We were exhausted, and the jet lag wasn't helping. We hadn't had dairy products in three months, and for some reason I had decided to eat a cheeseburger in the airport restaurant. We were trying to adjust to everyone around us suddenly speaking perfect English again. And now my missions team, recently returned from Asia, was doing their best to stay awake and engaged for the evening worship service, joining with all the other missions teams recently returned from serving around the world.
The worship leader that night mentioned that he had been thinking a lot recently about how we seldom stop to consider what we are singing when we worship, that often we reduce worship to an emotional experience or a comforting ritual. He then proceeded to sing a worship song he had written that happened to be in the language of the country where my team had been serving.
As he taught everyone the words, people started clapping, started raising their hands in worship. My team just started laughing. And I mean hearty, jet-lagged, full throttle belly laughing. Needless to say, we got some pretty dirty looks from other people in the service. Why were we laughing? Well, here's the English translation of the words of that "worship song:"
"Hellooooo, hellooooo, helloooo, helloooo, Sprite!"
Now the worship leader was actually fully aware of what he was doing. He was backing up his point about really understanding what we are saying and doing during worship. That lesson has stuck with me, despite the jetlag and the cheeseburger pains that somewhat cloud my memory of the events.
Often worship can become meaningless ritual if we are not careful. This is not the same thing as saying that ritual in worship is automatically meaningless! It is to say that when we stop being thoughtful about the worship we are offering God, we can end up in trouble! For a brief time, dozens of student missionaries were answering the command to worship God in Spirit and in truth by singing a song written to a soft drink!
When is the last time you really thought about the words we sing on Sunday morning? When is the last time you bothered to think about whether those words were faithful to the Biblical record? Just because a song makes it into a hymnal or onto a popular worship CD does not mean it is Biblical! When is the last time you paused to consider exactly what it is you are saying to God through song?
What about other parts of the service? What are we saying to and about God by the way we structure our service, what forms of worship we include, how much time we allot to the various forms of worship? These are questions that are worth everyone thinking about, regardless of whether you help plan or lead the worship in your congregation or not.
Please hear me: I do not think we need to analyze our worship to death. (Hmmm, would God want this song in C or D? Hmmm, shouldn't we have the deacons lead off with their right foot when they go down the aisle to collect the offering?) What I am saying is that our worship ought to always be thoughtful. Even as we enjoy God's presence and delight in being with Him and each other through the intimate act of worship, we should still be aware of what we are saying, singing, and doing during that time.
Sincerity or passion cannot make up for worship that is not truthful because in our thoughtlessness we have allowed ourselves to sing, say, or do things that are not faithful to who God has revealed Himself to be.