The Wrestle of Worship Part 1: why do we sing?
When I was fifteen I was invited to what I thought was a concert. When I got there I saw thousands of young people; I saw a young man pacing the stage speaking about Jesus; and I heard the most incredible sounds of sung worship. That combination was enough to spark my heart to life and move me to say “yes” to Jesus. My first glimpse of Jesus was through sung worship.
But why do we sing? Churches do it so much that it’s the normal thing to do, but why?
We sing because there is a wrestle going on.
In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat is the king, and he has four nations coming against him. It's looking pretty bleak! Thankfully, Jehoshaphat knows that his God has always been faithful and instead of freaking out, he decides to seek God and hear His direction. The Lord speaks hope into Jehoshaphat's heart and to all of Israel. He says:
“Do not be afraid… for the battle is not yours but God's… Stand firm… Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:15-17 ESV).
The outcome had already been called. They were already declared by God to be conquerors, but they still had to go and fight a battle against all odds. Sound familiar? It’s a bit like us today: we know that Jesus has won because of what He has done on the cross for us, yet we still walk through battles.
Back to the story: When Jehoshaphat organises the army, he decides to put the worship leaders up the front of the pack. The army march into battle, with the worship leaders singing the simplest of songs: “Give thanks to the Lord for His love endures forever”. Then the four-fold enemy is completely routed. Defeated. Done.
I wouldn't want to suggest that the power in that moment was the actual song itself. Heck no! God Himself defeated those armies. But our songs of praise host the presence of God. The Psalms say that God is enthroned on our songs of praise (Psalm 22:3). And wherever His throne is, He gets to be the King.
Worship leader and songwriter Darlene Zschech put it this way:
"Songs have the thread of eternity through them. The words of God written to the melody of heaven are relayed back to the enemy".
When we are singing, we are providing space for Jesus to set up His throne and do King-like things: people being healed, set free, sight to the blind, dead coming to life, good news to the poor, and for people know God’s favour and love (Luke 4). That's what was happening with Jehoshaphat and his army; they sang a song that created a place for God to rule and reign, so darkness was completely destroyed.
There is a wrestle going on for who or what we will worship. It's natural to want to sing when we have an experience of complete victory or enjoyment. But it’s harder when we are fearful, defeated or insecure. We have every victory in Christ, yet our song gets squashed all the time by our circumstance. This is the worship wrestle in play!
Three years ago, responding to what I thought God was calling me to do, I packed my bags and moved my life from Sydney to Canberra. All was going fantastic! Praise God!
Then came the second day of my new location and calling.
On my second day in Canberra my car was broken into and my bike and GPS were stolen. When I discovered my trashed car I was pretty upset. But thankfully I knew enough about how much the enemy wants us to be distracted and discouraged that instead of moping about, I went back up to my apartment and sang my heart out to God (I sang 'Guardian' over fifteen times!). Slowly my attitude of panic and fear turned into one of determination. The song provided a space for God to set up His throne in my heart again, and to remind me of why I was in Canberra in the first place. I wasn't going to let the enemy win this wrestle!
Our bleakest moments are the opportunity for our greatest sacrifice of worship. If you are facing the reality of a battle right now, you have the opportunity to sing a song that will provide space for God to set up His throne. Our darkest and most desperate moments are when we should sing even more. These are the moments when we can see the greatest turnaround; to see God work a resurrection (and He's pretty good at resurrecting things!).
But of course we should worship in the good times too; a heart that can worship in the battle is one that has established a culture of worship in peacetime. When it's going fine, sing. When it's not, sing.
So what does this mean?
What changes if I realise worship is a wrestle?
Firstly, this changes how I approach sung worship.
In the moments before we sing at church, I am aware that this time of worship is about more than whether or not I like the songs. I am more aware that there is a battle between the kingdom of God and the lame kingdom of darkness. And I realise that I can play a part in helping to create a space for Jesus on His throne with my singing. What soldier strolls into the fire of battle late, bored or distracted? When we wake up to the significance of our songs creating space for Jesus to set up His throne, we are alert, engaged, interested and ready to respond to Him.
Secondly, this changes how I behave when we sing.
It affects my posture, where my hands are and how my body is standing/kneeling. I tend to look a little more like I am part of a battle, rather than with my arms folded or hands in pockets. The enemy doesn't get the luxury of me being disengaged; he’s going down!
Our world cries out for the Prince of Peace and the bringer of all hope. May we all be aware of the wrestle that is going on for our worship. And may we sing with gusto – no matter how we sound! – knowing that Jesus is enthroned in our praise.
Deborah Stanley is the Creative Ministries Director at Mosaic Baptist Church. Prior to this, she was part of the Redhill Church worship team.