Thursday, March 22, 2012

Struggling to worship (musically)

Today I have been listening to the new Passion - White Flag album. I often find, like many Christians, that worship music that is well done really gives a lift to my soul. But I often struggle fully engaging with it, thinking that it is the well done harmonies, drum beats, and overall sound that is lifting me, not the words or the connection to God.

This internal analysis is heightened at a "worship concert/event" where there are flashy lights, attractive visuals behind displayed lyrics, and stylish leaders. Then you begin looking around at others engaging in worship, and you ponder, "what is the focus of their worship?" Is it God, or is it the show?

I also find myself really analyzing the lyrics of the songs being sung. Often the words are really solid, but the melody is weak, making it hard to engage. Then there are the songs that sound great, but the lyrics are weak. Or they describe God more as a boyfriend than as a glorious Saviour.

So this is the struggle I face. I am tempted to turn off my critical view of the whole thing, and just engage. But I want to worship God in Spirit AND in truth. It is a struggle for me.

However, when we are lucky enough to be blessed by a song that has solid lyrics as well as well done musically, that is when it is just so great to worship with all our heart! One of the greatest examples of this for me personally is "In Christ Alone". You are basically singing the story of the gospel, with great passion and excitement as the song builds and reaches conclusion. The music and lyrics combine to tell the great story!

Do others struggle with this same tension when in musical worship settings? What are some things you have found helpful?


Silas said...

do you think the church experienced this when they built cathedrals? that magnificent buildings had an indirect effect on the environment of worship?

i think of these things as i ponder live conferences.

jamieunited said...

When I have visited big, old cathedral's it has caused a sense of awe and wonder, which I think would have changed the dynamic of the worship experience. It is a lot different now as most church auditoriums feel more like a living room. It just gives a different focus on God's character.

FothMusic said...

I had about three people post this article on my facebook/twitter feed a couple of weeks ago. I thought about replying, but never got around to it... until now.

Since you don't know me - my name is Rebecca and I am a musician. I moved to Toronto a couple of years ago and got to know your father-in-law and brother-in-laws when I helped out with the A/V at RAC. Your father-in-law is cool.

Now, for my actual thoughts... for me it has taken some time to figure out the balance between the analysis of music in worship contexts and engaging in honest worship. Because I am constantly studying/listening to music for my job and school (I'm working on a master's degree in music composition) it is logical to me that the more time you spend analyzing music apart from worship contexts the more you will find yourself falling into that pattern by default when you come to God's presence. In many ways, I have created the struggle within myself intentionally because I desire to become better at using the gifts that God has given me with music. So, I have come to adjust in my mind that the analysis is not 'wrong' it is just something I have to work through.

This is why I love worship music - it is relatively simple (harmonically, melodically, rhythmically, instrumentally) in comparison to other music that I work on regularly. Therefore, I find that when I analyze what is happening musically, it doesn't take much work to understand, and then put it behind me so I can focus on who God is rather than what the music is doing... the analysis becomes an intuitive process rather than a cognitive one.

I will admit, however, because I teach piano six days of the week, that I have found I cannot sit in a seat where I can see the pianist playing - or I just mentally start critiquing their fingering and technique. But this isn't a hard thing to adapt. I actually enjoy "worship/concert events" much more because usually the room is so dark and I am sitting so far away from the stage that I can't see what is happening on stage clearly enough to analyze it.

The one aspect of analysis within worship settings that I seem to always get distracted by is the mistakes made by the audio technicians. It doesn't matter if it is during the music or preaching part of worship. Every time a microphone cracks or levels aren't balanced I find it so incredibly hard to remember that I am there to meet with God - I just want to go and fix the problem. This is another reason why I find it easier to focus on my Savior in an event setting - usually the audio people know what they are doing and I can enjoy the fruit of their labor.

Regarding analysis of lyrics. Since over the last year I have found myself in a position of leadership with music in the church I now attend (I'm not longer able to attend RAC). Therefore, I tend to spend close to an hour a week praying through the lyrics of the songs we sing on Sunday and critically analyzing them for their theological content. I am still learning so much of what it takes to find lyrics that function a congregation to engage in worship. I have found Bob Kauflin's book "Worship Matters" to be very helpful in working through this (or at least it should be helpful if I can get around to finishing it between assignments).

Yes there is a constant tension between analysis of the music and coming into His presence. The music can articulate our emotions, and the words can poetically express our thoughts and desires in ways that we are not able to otherwise. And while the knowledge and appreciation of these is good and edifying... the goal for myself, when I come into these environments, or when I am listening to worship music on my ipod is to find ways to process the analysis so that I can spend time in His presence rejoicing in His character and what He has done for me.

I'm not sure if any of my thoughts are useful... except to say - yes I struggle with this too.

Rebecca Foth