When I Sat Down During Worship

Earlier this year I went to a youth conference for Junior and Senior High Schoolers. I sat in on a few of the sessions and was super impressed with the story telling and communicating of biblical narratives told by the speakers. Also I had forgotten how crazy/energized teens are! I mean, college students are pretty wild too, but junior/senior highschoolers at youth conferences are a whole ‘nother breed of human.

Gotta love ‘em.

Anyway, there was a really cool indie Christian band playing worship for the senior high students. Skilled musicians. Super hipster. Great combo. We stood and began worshiping through singing and I was immediately sort of rubbed the wrong way when the lyrics were so artists and cryptic that I wasn’t quite sure what we were talking about. And though I think that style of music might not be best for corporate worship, I understood the gist of what we trying to say and so onward we went. The next song/songs where very basic with few words and even less depth. I didn’t want to be frustrated or a “worship snob” so I quickly reminded myself how I love simple hymns like “God is so good” which isn’t wordy or theological, but simple and true. This is the same sort of thing. But as we sang another song with simplistic, one-sided, me-centered choruses, I thought to myself,

“This is so vague and gospel-less. I could easily be a Buddist singing to Budda asking for blessing, or an Islam singing to Allah of his greatness, or a Mormon singing to my nontrinitarian god about my desire to feel him. And I would barely need to change a word.”

And so I sat down.

As that thought entered my mind, I was so angry at the idea that hundreds of young people who could be worshipping God, but learning nothing and singing nothing exclusively about Him. I started feverously journaling about my frustration with the lyrics and the deep need to be teaching songs rich with many truths about God. In high school these students are studying psychology, and physics, and philosophy, and trigonometry-we stretch their minds in all sorts of ways scholastically, but when it comes to theology all we can have them sing is an indie version of Jesus Loves Me? They can comprehend so much more than that! We need to give it to them.

I let my thoughts roam a little bit. I sat there with my legs and arms crossed and after writing a while checked my phone, probably facebook, and looked around. I saw students with their hands raised high, and their voices raised higher, I saw some disengaged, but most had their eyes fixed on the words on the screen.

I realized I should probably pray.

So I learned forward, elbows to knees, to pray. I’m not sure what I was going to say, probably something about God working in hearts in the midst of milk-like theology, but I didn’t even get a chance to get the words out because I was immediately convicted.

This thought came to my mind:

“You know who God is, you have the ability and opportunity to worship Him in song, and you are deliberately choosing not to.”

I instantaneously stood to my feet.

After standing there for a second I began thinking about/processing what I had just thought. How dare I stop worshipping God. All truth is God’s truth and worship is such a matter of the heart. My focus on what I would change, instead of the God who has changed me is (another!) clear reflection of my foolishness and immaturity.

Though, it was NOT wrong to think those things of wanting the songs for corporate worship to have more depth, its timing was misplaced.

I thought about my amazing earthly father. What if someone where to stand on stage, boasting of how sweet and kind and gentle he is. Would I get annoyed, or outraged and say, “That is not even the tip of the iceberg! How dare you only talk about those things! He was also fair in the way he punished us and showed us what righteous anger looked like. He has loved my mother so well, and is selfless to her-not just to you!” Wouldn’t that be ridiculous? Isn’t that not the place or the point?

My desire for worship lyrics to most wholistically and reverently represent the triune God of the Bible is not wrong, but my desire to stop worshipping Jesus Christ and complain about it was wrong. I know I could have still worshipped, and after my stubborn heart was revealed to me I did!

I praise the Lord that at both the college I work at and the church I attend, our leaders do a great job of mixing songs of “childlike faith” with songs lyrically rich to help us grow in our understanding of the gospel of Christ. But next time there is a worship song that is played that is not heretical, but simply shallow, I’m not going to have a seat. I’m going to engage my heart and mind, even add words of praise of my own, to worship the only God who is worthy of all adoration, praise, thanksgiving, honor and glory.

What do you think? Right response? Wrong response? Additional thoughts?

