Let the Music Play

Psalm 150 (NLT)

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
    praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
    praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
    praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
    praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

By Chuck Griffin

As someone regularly involved in leading worship, I have to acknowledge where I am and am not gifted. Music is definitely an area where I need to step back and let others take charge.

I love worship music, though, and singing is a critical part of worship. When the singing has to be muted or subdued, as it has been during the pandemic, I am among the first to recognize how we suffer.

Psalm 150 makes it clear how noisy worship should be, at least at times. (There’s a place in worship for deep, meaningful silence, too.) The word “exuberance” comes to mind.

One thing I’ve learned over the years—musical exuberance comes in many forms. I’ve been blessed to pastor churches employing all sorts of music styles, and I’ve seen how every style has the potential to glorify God.

Some rural folk would immediately reject the idea of “high” worship being inspiring, but some of the best worship I’ve ever experienced was at a Methodist church that focused on the organ, the choir, and a highly disciplined, classical sound. These people knew how to inspire worshipers with music that often was centuries old.

I’ve also been blessed to have a similar experience during so-called “contemporary” worship in its many different forms. (This style should significantly change how it sounds every decade or so if it’s going to stay contemporary. Otherwise, it is just a particular generation’s preference.) I have been in services with a bluegrass or southern gospel sound that have brought me to tears, too.

Here’s the key: It’s not the style of the music, it’s the intent of the music leaders and the worshipers as they follow along. If God is praised through the music, if God is glorified, God’s Spirit will flow through what is happening, and we will feel inner transformation during the experience.

If the music comes across like a performance—if someone other than God is glorified—the whole service is likely to fall flat.

I thank God regularly for those of you with musical gifts, whether you are pianists, organists, guitarists, singers, fiddlers, banjo pickers, saxophonists, drummers, cymbal crashers or tambourine shakers. Keep doing what you do to the glory of our Lord and Savior.

Lord, thank you for the gift of music. It touches our souls in places words can never reach. Amen.

Means of Grace, Day 5

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Let’s take a little time today to think about the grace received while living in the Christian community called “church.”

In church, our individual experiences of grace intertwine. Working together, we find ourselves empowered in ways not possible when working alone.

That is, of course, an ideal description of the church. We tend to fall short; compare your church experiences with the above description of the early church in Acts.

I suppose we shouldn’t feel too bad. As we continue to read in Acts, we witness how the incredibly dynamic early church began to look more human as very old sins—pride, greed, ethnocentrism and deception, for example—crept in.

The church will not be heaven on earth until heaven and earth are rejoined. We are part of the “church militant,” the collection of Christians hoping to shove Satan backward, doing all we can to sustain ourselves and each other with God’s ever-flowing grace.

Even in a COVID-19 era, group worship remains deeply important to our mission. It is my prayer that once the United States exits this pandemic, we will better appreciate what it means to gather as part of a community and give glory to God. I would like to see Sunday morning restored as a uniquely holy time, not by legislation but by a genuine change in the hearts of people who call themselves Christian.

I’m not praying for a return to what we call normal. I’m praying that we will be astonished by what happens next. In a healthy local church, the number of people attending worship should exceed the number of members. This actually happens in other parts of the world. The members desperately want to be present, and the power of God is so evident that very-welcome newbies are looking in, wanting to know what’s going on.

If you have criticized your church because you think worship isn’t exciting enough, do something about it. Worship is not a show for an audience, it is a participatory group event directed toward God. Who knows, worship may not be exciting because you’re not involving your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.

We should involve ourselves in church life in other ways, too. We should find our place in the body of Christ, understanding how the Holy Spirit seeks to change lives through us.

I am a big advocate of finding our place through participation in small groups, online or in person. Methodism originally was built around small groups, which offer opportunities for Christians to grow in trust and love for each other, study God’s word, reach out to the lost and do good works. We need to get back to the basics, knowing each other’s hearts.

Such meaningful fellowship used to give people a relationship with the church that they could find in no other institution or group. It is no wonder. Done correctly, fellowship with Christians invites the presence of the Holy, Eternal God.

As Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

Lord, speak to us today as we take time to consider what it means to be part of a local church and your larger, global church. Give us a deep sense of our need to work alongside others, knowing we also will be working alongside you. Amen.