Music for the Weary Soul

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Worship songs that have robust theology and explicit gospel references rejuvenate our weary souls. Current events bombard us with the reality of murder, poverty, injustice, and other evils. We bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters who have been sinned against. Our souls are weary because the world is broken and it contains more sin than we can comprehend. External factors make us weary, but we have internal burdens too.

     Our hearts are wicked and we don’t understand it completely (Jeremiah 17.9). We live with the truth that nothing good dwells within us, besides the Spirit of God (Romans 7:18). We have a war going on within us because our flesh and spirit are constantly battling. We have a desire to do good, but our flesh desires evil. The struggle is tiring and at times discouraging because our spirits have lost too many battles. We are broken.

     The reality of our sinfulness and the world’s wickedness is almost enough to lead us to despair. Therefore, worship songs without a strong theological foundation or explicit gospel references are inadequate. These songs are not weighty enough to lift our heavy souls to the Solid Rock, and they are not sufficient in anchoring us in the shifting sea of the present age. 

Lay A Foundation

     Good,Good Father is a song I hear quite often, which I consider lacking a strong theological foundation. It does emphasize the Fatherhood of God, His goodness, and His Love. However, those characteristics are distinguishable only in the chorus. The verses do not add to the worshipers understanding of any of those characteristics. We never get an explanation as to why these truths are worth singing.  In addition, there are several pronouns that turn the worshiper’s attention on himself. In my opinion, this song leaves the worshiper with questions like:

1) Could this be a Father’s Day song?

2) If I was a nonbeliever could I determine God was a “Good, Good Father” from the verses provided?

3) Could a theist sing this song loudly and proudly?

4) Is it too focused on us and not on Him?

     Every worship song needs a strong theological foundation to stand on in order to lift up weary saints. I believe artists have become fixated on simplicity and repetition. Simplicity and repetition are wonderful tools God has provided to worship Him.  Although, if simplicity and repetition are given too much emphasis we are left with songs that proclaim truths with no explanation.  These two tools become so much more once they rest on a strong theological foundation. 

He’s Good, He’s Good, He’s Good” I used to hear these words almost every Sunday. They were simple and they were repetitive. However, these words along with others were sung after the congregation sang Amazing Grace. Alone, the extra verse is ambiguous, but when it rest on the foundation of God’s grace, it makes perfect sense. He is Good because He saved sinners, He found what is lost, and gave sight to the blind. The proclamation of God’s goodness by the congregation was the result of thankfulness for God’s grace. A worshiper that listened to the whole song had no reason to ask why He is good, but to ask why don’t I join in. When simplicity and repetition are combined with a strong foundation, it is enough to lift our fatigued souls to the Solid Rock. 

We Need Gospel Music

     The gospel holds the power to save sinful men no matter who they are or where they come from (Romans 1:16).  Our good news is worth proclaiming from every pulpit and it is worth sharing with everyone we meet because it has power. It is what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions, and I am convinced our songs should be saturated with it. Our songs should contain explicit gospel references so if a person hears it or sings it they would be confronted with its power. 

     J. Mack Stiles in his book Evangelism challenges the readers to sing the gospel in churches. He talked about God of this City which he described as a good song, but it has no gospel. If the songs have no gospel then a Muslim, Jew, or Mormon could sing them loudly and proudly.  Should individuals of various faiths be able to sing our Christian songs without getting gospel references?

John Owen says this about worship and the gospel:

“The foundation of true holiness and true Christian worship is the doctrine of the gospel, what we are to believe. So when Christian doctrine is neglected, forsaken, or corrupted, true holiness and worship will also be neglected, forsaken, and corrupted.”

We should never divorce our worship from the gospel, in particular from our songs. Donald Whitney has contributed to the subject of worship and the gospel in his blog “The Gospel and Worship.” Whitney says:

The gospel not only prepares us to worship, it guides our worship and sustains us in worship. In biblical worship, the gospel is proclaimed in Word and sacrament; in the worship of God, His gospel is read, preached, and sung.

In other words, we need more gospel music. 

Conclusion

    My aim is not to offend, but to contribute to the conversation of worship. I do not approach this as a worship scholar but as someone who desires to hear more theologically sound, gospel-saturated songs. If we come to church with heavy hearts and burdened souls nothing less will do. No matter how many times you sing the lyrics it won’t matter. No matter how simple the song is it will be irrelevant. Although, if the song provides us with a Solid Rock to stand on or a Cornerstone to depend on then it is sufficient. If the song reminds me of the price that was paid for my sin, then I can leave church with the thought “He’s Good” because

“Through many dangers, toils and snares,

I have already come.

Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far

and Grace will lead me on”

Lesson’s From George Whitefield

I started my summer reading with The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitfield by Steve J. Lawson. George Whitfield had an incomparable desire for the gospel to be preached through the world. Whitefield was known throughout the world in places such as London, Bermuda, and a number of American colonies. He faced a number of challenges while still continuing to preach the gospel. As I have read Lawson’s book I have learned several lessons. 
1. Use the Platform God Gives You.
     God opened a number of doors for Whitefield to preach the gospel. He preached while he was in his hometown. He preached while he traveled on the ships. He preached wherever he could gather a crowd, even if it was in a field.  Whitefield determined he would not spend 15 minutes with a person without them hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. God has opened a door for all of us and has placed us in our positions on purpose. We should use our influence to influence people for Christ and to explain how they are desperately in need of Jesus. A wise person once said “wherever God has you, that is your mission field.” Our excuses are many for not sharing the gospel, but the promises of God should overwhelm every excuse. 
2. Love people. 
     Whitefield’s life was a demonstration of Mark 12:31. He was passionate about reaching the souls of the lost and he was burdened by the sinfulness of man. Whitefield’s preaching was often accompanied by his emotions such as weeping. When he was criticized for weeping he said:
You blame for me weeping, but how can I help it when you will not weep for yourself though your immortal souls are on the verge of destruction, and for aught you know…
     Whitefield had a heart for all people despite the popular opinions of the culture and even some Christians. Whitefield preached to African slaves in the American colonies. He went to them and preached the same gospel he preached to any other audience. Our culture and some Christians are guilty of labeling people as unredeemable. We have labeled them as Gentiles and if we all think a little we can begin to notice our Gentiles. However, God has given us the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, even our Gentiles. 
3. Preach the Eternal Gospel
Whitefield did not change his gospel because the crowd changed. He was fully persuaded that the gospel was needed by all men and it the message does not change with the crowd. Sin must be called sin and must not be given a softer a name such as a mistake, slip up, or fault. He boldly proclaimed the depths of man’s sin and the consequences of man’s sin. He proclaimed “You are lost undone, without him, and if He is not glorified in your salvation, he will  be glorified in your destruction; if He does not come and make His abode in your hearts, you must take up an eternal abode with the devils and his angels” 
     Whitefield also preached boldly and passionately about the only hope sinners have is in Christ. He pleaded with them to cling to the ultimate sacrifice he made on the cross. Whitefield cried out “Come as guilty, helpless, hell-deserving sinners, and find righteousness and life in Christ.” 
Whitefield’s life forces me to ask the following questions to myself:
1. Do I use the influence God gives me? Do I spend too much time wishing I was someone else doing something somewhere else? Do I look for opportunities to share the gospel where I am?
 
2. Do I love the people who are around me? Do I wait for them to conform to my standards to love them? Do I see people as God sees them?
 
3. Do I preach the same gospel? Do I try to soften the words? Do I avoid using the language God uses to not offend men?
I thank God for men like Whitefield who can be an example of what a life swallowed up by evangelistic zeal looks like. However, with the Lord’s help I will learn to love the people under my influence enough to share the wonderful news of Jesus with them and plead with them to come to Jesus.

Remembering Forward……..

 I have been in the audience of three graduations this month which is triple the number of graduations I usually attend a year. However, recently I attended the graduation at the seminary I attend, which was the most God-Centered graduation I have attended. I arrived at the graduation quite early so I didn’t see anyone I knew and could sit with so I sat on an empty back pew. The graduation began and desire arose in my heart to hasten myself to graduation. As I sat through the graduation I began thinking thoughts like “one day that will be me.”  Thoughts came to mind of how I could overload myself with school and be done. However, when the Provost stood up he reminded the audience of the why the seminary exist. As a result of his speech, my heart began to ache because I forgot why I was in seminary. The Lord changed my thoughts through the speech of our Provost.
Sitting in this pew I began to have to wipe my eyes because I could no longer hold back my tears of heartache. I sat there and I reflected on why God called me to seminary. I thought about all my African-American brothers and sisters who are prey to the wolves of this world. I thought about those who are in need mental health professionals but are given the label of “bad.” I thought about those whose theology is too small to handle the big questions of life. I remembered people I have met who have heard about a Jesus too weak to rescue a sinner such as them. God has called me to seminary so that I can be  one more soldier who is equipped to stand in the gap for them. He called me to seminary so his glory will be known and I may have more avenues to share the wonderful news of the gospel. As I reflected on my mission I thought of Paul and what he said to the Roman church in Romans 15:20:
and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, (ESV)
 
Paul knew his mission and it is what drove him. Paul was willing and did give it all for his mission given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s mission-mindedness led him to say this in the book of Acts:
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24 ESV)
 
Paul’s goal was to complete the mission that God had given him. He was concerned about the message of the gospel getting to hopeless sinners who desperately need Jesus. He saw nothing as too much to give to the spreading of the gospel. He was not concerned about the time it took or where the resources would come from. Paul’s focus was dedicated to the obedience to God in the tasks he has given him. 
Honestly, I feel sometimes the road to the goal is so long. Several times have I asked myself, “does God really want me to stay here?” In addition, I ponder the question “what if I just quit now?” However, when I go to class God lets me know he doesn’t want me anywhere else. When I think about how much God has provided for me here then I know he wants me to stay here. If you are like me sometimes you lose focus, but I think reflecting on why God has you in a particular place such as school, work, or etc. is beneficial. Let us not forget the mission and let us run with endurance to complete the mission God has given us. 
 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Hebrew 12:1 ESV)