For What Do We Praise God?


Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

I’ve said from time to time that I think contemporary churches lose something if they don’t continue to sing hymns of old. I appreciate the fact that a number of songwriters have added to the selection of music which we can use in church. But there’s something about the old hymns that the new ones don’t seem to have.

This may be nothing more than my perspective, based on the songs in my church. We no longer have hymnals (I just bought one on Amazon because I miss them so much—part of the birthday present from my brother!) Instead we sing songs that are projected on screens. Not the music. Just the words.

That fact along is a clue to me that these songs are a little “light weight.” I mean, anyone can pick up the tune with little effort. What’s more, we sing in a sort of unisex way, in a key that is too low for me as a soprano. It’s sort of keyed as if we’re all altos. But that’s not really the point.

What bothers me is the simplicity of the lyrics. They are without meat.

There certainly are exceptions, most notably “Christ Alone” by the Gettys. But instead of singing any number of their others, we seem to take our choices from a very limited selection that has a number of songs that repeat and repeat and repeat. I have to wonder. There have been so many jokes about the repetition in contemporary praise music, you’d think writers and worship leaders would have figured out there’s a better way. But apparently not.

We do sing a smattering of hymns too, but those are ones that have a contemporary arrangement. So the selection is very, very small.

I found a hymn this morning that I’d like to learn, but I don’t read music, so I was hoping I could find it online. It’s old, and even the translation from the original language is old. But I think it says some incredible things about God. Sadly, I didn’t find it. I have a friend who plays the piano so maybe . . . but I don’t know how to get it home where I can actually learn it. But never mind. The real issue is the lyrics. Here they are:

Stanza 1
Lord, who can be with you compared?
Or who Thy greatness hath declared?
What ardent thought discerned aright?

Chorus #1
Further than our poor reck’ning stretches
Beyond the ken of mortal eye,
Or boundless depths of starry reaches,
There has Thou set They throne on high.

Stanza 2
Praise, honor, majesty receiving,
Thou Source and Life of all the living,
Thy dazzling vestment is the light!

Chorus #1

Stanza 3
Exalt, my soul, exalt the glory
Of my Creator, tell the story
That all the earth may understand!

Chorus #2
Rejoice in Him, ye hosts of heaven,
To Him alone your voices raise;
Worthy is He to whom be given
Honor and worship, thanks and praise

Stanza 4
Sing thy triumphant songs before Him,
Repeat them, all His saints adore Him
Who holds us by His mighty hand.

Chorus #2

The original is some 250 years old and even the translation is over a hundred years old. But I love the connection between those believers long ago who sang to the same God and Father I know. I love the connection with the Church universal, down through the ages, understanding who God is and how He interacts with us.

I also like that these lyrics make me think. They aren’t cookie cutter. They don’t repeat one phrase—even a good phrase—over and over so that it’s easy to sing without thinking about what your singing (not that I would ever do that! 😉 )

I also like, and this may be the most important thing, that the focus is primarily on God, not how I feel about God.

My internet search for the lyrics of this hymn uncovered another song with the word “compare” in the title. Here’s the first verse:

Where would I be
If it wasn’t for Your kindness toward me
You’ve been closer than a friend could ever be
There is nothing on the Earth that could take Your place

These are good things to sing about God, but it seems to me there’s a shift so that the spotlight is as much on my relationship with God as it is on God. I do think a believer’s relationship with God should be celebrated, so I’m definitely not knocking this song.

But I think we lose something if our focus most of the time is about how we feel about God rather than about God Himself. It’s almost as if we have to understand God in terms of how He affects us instead of Who He is apart from us.

There’s one song we sing in my church that highlights God’s goodness. One line says “He’s so good to me.” I always want to shout right there, NO, He’s good whether I perceive Him as good or not, whether I benefit immediately from His goodness or not. Because the truth is, I don’t always see God’s goodness. I believe in His goodness because He’s revealed His end game, so I know not to make an evaluation of Him based on me and my life right now.

I mean, there’s a woman in front of me who lost her husband to cancer. How does she perceive a line like, He’s so good to me?

But the lines of the old humn? Those tell the truth about God, and I love to be reminded—I need to be reminded—who He is in a deeper way than so many of contemporary songs say.

Published in: on October 23, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/2019/10/23/for-what-do-we-praise-god/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I visited Iona Abbey in Scotland in April 2017. The worship there uses liturgy and a mixture of music and hymns. On one occasion the worship consisted of sitting in silence for 10-15 minutes in the packed Abbey. Some people found it uncomfortable, but for me it was quite memorable and powerful. That time impressed on me the relationship between worship, community and service. I’ve tried to bring some of that back to my home church. One of the tangible steps of service was to start fostering. We pray the Lord’s prayer with our boys each night.
    Sorry for the ramble but your discussion of how we worship got me thinking. Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Stephen. Worship experiences can stay with us and continue to draw us to God, can’t they?

      Becky

      Like


Leave A Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: