Today’s contemporary worship music in America skews heavily toward the sappy and the celebratory.
Indeed, in Christ there is much to celebrate. But when I enter into a time of corporate worship, I am often distant, preoccupied, anxious and even guilty.
I bring burdens into the moment, as well as sins with which I have not properly dealt. These all work together to confound my clarity. They barricade me from fixing my eyes on heavenly things, where Christ is seated. In these moments, I don’t need sentimental, celebratory sap. I need gospel help.
Far too often, churches engineer their corporate worship services to sound like one big climax, with no escalation or movement. Bands blast songs right out of the gate with driving drumbeats and repetitive chants of praise. They call people to sing with total abandon from the first measure, as if the baggage doesn't matter, or even exist.
I need time to deal with my sometimes wandering, contrite condition going in. Like adjusting my body to the temperature of the air or water, I need to adjust my heart orientation with honest meditations that give me time to deal directly with the things that are hindering me from having a right spirit. If I dive in with both feet before my heart is right, I lie. It's that simple.
I have found the Trinity Hymnal to be tremendously helpful for this. If you flip through it, you’ll notice that hymn after hymn has been written with this honest contrition and brokenness in view. And what’s even better, these songs are not content to keep me in this state. They take me by the hand and lead me through them, so I end up in a better place than where I started.
The song Kind and Merciful God, We Have Sinned does this so well. From “living in the shade I have made” to “lifting up my head”, this hymn meets me in my sin and does not let me stand still. It transports me from one place to another by calling to my mind the one thing that can change me—Christ’s death on the cross.
Oh how we need this more pronounced sense of movement in our worship.
Kind and merciful God, we have sinned in Your sight,
We have all wandered far from Your way;
We have followed desire, we have failed to aspire
To the virtue we ought to display.
Kind and merciful God, we’ve neglected Your Word
And the truth that would guide us aright;
We have lived in the shade of the dark we have made,
When you willed us to walk in the light.
Kind and merciful God, we have broken Your laws
And in conduct have veered from the norm;
We have dreamed of the good, but the good that we could
We have frequently failed to perform.
Kind and merciful God in Christ's death on the cross
You provided a cleansing from sin;
Speak the words that forgive that hence-forth we may live
By the might of your Spirit within.
Kind and merciful God, bid us lift up our heads
And command us to rise from our knees;
May our hearts now be changed and no longer estranged,
Through the power of Your pardon and peace.