It’s all too tempting in worship to think more highly of oneself than one ought. Evidence the myriads of worship songs (and the churches that regularly rotate them) which talk about our victory, our pursuit of God, our attempts to seek God. These all aren’t necessarily wrong, but as I’ll make mention in a future post, worship leading is kind of like being a dietician. When you feed people enough of the same thing, to the neglect of necessary counter-balances, it throws our spirit into an imbalanced, unhealthy state.
Where is the place for songs of confession, lament, and penitence in modern worship? If there is no place, beware that your congregation is getting “fat,” having gorged itself at the dessert table of self-triumph. “Mighty to Save” boasts:
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
Now I surrender
Now oldie, “Trading My Sorrows,” victoriously cries:
I’m trading my sorrows
I’m trading my shame
I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.
Hillsong United’s new “Freedom is Here” exclaims:
I’m not shaken, I’m not letting go
Everything comes alive in my life
As I lift You higher…
Sing it out, sing it out: Freedom is here!
Hear me out. None of these songs are wrong. They involve important aspects of worship like consecration (“Mighty to Save”), turning/repentance (“Trading My Sorrows”), and Gospel liberation (“Freedom is Here”). But my fear is that these constant expressions of triumphalism are at least 90% of the average modern worshipper’s spiritual diet on Sunday mornings.
Contrast this with the biblical Psalms, the only inspired songbook of the people of God. The percentage is much lower. In fact, what type of psalm do we find perhaps more than any other? Lament…confession. The Psalms wisely inform us that worship centered around triumph is only half-worship. We need a healthy dose of pain and failure. We need space in our worship for honest questions before God—moaning, grieving, crying out. Worship leaders and worshipers, don’t let your worship be partial and imbalanced.
A great starting place to balance out your congregation’s worship diet is to incorporate confession into your worship service. Maybe a more formal time of confession, for some evangelical churches, would feel too “liturgical,” too “Catholic,” or too rigid. In one of the several prayers that you might pray at the beginning, middle or end of your worship set, weave in a prayer of confession. Acknowledge before God that the people of God really aren’t worthy to stand in God’s presence and praise His name. Confess that we are law-breakers, not law-keepers every day of our life. Point out our neediness, our brokenness, our hypocrisy. Remind the people that our good works don’t make God happy with us and can’t merit God’s pleasure or earn our way to heaven. Then proclaim the good news of Jesus. Rehearse the gospel!
Another option is to incorporate songs of confession. Here are a few song recommendations to add to your repertoire:
“God, Be Merciful to Me,” from Indelible Grace (popularized by Jars of Clay on their album Redemption Songs)
“Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” from Red Mountain Church’s Depth of Mercy
“Be Merciful to Me,” from Caedmon’s Call’s In the Company of Angels II: The World Will Sing
“Lord, Have Mercy,” from Michael W. Smith’s Worship Again
“By Thy Mercy,” from Indelible Grace’s By Thy Mercy (acoustic)
“Friend of Sinners,” from Red Mountain Church’s The Gadsby Project
“There is Room,” from our album, The Glad Sound
And you know me…I can’t help but mention that almost all of these are great old hymns to new music. Blessings on your quest to conform our worship of God more and more to the biblical pattern!