Sing a New Song

Read Isaiah 42:1-13 here.

Last night I was privileged to speak at Rochester’s Church of Christ Area Wide Worship Service (RCoCAWW).  The theme for the night was “Sing a New Song” which we took to heart with song leaders from half a dozen congregations leading our singing.  I always find these events encouraging as churches with different worship styles, theological emphases, and racial mix, come together to praise God.

Given the diverse audience, many of whom had never heard of me before, I worked to keep my presentation upbeat and entertaining.  This meant I didn’t get bogged down in a lot of exegesis and included plenty of “fluff” to keep people engaged.  But I believe my topic still had an important message that I hope people will relate to.

The phrase “sing a new song” occurs several times in the Psalms (33, 40, 96, 98, 144, & 149), Isaiah 42, and Revelation (5:9 & 14:3).  The Isaiah passage seems to give the most context to this phrase, so that’s where my talk was concentrated.

The first 9 verses of the chapter describe the changes God is going to bring upon the world through His servant.  He’s going to restore justice (v1, 3-4), open blind eyes, free captives, release those who sit in darkness (v7).  Verse 9 provides a succinct summary of the preceding verses, “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare.”  God continues to redeem His people and His creation.

In the context of God’s creative and redemptive activity the appropriate response of His people is to “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth.”  It seems to me that the new actions of God require new songs of praise from His people.  Our worship should respond and react to the presence and activity of God in our lives.  This may seem like a fairly simple conclusion but I think it has some practical application.

Just as I’m a fan of Bible translations that use contemporary English, I believe that if our songs are to be meaningful to us they should reflect God’s working among us today.  While we might comprehend the imagery of lighthouses, anchors, and lifelines, are they natural ways for us to express our relationship with God?  For me to worship genuinely from the heart, I need to use words and experiences that reflect my thoughts, not just the range of my vocabulary.

This is not just a rant against traditionalism.  I have observed that songs from different generations have different emphases.  While hymns from the the late 1800’s and early 1900’s often praise God for his actions, very few of them actually thank Him.  Many hymns written during WWI and the Great Depression look forward to eternity and heavenly reunion with loved ones.

Contemporary praise and worship songs also have gaps in their repertoire.  While many songs express our love to God, there is shortage of recent songs appropriate for communion.  I also have a hard time recalling many songs that encourage the church to reach out to a lost world in the way that the old “Throw Out the Lifeline” does.

So the application of this exhortation to “sing a new song” involves a thoughtful selection of songs that prompt the worshiper to consider God’s involvement in his or her life.  Sometimes this older songs will best accomplish this purpose, but sometimes God’s new activity requires new songs.  The church needs to embrace our modern songwriters who speak of and for God…even if the styles or repetition of lyrics don’t always seem natural to us at first.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to be written on this topic, eg. How does the above discussion apply to music styles?  Can music styles prevent us from singing from the heart?  It is also distinctly possible to apply this “new song” instruction to simply transitioning from a lament to praise as we witness God at work.  It does not necessarily mean each of us should compose a new song each week.

At the end of the day I believe the principle of “singing a new song” means that our worship is to interact with and respond to God’s movement in our lives. I have previously written an article discussing how our regular monetary offering to God can be similarly interactive.  So I guess I’m 2 down with 3 to go.

Discuss how song selection impacts your worship experience.  Do some songs make your worship less heartfelt than others?  Do you find that the effort of learning new songs is worthwhile?  Can you recall an occasion that a new song has spoken to you?  I’d love to read your comments?

Advertisements

7 comments

  1. blcasey

    This post led me to quite a few thoughts! Anyone who’s interested can find the complete version of my post at http://blcasey.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/on-new-songs/. Below are a few extractions.

    New songs may in truth speak of God’s work today, but I sometimes feel the need to probe what it is, really, that a contemporary songwriter is speaking of. . . .

    Further: personal, adoring worship songs may well be authentic, but they also may be mere cookie-cutter facsimiles of the last song that appealed to the masses, was recorded, and sold thousands of copies.

    Imagery and cultural “with-it-ness” are important, and should be considered. The CofC repertoire, for instance, should certainly be expanded beyond the imagery of the 1800s and early-1900s examples that fill 90% of our assemblies’ song lists. For me, expanding means inclusive growth on both chronological ends . . .

    . . . The question of imagery, though, begs the question of the use of scripture, or scriptural language, in songs. Not all scriptural language uses imagery with which our society is familiar. . . .

    How important is it for each generation to have its own songs? Well, it strikes me that importance *to* a generation is different from importance *for* a generation. . . . We’re a self-centered lot.

    It’s good to validate worthy creations in our time by using them, side-by-side, with more time-tested material. People can survive spiritually without fresh musical voices, but perhaps not all will thrive. . . .

    . . . Computer software and the omnipresence of guitars (along with people who can strum 4 or 5 chords and read “tab”) are two factors that have led to the outpouring of new songs in the last couple of decades. But not all these songs are outpourings of God. Some are just outpourings of the computer processor. . . .

    If we give a song credence solely because of how new it is, or how cool it seems, we would appear shallow. Equally troublesome to me is appealing to familiarity as the primary criterion for whether a song should be sung in church. . . .

    . . . It’s been impressed upon me that new songs should be introduced at times other than Sunday mornings. I’ve swallowed this, but I’m not sure why. Why isn’t Sunday morning the perfect time to sing a new song to the Lord?

    I do think using new songs is important. It’s not the only thing, but it’s important.

  2. Lisa Lee

    I think that songs can help us understand a lot of what the bible says. I like songs that have a good beat to them and hit me in my mind and heart. My favorite song is “Love One Another”. That make me feel warm and happy inside plus it was sung at my wedding last year.

    I do also, think that new songs are good because some songs can get old and we need a new song once and a while to keep us SINGING!

  3. blcasey

    Hi, Lisa. “Love One Another” (a/k/a “The Greatest Commands”) has touched many people, including me. Nothing like a group of 200 on-fire teenagers singing that song in a room with good acoustics! It’s interesting to me that the one song you chose to mention individually wouldn’t be said to “have a good beat,” though. Don’t you think it’s the content of the lyrics that gets to us on a deeper level?

  4. ozziepete

    It seems to me that worship songs engage both our emotions and our intellect. I enjoy singing “boppy” praise songs, but not to the exclusion of all others because their words are often quite one dimensional.

    On the other hand, Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” contains very meaty lyrics, but a tune that wears on me by the time I’ve sung all the verses.

    Then there are those songs where the words and music just don’t match. My classic example is the song that starts, “My precious saviour suffered pain and agony…” but with such a cheerful, bouncy tune!! I enjoy singing the tune, and I appreciate the joy of the cross, but as I sing I have a nagging feeling that somethings not quite right.

    I guess I’m all about mixing worship up: new and old songs, shallow and deep, fast/bouncy and slow/somber. Some songs simply reflect our emotions, while others verbalise our thoughts. My main concern is that our worship of/to God should reflect the experience and aspirations of our relationship with God, and that will be different for each person, not one size fits all.

  5. Julie H

    Totally agree w/ the “My precious saviour suffered pain and agony…” song. It feels like a betrayal of Christ every time it’s sung B/C we know he was not in that sort of frame of mind in Gethsemane. He willingly chose to suffer an excruciating death, which is something I wish to cherish and honor and appreciate.

    I think songs taken from Scripture are some of our best guidelines for good worship when put into language we can all understand. Singing about a heart full of ‘dreadful dross’ is not v. helpful unless I know what that term means. It certainly isn’t straightforward to most people.

  6. Pingback: Interactive Worship « Peter’s Patter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s