Rediscovering the Heartbeat of Worship

Date: May 6, 2024

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.  Psalm 96:1


“Sing to the LORD a new song,” says Psalm 96, but more than a few people today would just as soon sing an old song to the Lord.  “Whatever Happened to Hymns?” asked Elisabeth Elliot in one of her newsletters.  She asked, “May I lodge a plea to make sure that some great hymns are displayed in addition to the praise songs?”  Why such a plea?  “Hymns will get you through the night,” she said.

Let’s go back to the new song that the Psalmist talked about.  The fact is that when God touches a person’s life, there is a new song, a song of rejoicing and praise.  Worship really begins when someone encounters God and God responds, touching the life of that person—which gives him or her a song of joy, a note of praise which was never there before.

I have never heard anyone say, “When I started reading James Michener, I got a song of rejoicing,” or “When I began studying behavioral psychology, that’s when I really found something to sing about.”  No, but I have met people the world over who can say, “When I found God, a new song was born in my heart.”

Paul instructed the Ephesians to be filled with the Spirit, “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”  He said, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”  From the days when David played his lyre to the present, praise music has been a vital part of the liturgy of the saints.

Two hundred years ago there were two books which people took to church with them: the Bible and a hymnal–a simple book, with the words to hymns printed in it. Today, however, there is little which is more controversial to many–especially the over-60  crowd–than music.  Every generation uses music as a reflection of their thoughts and culture, including the present one, who have birthed a new genre of music–usually called contemporary–much of which is taken from Scripture itself.

But here’s the question: Are we losing something vital, something which has been part of our heritage, when we lose the hymns of Wesley, Watts, Fanny Crosby, and a host of others whose music blessed our grandparents and generations before them?

Must it necessarily be one or the other?  There are good hymns, and poor ones whose meter and verse are awkward, yet most of the old hymns of the faith focus on the nature and character of God as opposed to what we do.  Notice how many of the contemporary songs are a reflection of what we do and feel.  They focus on what I do: I worship you, I praise your name, I lift your name on high; while many of the hymns stress who God is.  Both are important.

Second, hymns establish continuity with the past and with generations of Christians who sang “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and “How Firm a Foundation,” or “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Third, hymns are bridges to brothers and sisters the world over.  I will never forget the time I led a group to Israel, and as we stood in the Upper Room, traditionally the site of the Last Supper, our group began to sing an old hymn.  Then in a few moments, a French group began singing in French, then, moments later a German group sang the same thing.  Suddenly our differences were unimportant.  We were brothers and sisters.  We were worshiping the same Lord.

Elisabeth Elliot is right, “Hymns will get you through the night.”  Wise are the parents who teach their offspring some of the great hymns of the faith along with the praise and worship songs which have replaced them in many churches.  Think about it.

Resource reading: Psalm 100.