.
Like Wolthuis, I too was shaped by these words. In fact, some of the words that come to my mind with increasing regularity may be in the language of my birth, despite the fact that I’ve lived in an English-speaking country since the age of nine. Geloofd zij God met deep ontzag! Praise God with profound awe! would be one example. Similarly, I first memorized the Heidelberg Catechism in the Dutch language: Was is mijn enige troost in leven en sterven? What is my only comfort in life and in death? These words, taken from the Psalms, confessions or liturgy, continue to reverberate in my consciousness and shape my thinking.
Yet I’ve also learned to appreciate the more contemporary songs of praise and worship. Instinctively we tend to resist change, and I was definitely not impressed with the first efforts used in the church I attended. I needed a bit of an epiphany, which in my case came when I was driving my car home from a Bay of Fundy trip with two little granddaughters in the back seat. They were happily singing a lively melody I didn’t recognize, and when I said so, they immediately offered to teach me. That’s when I recognized that I had better accept and welcome what was important to these much-loved children, and it’s how I learned Shine, Jesus, shine! Fill the land with the Father’s glory; Blow, Spirit, blow; Set our hearts on fire!
OPEN OUR HEARTS
We who are older sometimes need minor revelations like that moment in my car, where we consciously decide to accept new ways and new words, new ways of praising our God. One criticism of the newer music is its frequent repetitiousness, but as others have said before me, what’s wrong with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus?
And so it comes about that, for me, some of the reverberating words are from songs composed during the past few decades. Here’s a brief list:
(And by his good grace), I will praise Him still. (Oh, our sins are washed away and we can live forever, now we have this hope) Because of You. (Blessed be the name of the Lord) Blessed be Your name. (I lift your name, Your Holy name . . . ) My Comforter and King.
A whole slew of the new songs come with titles that in themselves are memorable: There is a Redeemer. . . These are the days of Elijah . . . You’re the Lion of Judah . . . All history shall bow before Your throne . . . How great is our God . . . How deep the Father’s love for us.
One criticism of contemporary music is its shallowness or that it’s focused on humans rather than on God. True for some of the songs, yes, but how much focus is on God in the old hymn, Faith of our fathers?
Every age will find its own memorable words, and since the Bible tells us to sing a new song, we need to open our hearts and minds to the songs of our time. Yes, analyze them for eternal truths, discard some, but keep the best. Worship that has reverberating words for all ages can be richly diverse, deeply meaningful and memorable for all of us.