When musical tastes become the preconditions for worship

The time of musical worship can be a nightmare to crack! With so many tastes and values in the room it’s amazing that we ever get through it without broken teeth, flying drumsticks, or choral tantrums.

Part of the issue is we’re just so darn picky!

I, for instance, am really cynical about 90s-00s contemporary worship music. I find it simplistic, boring, messy, boring, poorly written, boring, rubbish to play, boring, and theologically… quirky. Is this a fair assessment of all worship music from that era? Probably not. Does it summarise all of that era’s worship? Definitely not! Does it tell me something about my heart? Very yes!

And here’s the problem: The straight line we draw from ‘does this please me’ to ‘does it please God’ is logically absurd! Worship was never primarily designed for me.

Our worship should reach in three directions:

  1. Upward. We’re to love and honour God.
  2. Outwards. We’re to serve and uplift each other.
  3. Inwards. We’re to encourage our silly hearts and tired minds to respond.

The problem is we tend to add a fourth step; something like, ‘we’re to like the music’. This totally reverses the process which ends up looking a little like this:

  1. Double Inwards. Am I properly entertained by, and comfortable with the music provided?
  2. Inwards. Do I feel that I can now respond to God?
  3. Outwards. Do I feel that I can encourage others to get stuck in?
  4. Upwards. Do I feel that God likes what I’m doing?

The problem here is that every one of these steps is now governed by ‘do I feel…?’, which makes worship self-serving rather than God-serving. This is a huge problem when you consider that worship in the Bible always included sacrifice and making ourselves lower than Him.

If our ability to worship is governed by our acceptance of the music provided, then everything stops working.

Put another way: if worship must first meet our conditions, then we won’t fully be worshipping when they do.

If the music fits us so perfectly that we ‘switch on’ our worship mode, then it’s likely that is it isn’t always worship that we’re doing. It’s not that we can’t worship to our music preference (of course we can), the problem is making our worship and adoration of God conditional on our music preferences.

Our love for God shouldn’t be conditional upon anything but His love for us.

How many times have you heard (or thought!) something like:

  • I can’t worship to an organ
  • The music is too loud to worship
  • I can’t focus on God because the singer was off-key
  • God can’t get through to me though a guitar solo

For me – I always lose it if a drummer goes out of time!

Now some of this is simple human distraction – worked on with time and patience. However, these things can be heart issues. It’s a heart issue when we won’t try to worship if our preferences aren’t met. This then ends up being subliminal and habitual. The symptoms are things like:

  • Constantly grumbling about the music wherever you go
  • Easily snapping in and out of worship
  • Connecting better at conferences than your home church
  • Not connecting with God musically when at home alone

I want to nuance this slightly as there’s other reasons that the above can exist, and God takes whatever worship we give Him, even if it’s conditional or a bit self-centered. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we’re never worshipping in music when we’re conditional, but I would challenge all of us that if we are conditional, then our worship will quickly hit a maturity plateau. And when our worship plateaus, so does our faith.

We need to love God so dearly, and long to worship Him so fully that the music style will not stop us from doing so! We should all strive for a place where if all we have is a set of lungs and some rattling paint cans, that will be enough.

My encouragement here (and my challenge to myself) is to worship God regardless, and not to make our adoration of God dependent, or conditional on our tastes. We’re not a vending machine that only pays out with the right coins; God shouldn’t have to tease it out of us. Let’s overflow to Him, however off-key, out-of-time, or poorly written the music is. God is always worth it!.

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