7 thoughts on “When I Sat Down During Worship

  1. Evan Smith says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughts on this Betty! For a long time I have wrestled with the proper response to “shallow worship.” I have often heard people complaining about worship at one place or another because of the lack of depth within the lyrics, and while their arguments were valid, something wasn’t sitting right with me within these conversations. I think that the conclusions you came to are the reasons for why I was feeling so uneasy. Ultimately we were being distracted and making the choice not to worship God. It was ironic that in trying to bring him the honor he deserves, we allowed our pride to take over, and in a sense it became about us! Because OUR idea and standards for worship were not being met, we stopped worshipping the God who it should be all about. I love that you took the time to voice your thoughts on this because it is something that I and many others definitely needed to hear. Thanks again!

    • bettycatherine says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond Evan! I am so thankful for you! You are right in how ironic it is-I know for me things like that happen TOO often! My heart is supposed to be on how HUGE and wonderful God is, but I start looking at how (falsely) HUGE and wonderful I am. Oh Betty…(shakes head).

      Thankful for you!

  2. Graham Holcomb says:

    I find your response very similar to the response to the new Son of God movie. The Christians critics complain that the movie missed and got wrong many details, i.e. making Mary Magdalene a disciple. At the same time, other Christians are saying that they hit the overall gospel message head-on. For example, they would say, “Yeah, they made Mary Magdalene a disciple, but by doing so, they show how Jesus totally turned the 1st century view of women upside down. That’s the Gospel message.” I think that’s the crossroads you are at with worship songs.

    I think it also comes down to whether you hold on to the view of infallibility or inerrancy. Christians who believe in inerrancy believe every nook and cranny of the Scriptures is true, so they want to see every nook and cranny of the Christian faith to be accurate and true. Christians who hold more to infallibility do not care as much on the details; they just care about the overall gospel message being present. Therefore, Christians who believe in inerrancy want their worship music to explicitly mention God/Jesus and want to teach something doctrinally. Christians who hold to infallibility don’t mind if the worship song sounds like a song a man would serenade his girlfriend with, as long as it has the Gospel message.

    Personal, I believe in inerrancy, so I want my worship songs to explicitly mention God/Jesus, and I want them to teach me doctrinally. After all, a lot of hymns were written to do so. But I too have concluded that just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for others. As the Lord Jesus commanded me to love my neighbor, especially my brothers and sisters in Christ, I let them worship, as long as it non-heretical.

    • bettycatherine says:

      Graham-thanks for your thoughts! Interesting that you brought up the “Son of God” movie- I have definitely heard harsh words spoke about it by believers, and I wonder how well we are representing Christ and the gospel in our response. I have not yet seen it, so I don’t have anything helpful to bring to the conversation there except to say that I don’t want unbelievers to see us “arguing at the foot of the cross” so much that they miss the savior hanging on it. We ALWAYS need to be careful with how we say/approach things!

      Also, interesting thoughts about infallibility vs inerrancy-I’ve never heard it explained like that before! Very clearly said! I’ll need to do a brush up and research those words again!!

      And it sounds like your heart, as well as mine, comes from a desire to elevate God to his proper place; and that is a good thing! Thank you again!!

  3. hillsongnutella says:

    Thank you for your honesty. I can have such struggles myself, being judgmental because of very high expectations for worship or others areas of community life. Your story is a good reminder of what’s essential and what’s not. It’s about timing, that’s right, and sometimes pacing our thoughts rightfully is the actual way to show obedience and respect to God’s holiness and wisdom.
    Side note: really enjoying your writing, as always. And this is one of these areas when my expectations are quite high… Not saying that you should boast in that, but you’ve definitely been given a skill here and you’re using it for good! Glory to God and kudos to you 😉

    • bettycatherine says:

      Hey there hillsongnuttela! First off, I loved your line, “sometimes pacing our thoughts rightfully is the actual way to show obedience and respect to God’s holiness and wisdom”-it is almost comical to me in retrospect to see that sometimes we (I) think that it is most respectful to God’s holiness to grumpily sit in our (my) chairs and judge the worship team for their song choice. Oh yeah, I am sure God is really pleased with that. (read that is a sarcastic tone).
      And secondly, thank you for your encouragement! Praise the Lord, it is something I don’t feel like I can boast in, (I pray I stay that way!) but because of your encouragement I will take time today especially to thank the Lord for the gift of speech and written words and the internet! 😀

      Thank you!!

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