In this worship gathering, we hear a message in which we explore why we worship God, and how we go about worship – since there is nothing precisely laying out how we are supposed to gather to praise the Lord. It’s based on Isaiah 6.1-8 and Colossians 3.12-17. You can watch the entire worship gathering below, or just the message below that.
The other day, I was listening to a recording of choral music that I’ve heard dozens of times. For some reason, though, this particular time my ears perked up to one particular anthem that was sung. It’s called “How Do I Love Thee?”, and I realized upon listening carefully that it is, in fact, a musical setting of what is arguably the most popular sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43, written as a love poem to her husband, Robert Browning.
For years, in (sort of) listening to this piece, I thought it was just another choral anthem of praise to the Lord. I hadn’t thought it was an anthem of praise to the poet’s husband!
However, if you examine the words, you can, without difficulty, make it into a song of praise to God:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
It works, doesn’t it?
Now, go back and read it again, and put God in the first person, so that it tells of God’s love for you.
Victorian-Romantic poetry may not always have been intended for God, but we can make it so.
Spend some time with this sonnet, and make it your own praise to the Lord.
“Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!” (Psalm 150.6, NLT).
If you want to listen to the arrangement that struck me, here’s a setting.
The responses to the passing this week of Canadian musician Gord Downey, and of Leonard Cohen earlier this year, remind us of just how influential music is in the lives of Canadians, and of western societies generally. So attached are Canadians to their music legends that the official and unofficial condolences rival (or even exceed) those offered in memory of world leaders. After all, how often does the flag get put at half-staff on Parliament Hill?
In light of this, I want to encourage you to examine the music you listen to. Yes, examine it. You might say that would take all the fun out of it, but anything worth having fun at is also worth thinking about.
You can ask yourself, How does this music make me feel inside? Does it soothe your soul? Does it make you angry? Does it raise your pulse or lower it? Does it motivate you? Does it calm you? How does the music you listen to make you feel?
For example, some people use loud music with a heavy beat to get them going in the morning; it stimulates them from head to toe. (I think that’s why I never did well in fitness classes; loud music with a heavy beat just makes me want to walk away!) Alternatively, some people use quiet music with a floating ambience to help them chill out. The ease with which we can access recorded music of our own choosing today has made music a universal tool at our disposal pretty well anytime.
So, how does what you listen to make you feel?
You can also ask yourself, What do the lyrics I listen to really say? This is a kicker for some, who may listen to the music for the beat but don’t realize until they examine the lyrics that what they listen to degrades women, or glorifies sex, just to state two common examples.
Or, you can ask yourself, What does the music I listen to say about me – intentionally or not? As a follower of Jesus, you are being watched by your friends, family and acquaintances. People notice if there are inconsistencies in your witness. Does the music you listen to complement your faith or contradict it?
Some might say that, in response, we should listen only to Christian music. While I certainly encourage you to listen to Christian music – and there is all sorts of it – I wouldn’t counsel you to limit yourself. I do encourage you, though, to have a music “filter” that’s always engaged. Music is a gift from God, something most musicians know innately. So we can celebrate the gift of music of all sorts, asking the Lord for the wisdom to “filter out” what is blatantly unedifying.
I am reminded of the words of theologian A.W. Tozer: “What goes into a mind comes out in a life.” Remember that when you’re examining the music you listen to, and especially when you hear what your kids are listening to.
Take the advice of the apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Philippi: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise…. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4.8b, 9b, NLT).