While on vacation in the USA, my husband and I tried out a contemporary church for Sunday morning worship. A visiting worship pastor led us through the worship time. The sanctuary was dark with beautiful video and lighting engaging the senses in worship. At one point, the worship leader stopped and asked the audience if they liked singing new songs. In this service, most were 60 years or older. There wasn’t much enthusiasm and he admonished them with a joke that “even old songs were new at one time.”
He led with enthusiasm and the congregation tried to learn it. Their body language and halting participation struggled with the song. It’s hard to worship after being misunderstood.
Since that time, I’ve been thinking about what it means to learn a new song and why the songs that we grew up with are often the ones that are most meaningful to us.
During our developing years (age 12 – 22), we are discovering who we really are. For most of us who were raised in a Christian home, we were trying to figure out how our parent’s and church’s faith fit into our own beliefs and life. There were times for many when tremendous spiritual conflict was present as they were pulled between the Holy Spirit’s beckoning and their own will to live life on our own terms. For many, the decision to surrender their life to follow Jesus was accompanied by music that connected their spirit to God’s spirit. That connection was not only powerful, but one that held them strong in their new-found personal walk with God.
This pulling toward God is an ongoing experience of the Christian life. Many times, a life challenge, grief, severe disappointment or even renewed obedience brings us anew to God. We find ourselves connecting with a new song that speaks to our spirit. God gives us a depth of connection and encouragement in song that isn’t available in any other way.
When we worship in song wholeheartedly, we are drawn into the Holy Spirit’s presence and His power. We allow the ministry of mercy and love and joy to pour over us and touch our spirit in places no human healing can access. Familiarity with the words and melody removes the hurdles that naturally take place when we are learning a new song. When we don’t know the next words, the melody or the bridge of the song, we halt and stumble. It takes work and removes us for a time from being in sync with the connection between God and our spirit. It’s not that we don’t like a new song, it’s just that it can rarely compete with the times our heart has found a song that sets our spirit free.
A friend recently told me of his father’s passing. His dad, a long-time denominational leader had pastored well past freedom-55. He loved to pastor and, at the end of his vocation, he loved to visit the sick, the elderly and those who were no longer able to participate in life and church.
In his mid-90’s he had a stroke that took his life within a week. It was a sad time for the family as he lost his voice and went in and out of consciousness.
The chaplain at our Campus of Care went over to the hospital to visit him. He was not conscious, so the chaplain began to sing, “Precious Lord, take my hand… lead me on, let me stand. I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light….”
And just then the elderly pastor joined in, “Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home”. They finished the song together as the family sat in amazement. It had been days since their father and husband had been able to speak. After the chaplain left, the senior pastor said his final words to his family, “That was the perfect pastoral visit.” Later that night, he went home to be with his Lord.
The perfect pastoral visit was a song that filled this pastor’s spirit with God’s hope and joy. It was familiar, emotional, nostalgic and worshipful. These are all aspects of what brings us into God’s heart – and that’s what this journeying pastor experienced that final night of his life.
A familiar well-loved worship song can take us to the heart of God in less than a stanza. It reminds us of how and when and why we put our trust in the God in whom we believe.
A well-loved worship song will remind us that “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)
So, yes, pastor, I do like a new song, but I will always cherish the old ones.